Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Review: Last Step Game

Last Step Game (2 players, more possible)

Designer and Publisher: Alexander Zerykier

Summary

Simply, decent abstract NIM game, with cheap components and truly awful rulebook.

Rules

The game comes with a double sided board and 15 playing pieces in three colors.

Each player, in turn, places one of five pieces onto a 5x5 or 8x8 grid. Each player then, in turn, moves one piece any number of spaces right, diagonally right and down, down, or diagonally left and down. A player may move any number of spaces, jumping any number of pieces, so long as the player's piece lands in an empty space. Last player to move loses.

Variants are presented: more or less pieces, restricted movement options, different colored pieces with different movement or jumping rules, players move only their own colors, last player to move wins, and so on.

Reactions

Let's start with the good news.

As NIM games go, this one is a classic. That you place the pieces on the board should give the last player to place a piece a distinct advantage, if he can calculate correctly. But it's complex enough that that's not going to be easy.

The different movement possibilities, and the fact that the board space crowds toward one end, but no one defined end position, makes the game a nice challenge.

All the variants are obvious and similarly interesting from a mathematical perspective, if not from a gamer perspective.

And it's cheap.

Now for the bad news.

That rules explanation took me 100 words. The book provided with the game takes 28 laborious pages and is written like a legal document. It methodically plods through every possible move and mistake you could possibly make, until, by the end, you are more confused than when you started. The variants are described just as poorly, although they are so simple by nature, it is not hard to understand the idea.

My booklet even came with corrections stapled to various pages in an attempt to clarify some clarifications, but they only made it worse. *shudder*

The contents of the game are also very cheap. The board is a simple glazed cardboard, and the 15 pawns are cheap, undistinguished, and unattractive. Add a flimsy box and the words "Made in China" are not a surprise when encountered on the back. It looks like a game you would pick up as part of a bundle of five games in a dollar store. However, they are, at least, clear and serviceable enough.

If it were not for the fact that the designer sent me a copy, I would not have bought a copy. I recommend playing on a Checkers board and sending the designer $5 as a token of support, but only if he promises not to send you the game.

Conclusion

The components and rules may be cheap, but the game play is a pleasure for abstract lovers, families, and mathematicians. I'm curious to see what other game ideas this guy may have in mind.

Yehuda

7 comments:

David Klein said...

Yehuda said:

That you place the pieces on the board should give the last player to place a piece a distinct advantage, if he can calculate correctly.

The same "argument" would actually imply that the first player to place a piece on the board has a distnict advantage if he can calculate correctly...

Yehuda said...

I don't see that. In a NIM game, the person who achieves control is the one who is at state 0 and can always return to state 0 regardless of what move his opponent makes.

With the mechanic of placing pieces onto the board, the last person to place a piece gets to effect the state, not the first person. This is because he has free range of where to place the last piece.

If the game started with movement, then the first player to move would be able to effect that state, if he wasn't already dead.

David Klein said...

Correct, but the placing of pieces is itself part of the game. Let's say that Alice gets to place the last piece. Where she needs to place it obviously depends on where the previous pieces have already been placed. In most configurations, she will be able to place it so that after placement the board is in a zero state. But Bob could probably have placed his last piece in such a way that no matter where Alice placed her piece she couldn't force a win. Of course Bob would only have had such a play available, if Alice ...

So I would bet that the original board configuration with no pieces yet played is an "N" position ("N"ext player win).

Note: Since each player moves his own pieces, this game is nor really a NIM like game, so the term "0 position" is not as accurate as "N"ext and "P"revious player wins.

Yehuda said...

As to the last comment, in the basic game, all pieces are shared.

The colors only come into play in a variant.

Yehuda

David said...

What is a NIM game?

Yehuda said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nim

Yehuda said...

Alexander adds:

All pieces in all variants as well as in basic game are always shared.

Game is always for 2 players.

Whether one can "fix" winning position while setting up the board is not that relevant since players decide who makes the first move after the board is set up. (eg. rolling dice ). See page 8.

Even if one can set up winning position, one has still play faultlessly to win, with opponent doing everything to prevent it.

And one can always increase the number of pieces and play on larger boards or use many other variants of the game.