Designer: Kris Burm
Artist: Kris Burm
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Category: Abstract Game
Player Count: 2
For many of us, our introduction to board games was Chess or Checkers. While I was never particularly good at either one, both helped propel my love of gaming to the forefront. In recent years, abstract games have taken notes on modern sensibilities of components and extreme replayability, leading to excellent games like Onitama and Santorini. But before even those games took off, Kris Burm cranked out an entire line of elegantly simple, highly replayable abstract games called the GIPF series. The project was supposed to stop after six games, but Kris couldn’t help himself, and now we have LYNGK, designed to combine elements from several games in the line. How does this game “stack up” (pun intended) to the rest? Let’s find out!
LYNGK is an abstract game, similar to Chess or Checkers, about stacking stones on a board. Nothing particularly positive or negative, although the game is a serious brain-burner.
Let me begin by explaining the relatively simple rules to LYNGK. On each turn, you simply move one stack of stones on top of another. All pieces start out as neutral, and you can only stack on top of a stack of same height or less, and you can never put the three wild stones on top. Furthermore, no sack can have duplicate colors. Stacks don’t have to be adjacent—you can actually move stones as far as you want in a direct line, stacking on top of the first pile you see. The goal is to make stacks of all five colors. All of this sounds great, but what’s the point?
The entire “shtick” of this game comes in two key parts. First, remember that I said “neutral” colors. At any point in the game, a player can claim an unclaimed color at the start of his or her turn before moving. What does that get you? First, to actually score points, a stack of five must have one of your colors on top, and then it is removed from the board and kept as a victory point. Second, you can move a stack with a claimed color on top of any size stack. So if your opponent has made a three-piece stack with no red, you can claim red and then put one red piece on top and take it for yourself. You can only claim one color a turn, and at most two colors the entire game, leaving the fifth neutral. So, the entire early game is a game of chicken and positioning as you maneuver to set up a great claim-a-color-and-claim-a-point move without your opponent noticing. And sometimes they don’t, because of the LYNGK rule.
The LYNGK rule allows you to move claimed colors in a different way. Normally, stacks move only in straight lines, but with claimed colors you may move to a stack with the same color on top and use that not as your stopping point, but as a “pivot” point to then turn and keep the stack moving until it lands on something to claim. It’s much simpler than it sounds, and it muddies the waters sufficiently so that the game doesn’t play itself. In fact, this game is far from clear on what the best move is, which is both good and bad. Open information games always run the risk of being easily “solvable” and then maybe a little boring, but the neutral position at the start of LYNGK might go too far the other direction for me.
For the first few turns, players have no real reason to favor one thing over another, and there are a ridiculous amount of moves available. From my 10 or so plays and talking with another player with twice as many games under their belt, claiming a color early is a bad idea, but it’s really hard to decide what to do otherwise at the beginning. With lots of experience, I think this becomes much more clear and it’s certainly an integral part of the game. But I think it keeps this from being an easily accessible abstract for beginners, even though the rules are quite simple. For comparison, TZAAR’s simple rule that each turn begins with a force capture gives the players guidance on how to get going without making the game completely linear.
Even with that caveat, this is a top-notch abstract game. The pieces are simple but chunky and beautiful, the price is inexpensive compared to most modern board games, and the game is highly replayable. However, it’s a very traditional abstract game, so I don’t think it will convince other players like Santorini and Onitama have. This game is a love letter to abstract players and fans of the GIPF series in particular, and I suspect those players are incredibly grateful for it.
Thank you to Rio Grande Games for providing a review copy of LYNGK.
The Bottom Line
LYNGK is a beautiful, clever abstract, and its lack of restriction in the early game make it particularly difficult to master.