Thursday, May 01, 2008

Review: Saikoro

Saikoro is another game from the new publisher Solbenk. Solbenk sent me this game and their other game Solomon's Stones to review.

Did you ever get the feeling when you look at a game that it's not going to be for you? That it will be ok, maybe appeal to non-gamers, but it's probably too repetitive or too simplistic to appeal to a Real Gamer? That's the feeling that I had when I saw Saikoro, and I'm happy to say that I was dead wrong.

Saikoro is an excellent game.


The game is an abstract game for two-players that plays in about 15 to 30 minutes.

The game is played in an 8 by 8 grid. Each space in the grid contains a die (d6), except for two that contain the two player pieces, solid white and black respectively. To prime the game, you close a box over the game and shake the game to randomize the dice (ala Boggle). Black moves first.

On your turn you must move your piece a number of steps equal to the number showing on the die on which you eventually land. After landing on a die, you remove the die from the game. Steps are counted orthogonally, and may not repeat spaces, cross over empty spaces, or cross over your opponent's piece.

There is one other rule: you cannot land more than six steps away from your opponent's piece. These steps are also counted orthogonally, however empty spaces count as steps for this calculation.

You lose the game if you have no legal moves.


The game base and cover are glossy cardboard with Japanese writing on them. The frame which holds the dice is "origami", or thick paper strips cut, folded, and crossed prettily. The 62 dice are standard red six-siders with white pips, and the two player pieces are numberless dice/cubes in black or white.

All in all, it's pretty. But the effect of 62 red dice with white pips is a very busy board, so I wouldn't describe the overall look as elegant.

As far as shaking goes, the noise is less than the noise you get from shaking Boggle dice in their hard plastic echo chamber, but I also wasn't convinced that there was enough height between the tray and cover to really randomize the dice as much as I wanted. I did a visual check on six spaces before and after shaking and only four out of six had actually changed their numbers. Considering the nature of the game, this is more than enough for a new initial position. Still, it irked me a little bit, for some reason.

The rules insert is clear and sufficient.


The first patterns you begin to see are how many steps it takes to get to certain numbers in various positions. For example, it takes:

- 1, 3, or 5 steps to land on a die orthogonally adjacent to your piece,
- 2, 4, or 6 steps to land on on die diagonally adjacent to your piece,
- and 6 steps to land on a die 3 rows and 3 columns away (3 spaces diagonally away) from your piece.

You must think not only on which die to land, but what your next few moves will be. It is of no use to land on a die only to instantly lose after your opponent moves because you no longer have any legal moves left.

As the board begins to empty, you begin to see how you can create no-go zones or walls of empty spaces to hem your opponent in to a restricted area. And how, once he is in such an area, you can further restrict his movement by keeping your own piece as far away from his as possible. But, again, you must be careful, because your opponent's location also restricts your mobility. The further away you land from your opponent, the less mobility you give them, which is true in the reverse, as well.

And that is just from my first two or three plays.

One thing that didn't happen, and I expect that it rarely happens but could happen in theory, is that one player has no, or nearly no, legal moves from his opening position. The game claims that the number of initial setups is "over 1,750,000,000 zillion zillion possibilities", so it's probably a rare event.


All of the strategies create a depth far greater than I expected from such a simple looking game. It has not only several different layers of strategy, but a story arc which creates different feelings at the beginning, middle and end of the game. Yet it all takes about 20 minutes to play.

Since the game changes each time you play, it's like a new puzzle to solve each time. But since your options depend on what your opponent does, there are no simple solutions to calculating the game out from its initial setup.

I expect the game to come out again as a filler game for players who are waiting for other games to end. And I expect to want to play the game many more times, at least until I feel like I've explored all there is to explore.


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