GIPF is the first game in a series of games from a project of the same name. The games in this series were designed by Kris Burm and the six games in the project were released between 1997 and 2006. The game GIPF was released in 1997 and is a nice x-in-a-row game. I first played it against one of my regular opponents via e-mail. I don't recall if we used Richard's PBeM Server (http://www.gamerz.net/pbmserv) or not. In any case, we both enjoyed it and wound up playing it a couple times. I then played quite a bit against GF1 (GIPF for 1) which is a computer implementation. It was a couple years before I got to play it on a board. I normally prefer playing it across the board, but something about GIPFmade it as enjoyable for me to play online. Perhaps it is because that is how I started. I don't know.
The board is a pattern of lines that divide up a hexagon and you play on the intersection of those lines. Essentially, the play area is a standard hex board with four points on a side, making a total of 37 points to play on. In addition, there is another ring around the board that is not part of the play area, but helps you see how pieces are introduced onto the board. More on that soon.
In preparing for this review, I went through the rules form start to end. I was mildly surprised to find that there are three versions of the game. I only knew about two of them. I'll go through all three of them in order, since they build on each other.
In the Basic game, each player has 15 pieces. Each player takes three of his pieces and places them in the corners of the outside hex defining the play area such that the colors alternate (see the picture below). This leaves each player with 12 pieces. This is called your reserve. You take turns putting one piece from your reserve onto the board. You do this by placing a piece on one of the dots outside of the play area and then pushes it, onto the play area. If that point is occupied, you push that piece to the next point and repeat. You cannot push a piece off the play area. If you ever form a row of four or more pieces of the same color, the person who is playing that color MUST remove those four pieces and put them into their reserve again, AND they must also remove any pieces that are in a direct extension of these pieces too. If they are opposing pieces, they are removed from the game. If they are friendly pieces, they go back to the reserve. You win when your opponent cannot make another move. It's important to note that the pieces do not move on their own- to move them, you must push them with a piece from the reserve. I've never played this version of the game. One element that I do like about this is that there is a nice handicapping feature built in. The game comes with 18 pieces per side, so you can give the weaker player up to three more pieces with ease. The next time I teach a new player this game, I may indeed start with this version.
Although I didn't know it at the time, I was originally taught the standard version. This game is identical to the standard version, except for the introduction of a new piece type… a GIPF piece. Similar to a king in checkers, a GIPF piece is a stack of two pieces. (This is why there are 18 pieces in the box.) In the Standard version, the starting pieces are GIPF pieces. The thing that makes a GIPF piece special it that when it is in a row of four, it is removal is optional! If you do choose to remove your own GIPF piece, then it returns as two separate pieces. In addition, a player loses if he has no GIPF pieces left on the board. So now you have two ways to win… capture all three of your opponent's GIPF pieces or capture enough pieces so that your opponent cannot place another piece. This game is nicely balanced and plays in about 45 minutes.
The third version of the game is the tournament version. The game is identical to the standard version with the exception of how it starts. Instead of starting with three GIPF pieces on the board, you start with 18 pieces off the board an on your first turn you must introduce a GIPF piece onto the board, just like a standard move. You may continue to introduce GIPF pieces on each of your turns until you place a regular piece. So you COULD spend your first 9 turns playing GIPF piece. Of course, if you do that, then one of those moves better return some pieces to your return or that will be your last play.
I prefer the tournament version of the game. This version allows you to pick your strategy. Basically, you get to decide how aggressive you want to be. The more GIPF pieces you have, the more aggressive you can be but, you must be careful because each GIPF piece takes two pieces to make. The tournament version also tends to play just a little faster. The ever changing configuration on the board keeps it interesting too.
The board I have is a bi-fold board, but I believe there is a newer printing with a quad-fold board, which I think I would prefer. The pieces are black and white interlocking checker-like pieces. The are a nice plastic with a raised ridge set in slightly from the edge to allow them to stack without toppling.
One of the things that makes this game so good is that the board is constantly changing. However it does suffer from a difficult handicapping system. You can use some of the "potential" pieces, which I'll talk about soon, to add pieces for the weaker player, but even a moderate difference in skill requires 3-4 pieces. In addition one of the better handicaps to handle abstracts, allowing "takebacks" is difficult because the board is ever-changing. GIPF was reviewed in the first issue of Abstract Strategy Magazine and in that review Kerry Handscomb made a comment that resonated with me… and I started using a paraphrased version of his quote. I now describe the game as Abolone meets Go-Moku. Unfortunately, the comment is lost on people unless they already know about abstract games, so most of the people who might get it already know GIPF already.
I give the game GIPF a solid 7 rating.
I highly recommend GIPF if you like abstract strategy games. The game does take 45 minutes to an hour, making it one of the longer games in the series. I enjoy myself throughout the game, though. I don't know that it makes the best introduction into the GIPF series of games, for that I might go with YINSH, instead.