Published by Yggerasill.
Designed by Tarey & Kaarin Johnson.
Reviewed by Ken Tidwell.
Casual. That one word sums up Norns, the first release from Yggerasill, a new game company in Minnesotta.
Norns is an abstract strategy game. This genre has a reputation for being stuffy. Game sets tend to distinguish themselves by the quality of their game pieces and board. Polished wood, glittering glass, brightly polished metal - these are the building blocks of classic abstract editions. They look wonderful on the coffee table but you really wouldn't want to take them out backpacking.
And now for something completely different. Norns uses a t-shirt for its board, stores the playing pieces in a velcro pocket, and encourages you to find odd bits in pieces to use as tokens so that your set of 'charms' are a personal statement. Transport is not a problem but it is unusual to lose the shirt off your back before the game even begins!
The game play is another branch on the same venerable tree as Pente, one of my favorite abstract games. My wife and I are very evenly matched at Pente. This makes for some very good, though nerve wracking, series. For us the game hinges on creating your own patterns while spotting and disrupting your opponents developing patterns. As the game progresses and the number of pieces in play grows, analyzing these complex patterns can raise the temperature of our brains to the boiling point. I know that many of you thrive in these tropical mental climes but sometimes I'm in the mood for something a bit lighter weight.
Norns shares almost all of the same rules and goals as Pente. Players seek to establish a string of five stones in a straight line on a large grid. Stones are placed at the intersection points of the lines of the grid. You can capture your opponents stones by surrounding them with your own. But in this variant every other move is constrained to a limited number of intersections by a throw of two dice. This tends to wreak havoc with carefully laid plans. It also introduces an element of chaos or luck into the game.
Norns is an interesting game. Jos and I plowed through five or six rounds in the first sitting and have taken it out to play several times since. I think that given the time and energy I still prefer Pente. But during busy times when I just want a quick, relaxing, two player game, Norns is just the ticket.
I hope we see more games in the portable, t-shirt format from Yggerasill in the future!
The Game Cabinet - firstname.lastname@example.org - Ken Tidwell