I first discovered Lines of Action several years ago, when I read Sid Sackson’s book A Gamut of Games. I was immediately intrigued by it, and, although I was not an active boardgamer at the time, it lurked in the back of my mind as something I would like to try.After I signed up for Boardgamegeek, I thought to check it out. I discovered that it was well-rated, but not widely known. I made a mental note to play it when I got a chance, but that meant indoctrinating some friends into boardgaming first.
Fast forward a year or so, and I had a couple of friends that I played my nascent Eurogame collection with. One night, I stayed late at a gaming session with one other player, and I decided to spring LoA on him. We both enjoyed it quite a bit, but we didn’t play it again for about a year and a half. I wanted to, but it was never a convenient choice.A couple of weeks ago I decided to go out of my way to play LoA again, and this time it caught. I played 15 games of it over the course of two days, and I am even more fond of the game than ever.
Lines of Action is a two-player abstract designed by Claude Soucie. Played on a standard 8×8 checkers or chess board, players begin with 12 pieces, lined up 6 to a side on opposite sides of the board (see top figure at right), although other starting setups are feasible. On their turn, a player moves one of his pieces in a straight line, orthogonal or diagonal, a number of spaces equal to the total number of pieces of both colours on that line (including the piece that is moving; see bottom figure at right). If you move onto an opponent’s piece, you capture it. The object of the game is to move all of your pieces on the board into a single contiguous formation (diagonal connections are valid).
That simple set of rules produces fun, typically fast-paced play. There is light strategy and interesting tactics. 19 plays in, I feel like I am still only scratching the surface of what LoA has to offer.
For example, one of the first discoveries I made is that capturing opposing pieces is a mixed blessing. While captures weaken your opponent’s board control, it also reduces the number of pieces he has to wrangle into a single formation in order to win. In fact, a player that only has one piece on the board automatically has a winning position. Unlike most abstracts with piece capturing, taking too many of an opponent’s pieces can be a strategically bad idea.
Later plays have shown that even this analysis is overly simplistic. The reduction of board control that I mentioned is significant. While a small number of pieces can be easier to coordinate into a single formation, It is easier to disrupt their coordination, too.There are several types of tactical ploys, as well. The first time you frustrate an opponent’s winning move by calmly removing one of your pieces from the key line is a pleasure. The unconventional movement rules make LoA tactically diverse and fresh.
Early play has also revealed a few layers of strategy. I tried the obvious tack of sticking all of my pieces together in the middle early on. This soon gave way to the more efficient strategy of leaving the pieces on one side of the board in place while moving the other side across, since you only have to move half of your pieces to win that way. Soon this plan began to break in the face of countermeasures, though, and play has moved more in the direction of starting by moving one side across, and then playing pieces from the other side when the situation indicates the best way to do so. There are other strategic motifs that have not shown themselves yet, I am sure.
While I do not rank Lines of Action as highly as I do the best games in the GIPF Project (YINSH and GIPF, to be specific), LoA is simpler and a bit easier on the brain, so it fills a slightly different niche than they do. I would recommend that any fan of two-player abstracts, or any boardgamer that does not hate abstracts as a category, give Lines of Action a try. It is fun, subtle and surprising. I rate it 8/10 on BGG.Give you checkers set a break and play something good with it for a change.