Last month I had the pleasure of meeting Alessio Cavatore, the man who literally wrote every game I played in my late teens and early twenties.
For those who don’t know Alessio was the man behind the Lord of the Rings system, a system that remains largely unchanged even to this day and has formed the basis of several other historical games. He was also responsible for 7th Edition Warhammer Fantasy Battles and 5th Warhammer 40,000.
But what’s my point? Well it’s this, Alessio also designed a board game and it’s called Shuuro…
You are a mighty leader, although your advancing age has limited your mobility somewhat. Luckily you married a young, virile warrior princess, perhaps the greatest in the land. Standing steadfast by your side is the ever vigilant clergy, ready to rain down holy hell and smite any that stand in your way. Beside them your trusty Knights, mounted on their courageous steeds and last but not least your castle walls themselves, bastions of defence, imposing and deadly all at the same time…
Oh yeah and there is some peasant rabble too…
What comes in the Shuuro box then?
- 1 double sided board
- 8 plastic Blocks
- 43 Red Pieces
- 43 Blue Pieces
- 2 Dice
- 1 Rulebook
Ok, so if you don’t know what Shuuro is, it’s a chess variant. The game is played on a 12 by 12 grid and it uses 8 plastic blocks to form a new layout every time.
The board is pretty nice, there is a little bit of artwork to make it less bland than a standard chessboard without being over powering. The plastic blocks are moulded plastic, they could be better but they serve their purpose. The pieces are nice enough for me, solid plastic, with a felt base and, most importantly, they make a nice noise when you knock over the other player’s pieces with them.
For me, this is enough, I’m not super excited about Chess and have never felt the need to go out and spend a lot of money on a set made of gold or crystal, however, if you really are a chess lover the pieces will not blow you away.
The rulebook is well written and it has some tongue in cheek humour in the rules, which I appreciated. It also comes with a bunch of optional rules and variants in the back, as well as a full explanation of how to play Chess.
So, as I said, I think the production quality is nice enough for most people and for the price point and the fact that the board is double sided and can be used as a standard chess set is a great idea.
Setting Up the Game
The way that Shuuro differs from Chess is mainly in the set up of the game. Each player is given 800 points to spend on their “army”. The point costs are as follows:
- King – Free – Mandatory
- 0-4 Queens – 110pts
- 0-6 Rooks – 70pts
- 0-8 Bishops 40pts
- 0-8 Knights 40pts
- 0-16 Pawns 10pts
Each player may have at most 32 pieces in their Army.
Once the players have chosen their army it is time to set up the battlefield. For each quadrant of the board the players roll 2 dice, one die is the y axis, the other is the x axis. For example a 3 and 6 would mean the 6th space in the third column. Each player does this twice for each quadrant on their side of the board, placing a plastic block in the square indicated by the die roll. It would have been nice if there had been two different coloured dice included so players could roll both together, but that’s just nit-picking.
The plastic blocks perform a simple function, they stop movement, the only exception to this is Knights which can leap over or even on top of the blocks. A piece on top of a block can only be taken by another Knight.
Once the board is set up each player rolls a die to determine who goes first. The first player then deploys their king somewhere in the central 6 spaces of the back row on their side of the board. The other player does the same.
Then in turn each player deploys his one of his nobles (i.e. not Pawns) until all have been placed. The player must deploy nobles into the back row until it is full. Once all the nobles are deployed the pawns are placed in the second row. If there are too many pawns to fit in the second row they can be deployed in the third row, but such pawns would not be entitled to take a double move on their first turn.
Playing the Game
Shuuro plays exactly like Chess but with the differences as noted above. The first player to checkmate the other players king wins.
Shuuro is an interesting way to play chess, but that is what it is, Chess. If you don’t like Chess Shuuro won’t change that. However, if you would like a different challenge, or a way to play chess that is not as repetitive then Shuuro can help here.
Being able to change up your army each time opens up new and interesting tactical decisions. Also, using the point system allows you to give the better player a handicap, making the game more fun for the player who is not a chess wizard.
The changeable set up is also interesting as it forces you to think differently about how you move pieces and even about how you deploy pieces. While the terrain can be a great way to protect your pieces, it can also become a death trap if you’re not careful.
Half Sized Shuuro
One of the variants I’ve played with Shuuro is to simply fold the board in half, this gives you a 12 by 6 grid to play on. Using 400 points instead of 800 and 4 blocks instead of 8. Half Sized Shuuro offers a very different challenge, especially for Queens and Bishops. It becomes a lot easier to defend your half of the board as the blocks often cause bottlenecks around the centre.
Mini Shuuro is simply played on a 6 by 6 board using just 200 points. This leads to a very fast and simple game, although the better player will almost definitely triumph in this format. It’s certainly a good way to play Shuuro quickly and it offers a very different strategic feel than the big game.
In my talks with Alessio we discussed three expansions for Shuuro.
- Turanga – This expansion adds a 3rd and 4th player and turns Shuuro into a team game.
- Yuddah – This upcoming expansion will add an optional dice combat system
- Loka – This upcoming expansion will bring new terrain to the game including forests, lakes, swamps and elemental loci
So, do I like Shuuro, yes. What I like about Shuuro is that it is simple, it takes a ruleset that most people know and simply changes it up just a little. The variable set up and army selection, coupled with the variable board sizes means that no two games of Shuuro need to be the same.
Do the changes make me any better at the game? Quite frankly, no. Unfortunately Chess is not a game that holds enough interest for me to even attempt to master it. I don't mind the odd game here and there but there are a lot of other games I’d rather be playing.
However Shuuro has the benefit of being able to be played quickly, using mini or half sized Shuuro making it a great, thoughtful filler game for two people.
Because I’m not great at Chess I am personally looking forward to the dice expansion which will hopefully allow me to leverage luck to my advantage, while the terrain expansion offers even more ways to change the game and breathe fresh life into the old game of chess.
So my final thoughts are that I like it as it is, but I’m even more excited to see where it goes next!
--- A Copy of Shuuro was provided to me for Review from River Horse Games---