Lowell Kempf(Gnomekin)United States
I am always on the lookout for fast and dirty abstracts. In a perfect world, I would be able to spend any given evening playing a single game of Go. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that you often just don’t have the time to play a game that can take hours to slowly blossom and develop. And, let’s be honest, playing a fast and dynamic game has its own thrill.
Thanks to the power of the iPad, I have had a chance to explore Nestorgame’s Hippos and Crocodiles. As far as uber-simple abstracts go, Hippos and Crocodiles could practically be the poster child. The game is so fundamentally simple that there’s a certain mad genius to it. I don’t know if the game can be ‘solved’ and I don’t know it has the legs to be a game that I’ll keep coming back to for the rest of my life. But it does have a certain charm that keeps me coming back to it for the moment.
The core concept of the game is that players take turns putting their pieces down on the board. The first player who can’t make a move loses. It’s hardly an original idea. There are plenty of games out there that use the idea. Heck, even though that’s not the technical goal of Blokus, that’s one of the fundamentals of its strategy.
What makes Hippos and Crocodiles clever is that it is an asymmetrical game. Each player is only placing one type of piece, either a hippo or a crocodile. Each piece takes up
nine,er, I mean ten squares on the grid but they are not the same shape. The crocodiles are long and skinny while the hippos are shorts and fat. They might take up the same amount of space but they do it in different ways.
As far as the actual rules go, that’s it. It’s a game that you can teach in about thirty seconds. There are a couple different board sizes but they are both grids. Either board will fill up fast enough that a fifteen minute game means someone went and got a cup of coffee during the game. As far as my desire to have a quick and dynamic game goes, I’d say Hippos and Crocodiles fits that bill nicely.
However, the simplicity and speed of the gameplay doesn’t mean that the game is easy. I’ve only been playing it against the AI, not my favorite way to play but a dandy way to learn, and I have yet to even come close to beating that son of a microchip with either of the two shapes or going first or second. Hippos and Crocodiles may be as simple as the recipe for boiling water but it is tight and I have yet to figure out a way for it to turn into degenerate play.
There are some games like Hive or Six or Blokus that simply blew me away and I have already spent years playing. Hippos and Crocodiles really isn’t one of those games. But, for a game I downloaded for free, I have to say that it’s given me plenty of food for thought.