YINSH (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer: Kris Burm
  • Publisher:  Huch! & Friends; Don & Co.; Rio Grande
  • Players:  2
  • Ages:  9 and Up
  • Time:  30-60 Minutes
  • Times Played:  > 10


Note: We’re focusing on reprints, re-themes, re-releases, etc. this month.  Since YINSH was recently reprinted, this entry is part of that series.  

YINSH was the fourth (arguably fifth or sixth) game published in the GIPF Project, an award-winning series of six abstract games by Belgian designer Kris Burm.  Burm first published the game through his company Don & Co. in 2003, with Rio Grande also releasing an edition that year.  It was later picked up by SMART for a revised multilingual edition and Rebel.pl for a Polish edition.

The entire GIPF series went out of print a few years ago, but HUCH & Friends has started reprinting the games with a fresh look, beginning with GIPF and YINSH.  That endeavor will culminate in the release of a new GIPF Project title next year.  I interviewed Mr. Burm for the most recent edition of Counter Magazine (April 2016) as part of my series on the history of the winners of the International Gamers Awards, and I wrote a history of GIPF yesterday on this site.

YINSH is perhaps the most revered game of the series, although all of the GIPF games are well-regarded.  As of this writing, YINSH sits at #2 on BGG’s ranking of abstract games, and it ranks #121 overall.  The game has won numerous awards and honors, including:

  • 2004 International Gamers Awards: 2-play Nominee
  • 2004 Spiel des Jahres Recommendation
  • 2004 Mensa Select Winner
  • 2004 Nederlandse Spellenprijs Nominee
  • 2004 Tric Trac Nominee
  • 2004 Japan Boardgame Prize Best Foreign Game for Beginners Nominee
  • 2005 Games Magazine Best New Abstract Strategy Game Winner

If you’re curious to try the game, Dave Dyer, webmaster at boardspace.net, has the game available to play for free online, either against live opponents or against bots.  The bots make decent opponents, especially for beginners.   

How to play YINSH…

Each player begins the game with 5 rings on the board.  You remove a ring each time you form a row of 5 markers with your color face up.  The first player to remove 3 rings wins.  

To start the game, each player brings their rings into play.  One by one, they place them at intersections along the game board (with the edge being part of the play area).  When each player has put their five rings out, the game begins.

On a player’s turn, he or she moves a ring of their color.  They take one of the markers — which are double sided — from the pool and put the marker with your color face up in the ring.  You then move the ring.

There are several ring movement rules:

  • A ring must move in a straight line.
  • It must move to an adjacent space.  
  • A ring may jump over other markers, without regard to color, as long as they are lined up without interruption.  
  • If, however, you jump a marker, you must put your ring in the first vacant space behind the markers you jumped over.  
  • A ring cannot jump over rings.  

If you jump over markers, you flip them to the other side, changing the face up color.  This happens regardless of color, meaning you may end up changing markers showing your color to your opponent’s.  Markers may never be moved.

If you form a row of five markers of your color, you must take the five markers from the board, and then remove one of your rings.  Any ring will do.  

If you form a row of more than five markers, you can choose which ones to move.  If you form more than one row, as long as they don’t intersect, you may remove all of them.  If they do intersect, you must choose which one to take.

The game ends as soon as one player has removed three of his rings from the board.  

My thoughts on the game…

To a beginner, YINSH can seem chaotic, and it makes sense why the opening line of Rio Grande’s rulebook is, “Can you find a bit of order amongst the chaos?”  But for an experienced player, the chaos starts to fade away, and a tense, deeply strategic game emerges.  

YINSH is probably the second most complex of the series (after PÜNCT), but it still won’t take more than three of four minutes to teach the game.  You likely could spend a lifetime trying to master the game, a hallmark of a good abstract.  

The gameplay shifts dramatically based on who you play with: some players enjoy the chaos of crowding the middle of the board, others seem to relish experimenting with tactics around the edges.  I got clobbered my first few plays, so I started practicing against the bots at boardspace.net, and it opened my eyes to how many different strategies there are in YINSH.  I’ve discovered two pitfalls to avoid: (1) don’t be afraid to flip your own pieces to your opponent’s side, as sometimes it can be to your advantage; and (2) try not to bunch your rings up too much, unless you’re using them for defense.

And you should use your rings for defense.  Since they can’t be jumped, placing your rings can limit your opponent’s move, which often makes the difference between you forming a row or not.  Of course, as the game goes on you have fewer rings (if you’re doing well!), so this becomes a more difficult strategy to use.  

This is probably either the longest or second longest game in the GIPF series, and my plays seem to always last about half an hour, possibly a little more.  Game play is quick — there are, after all, only five rings to possibly move on a turn — but it takes a while to set up the rows.  That said, the game can’t drag on too long: as the board fills up, it becomes inevitable that somebody will get five in a row.  This is the sort of game where you could ponder each move for several minutes, but even good players don’t seem to do that.  

I love the game, and it has a permanent spot on my game shelf, along with the rest of Project GIPF.  I’m just now getting to the point where I can find “a bit of order amongst the chaos,” and I’ve loved the journey from trying the game to understanding it better.  The rules of YINSH may be simple, but from them complex strategies emerge.  In my experience abstract titles stay relevant long after their themed counterparts, and I hope I’ll be playing YINSH for decades to come.  

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers . . .

Joe Huber (2 plays): Based upon the high ratings on BoardGameGeek, I decided to give Yinsh a try, in spite of my general distaste for abstract games.  While there are some abstracts I enjoy – Lines of Action, for example – Yinsh was not one of them.

Lorna: This one is easy to grasp. I like having to remove the ring making it more difficult to to repeat the task.

Mitchell: Yinsh is the most accessible and flamboyant game in the series. I love watching how each move completely changes the patterns on the board. It may not be the best game in the series but it’s the most fun!

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris Wray, Eric M., Mitchell
  • I like it. Erik Arneson, Lorna
  • Neutral. John P
  • Not for me…  Joe H.


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1 Response to YINSH (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  1. Fraser says:

    I haven’t played all the GIPF games, but this is my favourite of those that I have played.

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