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Review: Draughty turtles?

Tortuga is a relatively simple draughts related game that was released by Gigamic a few years ago, seemingly as part of their children’s line of games. In keeping with their philosophy of well produced wooden bits, the game actually comes in a two-piece tube made of bamboo containing a rolled up cloth board and a narrow bag containing 16 wooden turtles.

One the board is laid out, players see a hexagonal board with two opposide sides marked out with the spaces for their 8-piece turtle army. The turtles here are flat wooden pieces with legs head and tail cutouts attached to a wooden dome shell painted with some sort of islander patterns. During the game, the pieces can change sides, so they’re only assigned a player by their orientation.

The rules are simple. Moves at taken in turn and are either moving one of your turtles into an empty space in one of the three forward directions one step or jumping over a single turtle in any of the three forward directions. Jumps can also be chained, much as in draughts. The object of the game is simple, to be the first player to move a turtle onto the central space at the rear of your opponent’s starting formation. Despite the rules being very similar to draughts, this ending condition is more reminiscent of more modern abstract games.

Just these rules would provide nothing of an interesting game, so there are a couple of other twists. A capturing jump, one which is made over an opponent turtle, causes it to be flipped on its back and be considered neutral. A neutral turtle which is jumped is flipped over and can be placed on either team (indicated by facing direction). Players can also jump over their own turtles (without effect), but a chained jump cannot contain jumps over both friendly and opposing turtles (although neutrals can be mixed in with either type).

Finally, the game has a forced move rule, where an available capturing move must always be taken. This is actually a critical driver of the game and provides opportunities to force turtles to move (perhaps off the target space), or more importantly to force an opponent poised to win the game to waste several moves in a row making unhelpful forced captures. Creation of these forced capture moves is significantly easier since you may change a neutral turtle into an opposing piece as well as one of your own.

The learning curve for the game was interesting. Our first game was a simple race-to-capture struggled in the mid-board, won by brute force. The second was a game of long and elegant chains of forced moves, with the eventual winner delayed at the edge of the victory space for three moves by forced captures thrown up by a desperate opponent who got within 1 space of their own victory, the third descended into a little bare-knuckled fight of trying to capture space without yielding the the advantage of a forced capture. Seeing the game be discovered in greater depth each time was intriguing.

Tortuga is a relatively straightforward game, although I consider it to have more depth than several main-series Gigamic games such as Pylos or Inside. Mostly this revolves around the creation of multi-way forks and liberal use of forced moves to cripple or delay your opponent. The game could certainly be explained to the suggested 8 year old, but they’d struggle to play well. Overall, a fascinating recreation of draughts in a modern abstract form that I’ll happily pull out in the future.