|From: The Great American Trading Company, 1-800-225-7449 Cost: $30 Players: 2-4 Playing Time: 15-30 minutes Type of game: Abstract Strategy Complexity: 2 Skill level: 10 Reviewed by: Peter Sarrett, Issue 4.4 (16), Fall 1997|
The latest game from European abstract mavens Gigamic to be imported to the States by The Great American Trading Company is also one of the most solid in their series. Quoridor belongs to a sub-genre of abstracts, the maze-building game. The cherry wood board is grooved into a nine by nine grid which begins empty, save for each player's pawn in the center of the row closest to him. As with all Gigamic games, the rules are brief and simple.
Each player starts with an equal number of wooden walls— short planks which fit neatly into the board's grooves and span two spaces. Walls can be built anywhere on the grid, as long as they fit, are aligned properly with the spaces, and don't make it impossible for a pawn to reach its goal-the opposing edge of the board from where it started. Once a wall is built, it may not be moved or removed.
Pawns can move one space in any orthogonal direction, but may not move through walls. Pawns can jump over opposing pawns to a vacant space, as long as there's no wall in the way (thus preventing one player's pawn from blocking another).
On each turn, players must either move their pawn or build a wall. The first player to get his pawn to the opposite side of the board wins the game.
The simplest strategy is to keep moving forward towards the goal. If both players adopt this tactic, the second player will win since it gains a space at the midpoint of the board, where its pawn jumps over the other. So the onus is on player one to place the first wall. In the early game, one wall is rarely effective by itself. Once walls start to be built, the process tends to continue for a bit.
A sure way to lose the game is to move your pawn along a barrier before guaranteeing yourself a way through that barrier in the direction you're headed. Otherwise, just as you get to the opening you can be sure your opponent will block it off, forcing you to spend valuable moves retracing your step. Defensive use of walls is vital. To prevent the scenario above, a player could block off his path behind him, preventing his opponent from blocking the path before him (because it would cut off his only route to the goal, and would thus be illegal).
Walls are a limited resource, and as you might expect their placement usually determines the victor. Running out of walls gives your opponent an edge, since they know the board's topography can't change out from under them. Make each wall count.
I like playing Quoridor, and I like the way it looks on my coffee table. I just can't shake the nagging feeling that it's solveable— that it can be proven that the first or second player can always win. I haven't performed any of the analysis which would be required to prove it, and both players have won in our games. But this seems the type of game which could fall prey to a first- or second-player advantage.
If the flaw exists, however, it hasn't shown up in casual gameplay thusfar and is unlikely to spoil the game for most players. The process of placing walls and building the maze is alluring in much the same way as Manhattan's emerging skyline, Big Boss's corporate sprawl, or Entdecker's developing geography. Quoridor captures the eternally compelling nature of labyrinths and spins it into an entertaining, quick-playing and attractive form.