Review: Little fish in big pond... with stones

Jin Li is another of the small abstract games published by Nestor Games in a small cotton pencil-case like tube, designed to be easily portable. Despite their diminutive size, great abstract games lurk in many of these cases, and Jin Li is the fishiest so far, with a theme of koi or ornamental carp swimming around a stone-filled pond.

Like most abstracts the rules for Jin Li are simple. Players only have to worry about moving their fish and scoring points. The first player to get 10 points wins the game.

The game in played in a 7x7 grid laid over a soothing water background. Each player receives two plastic fish pieces in their colour which start in corners of the board. In order to score points during the game, players have to move their fish adjacent to other fish pieces.

Each turn, a play can make one of two different types of move. In a simple move, one of the player’s koi moves to any empty surrounding square and then the player adds one stone anywhere on the board. In a jump move, a koi jumps over a single adjacent stone to the empty space on the far side. After a jump move, no stone is added to the board. Points are scored only for the newly moved fish which scores 1 point for ever other koi (friendly or opposing) adjacent to its new position.

The interesting part of the gameplay arises from the rule that only a moved koi scores. Most games descend into a rance into and through a maze of stones near the centre of the board as the players attempt to position themselves next to an opponent’s fish which only has the option to move away out of contact.

The stone pieces are also interestingly multi-use. I’ve seen them dropped as a way to move faster (fish can jump to move 2 squares), to funnel opponent’s fish where you want them, as well as being dropped behind a retreating fish to cover its wake. There are some variants suggested in the rules for different rules surrounding stones.

I love the way the rules and components of the game interact. A few moves after starting the game, fish are leaping over the shiny stones in the pond and swimming in amongst each other. With the pretty water-patterned board, this is strongly evocative of a real fishpond.

Since it’s so portable (like the bulk of NestorGames titles) and such a quick and interesting game, Jin Li has found its way into my standard travel games collection, it’s super easy to explain rules to new players, making it a great cafe-table game as well.