Abstract Strategy Board Games

ZÈRTZ Game Review

A Game of Sacrifice

Think Checkers, only with a board that crumbles along the edges. Join Tom as he explores ZÈRTZ, yet another game in the abstract strategy game series Project GIPF.

Project GIPF is a series of eight abstract strategy games designed by Kris Burm. Each game features a hexagonal playing area and involves a dwindling of either pieces or playing area mechanic. The way they approach these elements is not only unique, but combines what I feel are the best qualities in most abstracts: simple rules that reveal complex game play.

If you’ve never heard the games within Project GIPF, GIPF, TAMSK, ZÈRTZ, DVONN, YINSH, PÜNCT, TZAAR, and LYNGK, I encourage you to seek them out, either in cardboard and bakelite or digitally online. They are well worth your time.

Today’s game: ZÈRTZ

ZÈRTZ: The box
ZÈRTZ: The box

The third in the Project GIPF series is an understated game of shrinking confinement. Moves consist either of the jumping-captures of Checkers or the placing of a marble onto an open disc and sliding away another disc from the outermost edge of the board.

Really, that’s it: jump and remove a piece, or place and remove part of the board. Simple, right?

All you need to do to win in ZÈRTZ is jump over and capture either 4 white marbles, or 5 gray marbles, or 6 black marbles or 3 of each color of marbles—all the while, trying to keep your opponent from doing the same, of course.

Playing the Game

A game of ZÈRTZ starts by setting up all the black discs (with helpful holes in the center) in a large hexagon. 

The opening 'board'
The opening ‘board’

ZÈRTZ comes with three different colors of large bakelite marbles, white, gray, and black. These form a common pool of marbles for players to choose from. 

Your opening moves will always be placing marbles on the discs. Players take turns choosing any one of three colors of marbles from the common reserve and placing them on any open disc of their choosing. After placing a marble, the player then slides out any empty disc of their choice away from the outer edge of the board. The only conditions are that the disc must be able to be pulled away from the board without any interference from any other disc remaining on the board and that no single disc can become stranded from the main ‘board’.

If a player places a marble in such a way that another marble can jump over it, the next player must make the jump. If more than one jump is possible, the player can choose which jump to make.

Closing in on the end game
Closing in on the end game

As well, if multiple jumps in a row are available, they must be taken. However, if a fork should offer the choice of two different jumping directions, the active player may choose which direction to jump. 

It only takes a few moves between players to demonstrate how these simple rules make for a board that looks very different from the opening board. Sides become irregular, edges become cracked, with deep gaps limiting the easy and safe placement of marbles onto the ever-shrinking board.

ZÈRTZ Thoughts

The path to victory is to jump over beneficial marbles, while keeping your opponent from the marbles they need. To do this, you’ll need to create situations where you force your opponent into capturing unhelpful colored marbles—and, with their final move, allow you to jump the colored marbles you desire.

Of course, this is far easier said than done.

If that weren’t enough of a challenge, consider this: if the reserve of marbles runs out, on your next placement turn, you must remove a marble from your own set of captured marbles and place it on an available disc. Not only are you removing a colored marble from your set of potential winning marbles, but you may be making a marble available to your opponent that they need to win.

Forcing your opponent to make a jump with a colored marble you need, that leaves you with the chance to jump the marble you placed, is an important part of your ZÈRTZ strategy
Forcing your opponent to make a jump with a colored marble you need, that leaves you with the chance to jump the marble you placed, is an important part of your ZÈRTZ strategy

ZÈRTZ is another of those games that I feel I should be far better at than I am. The rules are just as simple as I’ve described. However, as the board shrinks in unpredictable ways, implementing strategies can become frustratingly difficult.

ZÈRTZ is one of my favorite abstract gateway games for people who express an interest in games but who think board games haven’t changed since they were kids. I love it so much that I have a copy at home, and one at work as bait for anyone who shows even the slightest interest. Thus far, without fail, ZÈRTZ has hooked every single person who has played it.

  • Perfect - Will play every chance I get.

ZÈRTZ details

About the author

Tom Franklin

By day, I'm a mild-mannered IT Manager with a slight attitude. By night I play guitar & celtic bouzouki, board games, and watch British TV. I love abstracts, co-ops, worker placement and tile-laying games. Basically, any deep game with lots of interesting choices. 

You can find my middle grade book, The Pterrible Pteranodon, at your favorite online bookstore.

And despite being a DM, I have an inherent dislike of six-sided dice.

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