Monday, August 22, 2005

"Cathedral" by Family Games Inc.

(originally published in the Missoulian of Missoula, MT on 08/21/05)

A year ago, a fellow PEAS farm volunteer sat me down and explained the ancient game of Go using a paper grid and two kinds of beans, some white and some black. The object of the game, he said, was to capture as much territory as you could by encircling different areas with your pieces. I was already interested in Go, having learned that it was the world’s oldest game, much older than checkers and chess, possibly dating back as far as a 1000 years before the birth of Christ.

My mentor and I played a short game, and I quickly realized why Go has flourished for so long. A lifetime would not be enough to learn all its intricacies. However the idea of getting better at Go kept nagging me.

Days after that first game, my partner Annie caught me drooling in my sleep, mumbling, "world’s oldest game, 1000 years before Christ," and so on. I decided to give Go another go and attended the regular Friday Go meeting at World Games of Montana.

Let me tell you something about Go players. They are extremely nice, patient, and helpful, but over the board they are animals. They are ruthless. They delight in squeezing the life’s blood from you and your pieces, and in a game of Go, this could last up to two hours.

Just as I was about to pass out from the brutal beating I was receiving, something happened. The manager pointed out a different game, one that played like Go, was filled with tons of strategy and fun, yet lasted only minutes.

This game was Cathedral, invented by Bob Moore of New Zealand and published by Family Games Inc.

Cathedral is a beautiful, three-dimensional, wooden game. It simulates the planning of a medieval village with two conflicting sides vying for space, one represented by light buildings and the other dark buildings. The object of the game is to place all of your pieces on the 10 x 10 village while preventing your opponent from doing the same.

Like Go, Cathedral is about capturing and filling space with your pieces. You do so by forming a bubble of space completely surrounded by your buildings and/or the edge of the village. This space then belongs to you for the remainder of the game, and your opponent may not play there. If one opponent’s piece is within your boundaries when you section it off, that piece is removed from the board and given back to your opponent. If two or more pieces are within your space when you section it off, then they are considered "alive," and the rest of the space is still up for grabs.

The pieces come in all shapes and sizes. The trick is placing your larger pieces first, then letting your little ones squeeze in the cracks. Once all the shared space is taken, then you resort to filling in space that you’ve sectioned off. The final result is reminiscent of a jigsaw puzzle.

What I like about Cathedral is its re-playability. It only takes a few games to be completely enthralled with its strategy and game play. A couple of friends and I whiled away five hours playing Cathedral, and it felt like less than half that had passed. The game is that good.

And while I don’t want to discourage the Go youth of today from being the Go masters of tomorrow, I do want to instill in you the idea of Cathedral as a game on par with checkers, chess, and Go. Though it is extremely young compared to these giants of antiquity, I predict that Cathedral will be around for a long, long time.

Cost: $40.00
Players: 2
Age: 8 and up
Time to play: 5 to 10 minutes
Rating (1 to 10, 10 being the best): 10
Additional Comments: You will find it nearly impossible to find a thinking person's game which plays this quickly. Great for young and old.

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