Avalam Bitaka

Avalam is an excellent abstract strategy game for several reasons; firstly, it is original, both in concept and in game play. Secondly, is has the elegant simplicity that warms any abstract gamer's heart; a game that you can win, and know that you won because you outthought your opponent, not just because he/she made a stupid mistake first. Third, it's sufficiently complex (because of the number of available moves) that the strategies are far from obvious, and you learn a little more about the game each time you play. Finally, it's attractively made, with a wooden board shaped like an artist's palette, and wooden playing pieces. Anyway, onto the game itself...

Avalam is played on an irregularly shaped board containing 49 holes. At the start of the game, the board is set up with alternating black and white counters in the holes on the board, with the middle hole left empty. The counters are designed to slot into the holes, or into each other. During the course of the game, players form the pieces into towers, by moving counters (or towers) on top of other counters (or towers). One player plays white, the other black. In an unusual twist, on their turn a player may move any tower or counter (of either colour) to any adjacent space (diagonal or orthogonal) which is occupied by another counter or tower, but they must move the whole tower, and the new tower must not be more than 5 counters high.

The game ends when no more legal moves can be made, i.e. all the towers are isolated, or can't move without making a tower more than 5 high. The winner is the player who owns (i.e. has their coloured piece on top of) the most towers. For scoring purposes, single counters are treated as towers too.

Well, that's all the rules. The strategy is something else again; after a couple of games, you realise that most of the time you want to move your opponent's counters on top of each other rather than move your own pieces - this reduces your opponent's available moves, and at the same time, you can attempt to draw your opponent's counters away from your own. The next thing you find is that you can create little pockets of your own counters (or a majority of your own counters), which are guaranteed to become your towers at a later stage in the game. This makes the corners of the board very desirable. The other thing I have noticed is that once towers start forming, interesting situations occur. Strange deadlocks occur when lots of towers of size 2 are next to each other, for instance (moving any of these towers will usually allow your opponent to make a safe tower of size 5).

If you like abstract strategy games, then go out and buy a copy now.