Thursday, May 7, 2009



Abalone is a relatively recent game, invented by Laurent Levi and Michel Lalet in 1987, that has nonetheless become pretty popular as far as abstract strategy games go. It’s a very neat idea -- sort of a team sumo wrestling game -- that is probably unlike any game you’re used to. Although the rules might look a little daunting, they’re really very intuitive, and the game isn’t hard to get into.


The game is played on a 5-wide hexagonal hexgrid with 14 tokens per player. You can print a free board here and use coins or checkers or whatever for the pieces.


There are many different setup shapes used, and no one has really manage to find the “best” one. I’m presenting the “standard” setup position because it’s the simplest and probably most familiar to the average person, but advanced players may be able to exploit it and create an overly defensive position that can lead to a stalemate. Hopefully you won’t do that, though. I trust you.

Setup  The setup position

The goal of the game is to push your six of your opponent’s pieces off the board. You do this by moving groups of up to three of your stones around the board, pushing lines of your opponent’s stones. Black traditionally starts, and players take turns from there.

Moves are either “broadside” or “inline.” Inline moves are very much what they sound like -- moving a line of up to three stones one space along the “line” that they form. Just...look at the picture. Broadside moves consist of moving a line, umm, broadsidedly. Basically moving each piece in any direction other than along the line that they make up. You can move one, two, or three stones in a turn, but they all must adjacent and in a straight line (that is, you can’t move three pieces positioned in a triangle).

Movement Before  Before. Not even the green triangles could survive this dearth of color!

Movement After  After. The white player has performed a broadside
move; the black player an inline

Using inline moves only, players can push lines of their opponent’s pieces one space. However, you can only push a line that’s shorter than the line you’re pushing with -- so a line of three can only push a line of two or a single stone, a line of two can only push a single stone, and a single stone cannot push anything. It is impossible to push more than two tokens at a time, since you can only push with a maximum of three stones. You can never push your own pieces, even if you’re also pushing enemy pieces with the same move.

If a piece is pushed off the board, it is captured and removed from the game. The first player to capture six of his opponent’s pieces wins -- and that’s it.

Various Moves  The furthest pieces cannot push each other; they are equal in strength. The middle white pieces can push off one of the adjacent black pieces, and
the two closest black pieces can push off the closest white piece.