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Subject: Ew, there's Ox Blood on my Ivory... : An Oshi Review rss

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Michael Coene
United States
Ellicott City
Maryland
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Oshi is one of the most misunderstood games out there right now. I've repeatedly heard it referred to as broken, and this is simply not the case. It's not broken, it's just not easy. As far as Abstract Strategy games go, this is far closer to Chess than Blokus.

I refer to Chess and Blokus for a reason. With Blokus, that very first play you pretty much are kind of winging it before getting any kind of serious "a-ha" moment. The following second and third games things really start to shine through, and the true nature of the pieces and there respective functions becomes incredibly clear. You can now play Blokus against almost anybody and keep up. Chess is not like this. It can take years of practicing game after game, against a multitude of different players, before you're even considered somewhat decent at chess. Oshi, on the spectrum that these two games belong on, falls closer to Chess. It's going to be a while before really crystal, decent "a-ha" moments come through Oshi.

Before I get flamed, let it be known that I clearly understand that Chess is far more complex and requires far more plays to start to grasp. I'm using extreme examples to make a point.

Anyway, let's talk mechanics. Each player is given 8 pieces. Two Three-Story pieces, Two Two-Story pieces, and Four One-Story pieces. The pieces are placed on opposite sides of a 9x9 grid. The Three-Story pieces are able to move three spaces, the Two-Story pieces are able to move two spaces, and the One-Story pieces are able to move on space.

Your objective is to push your opponents' pieces off of the 9x9 grid by literally pushing them off the grid. The first opponent to acquire 7 points worth of his opponent's pieces wins the game.

Scoring is calculated so that Three-Story pieces are worth 3, Two-Story pieces are worth 2, and One-Story pieces are worth 1.

The thing to keep in mind is that pieces are only able to push the number of pieces equal to the number of stories. Meaning, a Three-Story piece can push up to 3 other pieces, a Two-Story piece can push up to 2 other pieces, and a One-Story piece can push up to 1 piece.

So there you have it. Doesn't sound too complicated, right? That's because it isn't. Not really. Not yet.

Where the game becomes complicated (and where, sadly, a lot of gamers declare the game "broken") is the stalemate. If you can just push each other out of the way, and the only "stalemate rule" is that I can't land back on the same space I started on my previous turn, won't these games last forever? With two inexperienced players? Probably. With two experienced players? Not a chance.

But dodging the stalemate is precisely where the game gets good. Just like in Chess, your goal shouldn't be so much about preserving your pieces as it should be about willingness to exchange. If someone is about to push one of your One-Story pieces off, instead of simply running away, offer the exchange. They can take that piece, but if they do, you're going to take THIS one. Good players can have a chain reaction like this that ends up looking like those scenes in the movies where a bunch of different people all have different guns pointed at one another's head. Once one goes off, the rest are gonna follow.

I have also heard complaints that the Three-Story pieces far outweigh the usefulness of any of the other pieces. That is certainly true. It is difficult to corner something with so much range that it can simply push you out of the way. My advice? Stop chasing the Three-Story piece around. It won't work. You can corner it, but usually only if you're willing to exchange something else for it (which, depending on how close you are to 7 points compared to the other player, could definitely be the way to go). But that isn't a "broken" mechanic, that's powerful pieces which both players have an equal number of.

As I said, it takes a while to get to this point. Not quite the amount of time it takes to get to that same kind of point as it does in Chess, but more-so than Blokus (sorry for over-using that analogy, I just feel like it fits). In the end, this is a really neat and unique Abstract Strategy game. It looks good too, with a nice wooden board and very pretty pieces (called "ivory" and "ox blood" respectively). Even the artwork on the cover is pretty.

If it sounds like I'm going all ga-ga for Oshi, I'm not. I understand that there are other, better strategy games out there in the world. I understand that this one certainly isn't going to appeal to the most hardcore Abstract gamers, and probably not the occasional party-gamers either. It's a slightly heavier than average Abstract Strategy, that can come off as broken in early plays. I think maybe I feel the need to defend it because people hate on it (accusing it of being "broken" is quite a serious declaration). For me, this is the clincher. This is the reason why it deserves a spot on your game shelf: it takes no time to explain, and it takes a long time to master. THAT is what makes a game a good, old fashioned "good" game. Oshi is quickly becoming the new old-standby with my group, and we're proud of it.

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Peter CSM
United States
Orlando
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Agreed, good review. I have yet to have a stalemate situation if only because I don't play conservatively enough to allow one. The trade-off of course is I sometimes get my ass handed to me for it, but y'know. It's a fun, easy-to-learn game but the stalemate aspect can turn a light game into a dragging disappointment. Some house rules definitely need to be created to ensure a smooth game.
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