Where do the Extra ZÈRTZ rings come
When ZÈRTZ was still "under construction",
it could already be predicted that the game was going to need a
larger board when players were going to become really good at it.
A ZÈRTZ-move is rather complex and offers plenty of options
(you choose a marble, you put it on the board and next you remove
a ring). On top of that, you and your opponent play with the same
pieces, both marbles and rings. It takes a while before one finds
out how to deal with the combination of possibilities. But, on the
other hand, once you get a grip on it, the fact that you must undertake
several actions in one and the same turn implies that you have more
ability to control the game, meaning that having the initiative
becomes increasingly important. It allows you to force the play
and leave the opponent no other choice than to do what you want
him to do. As such, the strategic possibilities can be seen as a
bottle neck: the many options you have when you start learning the
game are reduced as you improve, in particular because of the shrinking
When playing ZÈRTZ with 37 rings the bottle neck is becoming
extremely narrow for the experienced players. In particular 4 dedicated
players have contributed to the way ZÈRTZ is currently played
and to the speed with which playing it has evolved in only 2 years
time. First there was Yoshi Ikkai (J). He played several games per
day for a period of four months and came up with the strategy of
repositioning the marbles on the board by making sacrifices. His
point of departure was simple: I can give whatever I want as long
as the pay off will bring me closer to victory than my opponent.
He showed his method of playing ZÈRTZ to Stephen Tavener
(GB); he stuffed Stephen with 11 marbles to capture 4 white marbles
himself. A hit! Stephen, amazed by Yoshi's approach of the game,
got into practising long sequences of moves and went one step further:
he specialized in combining capturing by jumping with capturing
by isolation and, even more significant, he launched the sacrifice
to prevent the opponent from getting "sente" (the initiative).
This sacrifice concerns giving more than what you get yourself,
with the purpose to remain in turn.
Then Michael Reitz (D) and David Glaude (B) started playing ZÈRTZ
on Richard's PBeM server. Michael played a number of games against
Stephen, asked advice and learned from his defeats. David studied
quite a number of games that were played by e-mail. Both really
got into the game. Yoshi and Stephen had analysed systems, Michael
and David started to analyse positions. Meanwhile they got that
far that a player who opens against one of them with a marble on
the edge of the board, already lost the game (no matter the colour
of the marble, no matter which ring he removes). There are still
enough save spots to start a game, but it illustrates well why advanced
players may want to start playing with extra rings some day.
The first version of ZÈRTZ was the basic version
(i.e. with 5 white, 7 grey, and 9 black marbles). 3 marbles (one
of each colour) were added to the game. It was also discussed to
enclose 12 extra rings in the box from the very beginning, but tests
pointed out that it was not a good choice. It would have meant that
players were supposed to understand the game before having learned
the basic strategies. Extra rings turn ZÈRTZ into a different
game, especially for beginners and for players who normally don't
fancy abstract games. It makes the game longer, it takes more moves
before having reached a conflict on the board, and, last but not
least, it makes it a lot harder to find out how to start making
sacrifices for the simple reason that more distance must be covered
between the marbles on the board. In other words: many who like
ZÈRTZ as it is for the moment, would not have come to a positive
conclusion with extra rings.
Even a player like e.g. Stephen Tavener thought in the beginning
that ZÈRTZ was a game about filling up the board until no
more safe moves were possible. Nothing spectacular, he thought.
Then he discovered the strategy of giving away a couple of grey
and black marbles with the purpose to isolate one or more white
marbles, and at that point he started liking the game. But it was
not until Yoshi Ikkai showed him how to reposition the marbles on
the board through forced captures, that he understood the true complexity
of the game. This only to say, if it even takes a gifted abstract
games player like Stephen over 6 months to start seeing what the
game is all about with 37 rings, then what would be the point of
confronting less abstract games minded people with 48 rings?
For a short while it was discussed to enclose, apart from 3 extra
marbles, also 3 extra rings. That would already have offered the
possibility to start with an irregular hexagon and have given more
different opening moves, but it would have been nothing but an intermediate
solution. So, the extra rings were discarded - that is, they were
going to be made available through GIPF Set 2.
At this point the cooperation with Schmidt Spiele
came to an end and that explains why it took so long before GIPF
Set 2 became available. Now the set exists, and this is where I'm
today. But it is far from sure that this will be end of the line.
I have no idea how the play of ZÈRTZ will go on to evolve.
Maybe the extra rings will be enclosed in the next edition of ZÈRTZ.
That is a possibility. The game already has a reputation, so enclosing
the extra rings would not harm it. But it could also be, as Stephen
Tavener predicts, that the ultimate version of ZÈRTZ will
be played on a board with 61 rings. Or maybe, one day, other measures
will be taken to lift the game to another level. I just don't know
It will be a matter of listening carefully to the best players out
Kris Burm (Feb. 11, 2002)