Review: Pieces of six! Pieces of six!

There are many abstract games in which players create a row of pieces to win. Six is, at most, a distant cousin to these games who lives in a much better part of town. In Six, players place pieces trying to create one of the three possible winning formations (including a line) while playing for position in two different phases of play forcing them to walk a delicate balance of attacking and defence.

The components are typical for a Steffen Spiele game, which is to say, Six has great chunky wooden pieces, thick rounded hexes painted in red and black for each player. The game builds from a starting position of one red and one black hex laid next to each other in the playing area. Players take it in turn to lay a hex piece of their colour with a side touching one or more of the existing pieces. The goal of the game is to be the first to create one of three winning formations. The first is a simple 6-hex-in-a-row formation, the second a triangle of 6 hexes, and the third is a ring of 6 hex pieces (whether empty or containing any piece). Each of these three formations immediately win the game.Once players get the hang of the game and how to spot the threat of one of these formations, players can manage to get all of their pieces placed without either managing to win. In this case, the game moves into a second phase. In the second phase, the game's goal remains the same, to create one of the three winning formations while preventing your opponent from doing the same. Each move consists of removing any one of your own pieces from the board and placing it in a new location. If the removal separates the remaining pieces into two groups, the smaller group is captured and all its pieces are removed from the game before the break-causing piece is replaced.It's worth noting that the standard FoxMind version of the game has a much more restrictive capture mechanism where only a single piece at a time could be captured, this to make the game easier on beginning. I'd strongly suggest playing with the current German rules from Steffen Spiele (or from my translation of them), and playing with full captures.

The game ends with either the creation of one of the winning formations as before, or with one of the players being reduced to fewer than 6 pieces (and thus losing since it is no longer possible for them to create a winning formation) The rules also describe an unusual (for an abstract game) sort of partnership game where four people play in pairs, seated opposite like Bridge partners. In this case, they must play silently and try to intuit the plans of their partner as well as both keeping a lookout for threats. I might try this out sometime, but I prefer not to leave half my play up to the chance of careful observation by another player.Once players have mastered the basic game, doing well in the second phase of the game becomes a much more interesting goal. Each player is forced to balance creating structures and blocking their opponent in both the current phase as well as trying to ensure that they enter the second phase, with its very different game-play, with the strongest position.

We found it took only a handful of games to learn to recognise the forking moves that could lead to an unstoppable triangle or a row, (although for some reason, the ring was always much easier to recognise and I've yet to see a game won with it). Once past that, things got much more interesting as we'd both get all our pieces down without incident and then sail into the sudden shifts in the second phase where the opportunities to threaten capture as well as winning formations mean the game really steps up a notch in intensity.

Once you're consistently getting to the second phase, preparation in the form of ensuring you have some almost-finished formations to threaten the other player with and a little defence in the form of ensuring that no large groups of your pieces can be easily captured becomes important. The captures only start to bite once you play longer in the second phase, since your opponent can only remove their own pieces from the board. There's still a risk if a lot of your pieces ended up on the periphery.

The only possible frustration from the game is if you are trapped into a cycle of purely reactive moves, blocking your opponent at every turn with scattered pieces that never come together in groups. Ideally, you will see how to be more efficient with your spoiler moves so you have opportunities to create threats of your own. In really great play, you can incorporate those spoiler and blocking moves into your own threats.

With the super simple rules and stepped game-play, Six is really a wonderful quick abstract to pull out and play. The game plays quickly enough (particularly if someone makes a mistake) that we regularly end up playing several games in a row as the loser wants that final opportunity to show they can make things come out quite differently this time. A great light-medium abstract game.