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Aug 10

Divide and Conquer: Unpublished Goodness!

When I first played Divide and Conquer at Gen Con 2008, I was blown away by the brilliant simplicity of the design.  A four player abstract with zero randomness that can be taught in 5 minutes is a rare thing.   After playing D&C in 08 I immediately asked the designer, “Is it for sale and if so, where can I get a copy!” Alas I was informed that the game had not yet been released, but that he was hopeful for it to be out by Christmas. I put my then fiancée(Heather) on the case of bringing me some Christmas joy. As X-mas drew nearer, my now wife, sadly discovered the game still was not out.   With disappointment in my heart, I decided to hunker down and wait for next year.  As Gen Con 09 approached I saw it listed in the event catalog, and mentally logged it in the can not miss section!

Now that the history lesson is out-of-the-way, let’s get to the game. Divide and Conquer is an abstract strategy game that pits players in a struggle to be the first to occupy all 4 of their own color code victory areas. The game is played on a 10×10 coordinate labeled board with each player having equal distant paths to their victory areas. Each player controls 10 chips which represent his troops. There are no turns per say, as all players write down the coordinates of their moves and then reveal them simultaneously, resolving in a sequence determined by which player has initiative. For a move, a player can order any number of his chips from one stack(all 10 begin on one spot)to any adjacent space. If this move results in a collision between chips controlled by another player then they are removed on a 1×1 basis. In the basic rules if the stacks are equal then the stack moving in bounces back to it previous space. In a variant called the Commander’s choice the player moving in has the option to wipe out both stacks or bounce. Once the moves are resolved each player with any dead chips may in order of initiative reinforce one of his stacks on the board with one chip, or always has the option to place it on his color’s starting location. That is pretty much the entire set of rules for the game. It is with this beautiful simplicity of rules and lack of chance that D&C shines. The only luck in the game is in determining the player to start with the initiative. From that point on it is a game of pure skill. Due to a rule in the basic game restricting table talk it is entirely up to each player to move froward with his plans or thwart those of another player. As someone who has played countless strategy board games and had my plans ruined by the roll of the dice, or been victimized by early leader syndrome this was a relief.

My friends and I played four games in the 2 hour scheduled time slot and still had time to discuss the game and numerous variants with the designer Hans afterwards. They were as impressed as I had been the previous year and saddened that the game was unavailable in stores. Hans remembered me and how excited I had been about it from last year and much to my surprise offered to give me one of his copies! He said,”I would rather people be playing my game than wanting to play my game.” I have since introduced D&C to several other gamer friends and all have responded with the same enthusiasm. If you enjoy a pure skill, simple to learn hard to master abstract strategy game and happen to be attending a game convention where it is being demoed or it finally gets published, I highly recommend Divide and Conquer!

P.S.  Hans Scharler will be running at least one event of Divide and Conquer at Gen Con 2012!

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