Ryan of The Inquisitive Meeple looks at the new abstract game, SHŌBU

SHŌBU is a new combinatorial abstract game (Hive, Chess, Go, etc)  published by Smirk & Laughter (an offshoot of Smirk & Dagger) and designed by Manolis Vranas and Jamie Sajdak. The game is played with 4 small 4×4 wooden boards (2 dark and 2 light) and 32 river stones -16 white and 16 black. Each player has 4 rocks on each board – and the object of the game is to push your opponent’s rocks completely off one of the 4 boards. How is that done?  Well to start a setup looks like below – the rope divides the players homeboard space. The one light and one dark board closest to you is your ‘homeboards’.

On your turn, you have to make 2 moves – a passive and aggressive move. The passive move must be made on one of your homeboards – its simple move on of your stones up to two spaces on the board. A passive move may not push an opponent rock. Then comes the aggressive move and the “twist” that makes SHŌBU stand out. You must do the exact game move on either board of the opposite board (so if I moved two spaces up on my light wood homeboard – I must move one of my rocks on either dark wood boards two up). The aggressive move DOES allow you to push an opponent rock as long as there isn’t another rock behind it – and this is how you are able to push your opponent pieces off a board. Just as an aside – you may never make a passive move that cannot also be done via aggressive move. That’s it. It is that simple. 

Simple, but elegant is a great way to describe SHŌBU. Another way is that can be like a knife fight, no scratch that.SHŌBU can be like four separate knife fights going on at the same time. You have to be diligent with more than just one board, maybe you escape defeat on one board before you know it your opponent has you on the ropes on another board. It’s quite brilliant like that. Part of that is each board is 4×4 grid, making conflict happening sooner than later, and you’re never really out of reach on any board. This having to watch and play on multiple boards, while also planning a move that can work as a good double move, is what makes SHOBU shine. It is very easy to get caught up in trying to defeat your opponent, that you ignore one board and then find yourself with just one stone left, making you have to adjust your own tactics, to make sure that stone doesn’t get pushed off the board. 

Smirk & Laughter, was smart in the way they package this as well, with the simple wooden boards and using stones. Making it not only have a nice table presence but also giving it an ‘ancient’ abstract look to it, while also making it stand out as ‘different’ from many modern abstract games. The only negative I think I can come up with about SHŌBU is actually at the same time part of its charm. The river rocks. Since they are not conformed (again part of its charm) you may get some small ones or even chipped ones in your bag. I say this is a negative, but it also can be its strength, in the sense, that everyone is getting their own unique playing pieces to their game, that other copies won’t have.



This game is a GREAT game to introduce to people that may be hesitant to play abstract games. With the way, movement feels it is very unique but also extremely simple to grasp. This would also be a great game to introduce to children, BEFORE something like Chess. That isn’t to say seasoned abstract gamers, won’t enjoy SHŌBU, at least in my case, I really enjoy this game. has to be one of the best abstract games to come out since Hive in 2001 or the various Project GIPF games, and deserves the hype it is getting. Even more so than those games, I think SHŌBU is perhaps is more approachable than most abstract games, due not only to simplicity but the unique look that may draw people in to play it, and the twist of how movement works stays with your even after the game is boxed up.  I dare say that SHŌBU is one of the best new games thus far in 2019.  

By the way, any readers that would like to learn more behind the story of the game of SHŌBU  can check out this interview I did with its co-designer Mano Vranas: Simplicity in the Stones: An Interview About Shōbu


Thanks to Smirk&Laughter for sending a review copy for an honest review.