Publisher: Smirk & Dagger Games
Designers: Jamie Sajdak and Manolis Vranas
Playtime: 20 Minutes
Prepare to haplessly juggle four boards at once and do the “shocked Pikachu face” when your last stone is knocked off of a board. Shobu is a captivating blend of the classic and the contemporary, an abstract strategy game that challenges players to master the art of balancing passive and aggressive moves to outwit their opponent.
A Brief How To Play
Shobu unfolds on a set of four 4×4 grids, two light-stained and two dark-stained. Players are each provided with four stones on both color variations of the boards, creating a symmetrical setup. A dividing rope separates the central play area, and every turn offers two moves: one passive and one aggressive. The passive move must be executed on your side of the rope, allowing the movement of a stone up to two spaces in any direction without jumping over or pushing other stones. The aggressive move occurs on an opposing-colored board and must mirror the direction and distance of the passive move. This can be on either player’s side as long as the board is the opposite color. Unlike the passive move, the aggressive one can push other stones, and the goal is to push all of your opponent’s stones off one of the four boards to secure victory.
Pacing and Interaction
Shobu manages to maintain a swift and engaging pace, ensuring that games don’t wear down the players. It’s a dynamic experience from the very first turn. In the beginning, players will feel like they have unlimited options, with two boards with four stones to choose from for a passive move. As players lose stones, the game will feel like it’s opening up more, moving into a crucial midgame where the player has more room on a dwindling board to work with, even if the stakes are higher. Even when a player is left with only one or two stones, the game doesn’t feel over; each move matters, and two players with the same number of stones can find themselves in entirely different situations. The turns are short, and the only thing that would lead to downtime is the same analysis paralysis that players might experience in Chess.
Like most abstract two-player games, Shobu is as interactive as possible. Every match is a gripping strategic duel as players strive to position their pieces for the kill without exposing themselves. The passive and aggressive move system gives the game plenty of depth, much more than one would expect at a glance. Players will quickly realize that their perfect play is almost always out of reach and that they will need to learn how to play within the game’s limitations. As two players grow together, they will learn how to operate within the confines of the ruleset and learn how to manipulate it, forcing their opponents into situations that are less than ideal. The most memorable games are those where one player doesn’t simply make a mistake but is genuinely outwitted.
The simplicity of Shobu is deceptive; it is full of depth that will keep players coming back for more. The potential for different strategies and outcomes, combined with the ever-evolving nature of each match, makes Shobu highly replayable. As players improve, they will come to understand that every turn, especially the first two, is important. Like Chess, the first turn can actually seal a player’s fate without them even knowing it. It’s a game where the journey to mastery is a thrilling one, and the desire to improve and adapt strategies lures players back time and again. If players love a good abstract game that’s simple but has a high ceiling, it’s hard to find a better game that will last years and years.
Theme and Components
Shobu has a timeless quality, reminiscent of games that have endured through the ages. Without the box or the marketing, one would think that Shobu is an ancient game that archaeologists found during a dig. The classic black and white stones, square grids, and straightforward rules create a sense of familiarity. The components, crafted from beautiful natural materials like wooden boards and polished stones, not only enhance the game’s aesthetic appeal but also invite players to engage with the game on a tactile level. The visual cues, including the rope that divides the boards, aid in understanding the limitations and possibilities of passive and aggressive moves while still aiding the ancient aesthetic,
Sure it doesn’t have a real theme, but that makes Shobu pop even more. In a world where every game needs a compelling theme and something gimmicky to pull players in, Shobu reminds players that it is all about the game. The simple elegant appearance gives players the feeling they get when they receive a handwritten letter instead of an email. It’s something familiar that you haven’t had in a really long time, so it feels warm.
Shobu Is Great For Fans Of…
Shobu is an ideal choice for fans of abstract strategy games who relish engaging in a battle of wits. It’s perfect for those seeking a game that offers depth without excessive complexity. Players who appreciate classic, beautifully crafted board games will find Shobu to be a delightful addition to their collection, with its elegant design and straightforward yet captivating gameplay.
Also, if players love Boop, and not just for its theme, they should love Shobu. It has the same mechanical vibe and a touch of more depth.
Shobu offers a captivating fusion of timeless strategy and modern gameplay, making it an ideal choice for fans of abstract games seeking a challenging and balanced experience.
Pacing and Interaction
Theme and Components