YINSH Review - Abstracted Perfection

As much as I will defend the inclusion of theme with a giant Captain America shield raised, I do also adore abstract strategy games. Simplicity coupled with complexity, it's weird to put those in the same sentence, but that's how a lot of them feel. Quick to play, quick to learn, but highly replayable and a great test of your brains inner synapses.

The GIPH series is a string of 2 player abstract games designed by Kris Burm. Highly popular among strategy gamers and sharing the common link of having names that are probably illegal in a game of Scrabble, they've proven to be worth their weight in abstract gold. Some are better than others and it's hard to choose which one you're going to start with. Unless you watch The Dice Tower in which you'll hear Zee constantly mention YINSH as his all time favourite.

Well . . . .he's not let me down yet on these obscure, out of nowhere games. Hello YINSH.

Designer: Kris Burm
Publisher: HUCH & Friends
Age: 10+
Players: 2
Time: 15-30 Minutes
RRP: £26.99

From Board Game Geek

In YINSH, the players each start with five rings on the board. Every time a ring is moved, it leaves a marker behind. Markers are white on one side and black on the other. When markers are jumped over by a ring they must be flipped, so their color is constantly changing. The players must try to form a row of five markers with their own color face up. If a player succeeds in doing so, he removes one of his rings as an indication that he has formed such a row. The first player to remove three of his rings wins the game. In other words, each row you make brings you closer to victory-but also makes you weaker, because you have one fewer ring to play with. Very tricky!


Most abstract games I see love to use their wooden pieces. And I'd have been fine with that here, but instead they've gone with the "Bakelite" material that some might recall from games like Hive. The pieces didn't have to be especially good looking, it's a bunch of discs and some rings after all, but this is some high quality goodness here. A mix of white, blue and black across the palette, every piece is striking and chunky and solid enough that you think each one could be a lethal weapon if thrown. You can't help but hold a few just to fidget with or enjoy the tactile feeling of them. Even the rings have a speckled design to them rather than simply being plain, a sign that the publisher took care about how this would look on the table.

The board itself is pretty generic, but then the sole purpose is to show the network of routes that each ring can be moved. If your vision isn't great it may be a little hard to see all the lines while everything starts to pile on the board, but it's not too bad and to be honest you'll be staring at this board continuously during your turn anyway, which won't actually be too long. The longest a game of YINSH should take is around 30 minutes, but once you get used to the strategies you can reduce that time. YINSH actually accelerates itself because no matter how long you try to maintain a stalemate, the increasing amount of discs on the board will mean someone is going to hit 5 in a row eventually.


Yinsh is one of those games where you can think ahead, but need to be prepared for change. Inevitably, just when you think you’ve got your attack plan set, your opponent will make a completely unexpected move and while you curse their name, you'll have to change tactics as a whole row of discs suddenly change sides and new opportunities arise.

And even though it may appear chaotic, you quickly realise the subtleties in place. Getting an early lead means you've got less rings to play with and thus less options. Bunching rings up together will limit their movement, but you might try to get in your opponents face whenever possible to block them as well. And you should never be afraid to flip discs to your opponents colour if it means you have a chance to profit later. They can have all the discs they want in their colour, but if they can't make it 5 in a row, they're no better off.

Players will play with different styles and you could spend ages mastering this game if you so chose, which is what a good abstract should do. You'll be engaged for every minute and you'll need a chill pill when it's all over following a close knit finish with a good opponent. And I'm certainly no expert at this, so I find myself at equal ends regularly, meaning I end up with some really tight, intense mental battles. Those moments like when I used to play Chess and faced off against a decent opponent - every move counts, mistakes can cost you and it's truly a battle of intellect.


This is the first of the GIPH series I've ever played and I doubt I will ever get to play all of them. And that makes me a little sad, because if they are anything like YINSH, I want to play them right now because YINSH is about as good as it gets for an abstract game. Many designers will try to shout out about "simple to play, hard to master", but this actually is a definitive representation of that statement. I can teach you this in less than 5 minutes, but then we'll be locked in thought as our brains turn to mush trying to outwit each other.

Offering a chance to strategically plan a string of moves ahead while also having to react to opportunities that may present themselves from a bunch of disc flips this will appeal to anyone who wants a heavy abstract experience with no luck in any part. Add to that the high production quality and striking look on the table, and you have nothing short of abstract perfection. I want all the other GIPH Project games in front of me right now to try and the prospect of a new one coming out in 2017 has me more excited than most games these days that get all the hype.

Thank you Zee. Thank you.



You love brain-burning 2 player abstract games.

You like games where you can plan a string of moves ahead.

You like ever-changing board states.


2 player games are tricky for you to bring to the table.

You don't like abstract strategy games in general.