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    Review: Niya

    January 28, 2015

    Niya is a fast and simple – yet very thoughtful – strategy game for two people that is appropriate for pretty much anyone of any age, five and up. Drawing from some of the tactical DNA of games like Chess and Hive, the rules of the game are extremely easy to learn, but mastering it requires guile. All players need to do is connect four of their pieces (modeled after Imperial Japanese clan members) to win: either in a row: horizontally, vertically, or diagonally; or in a block of four pieces. The clever part of the game is that you essentially have to con your opponent into letting you do it.

    A game of Niya is played on a randomized 4×4 grid of tiles. Each tile on the playing field features two out of the eight beautiful conceptual elements in the game: maple, cherry, and pine trees or irises; and birds, rain, tanzaku scrolls, or the rising sun. Each time a piece is placed on the board, the active player removes the tile in that space. That player’s opponent may now only place a piece of his own on a tile that shares one of the two elements of the displayed on the tile that has just been removed. In short, every move you make guides your opponent where they are allowed to play next, and vice versa.

    This very simple twist of simultaneous offense and defense makes Niya immensely more tactically interesting than your standard Connect Four-type affair. You may have three in a row just waiting for that final piece to complete the chain, but your opponent never lets you have what you need to play exactly where you want. Maybe you can force her to play somewhere that gives you more options, but is that a clever trap that would allow her to jump in and block you first? Niya is the kind of game that takes a minute to teach, but also makes you consider every move you make carefully, without necessarily pushing you into analysis paralysis.

    Form-wise, Niya is awesome. It comes in a small metal tin that can easily be thrown into any bag, takes about thirty seconds to set up or put away, and games clock in around the five- to ten-minute mark. If ever you’re looking for a fast and thoughtful abstract strategy game that can be played just about anywhere and be taught to just about anyone, Niya is an excellent, inexpensive, and very replayable choice.


    If you like: Connect Four, Gobblet, Quarto
    You’d definitely enjoy: Niya
    MRP: $12.99
    Designer: Bruno Cathala
    Produced by: Blue Orange