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#5 — APRIL 23rd, 2013

What if there were no Grandmasters?




Approaching one of the all-time great strategy games for the first time is incredibly daunting. There are so many who've come before you, writing books, winning tournaments, dedicating their lives to Go, Backgammon or Chess. And here you are, just showing up to the table. It's the terror first-time authors, sitting in front of the blank page, knowing that whatever they write will be, comparatively, crap.

What if you could start from scratch? What if you and a friend could approach a pure strategy game without the baggage, without a spectral 9-Dan Go master looking over your shoulder, whispering "Young grasshopper, you are doing it wrong"? Well, Hive offers just this opportunity. At 10 years old, it's brand new to the abstract strategy canon, but its nuance and depth of play suggest it has staying power.

Soldier Ants skitter around the edge of the Hive, grasshoppers move by hopping across it, beetles climb atop it, and spiders slide 3 hexes at a time. The Queen Bee can move only one space at a time.

The fella who introduced me to Hive referred to it as "Nature Chess," a cute if not entirely accurate comparison. Like Chess, there are small number of distinct pieces (Ant, Spider, Beetle, Grasshopper, in this case), each with its own way of moving, and victory involves gaining control of a relatively weak enemy piece (the Queen Bee).

The similarities end there, however. Pieces can't be captured; they can merely be surrounded or pinned down. There's no setup, either: play begins by placing a tile onto an empty surface, and the "Hive" grows from there. This makes the game incredibly portable, the Pocket Hive edition being one of the few board games you can easily play on a windy day at the park or on a crowded brunch table without fear of lost or ruined pieces.

Like the great strategy games, Hive's rules are simple and pure. You basically need to internalize two things: how the pieces move, and the "One Hive Rule" that maintains the continuity of pieces on the board.

A windy day in the park is fine territory for a boardless board game. The chunky tiles have a nice heft to them, so you can build a Hive almost anywhere.

Once you've got that down, you're ready to experience that "zen mind, beginner's mind" pleasure of exploratory play. Try out crazy strategies. Play quickly, lose arbitrarily, learn from your mistakes. Hive is new, comes with no baggage, and it isn't going away anytime soon. You've got plenty of time to wrap your mind around it.


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