Buzzworthiness: Gorinto

Thanks to Grand Gamers Guild for providing a review copy of this game.

image by BGG user kamus73

Gorinto is a new abstract game from designer Richard Yaner that is to be published by Grand Gamers Guild, pending a successful Kickstarter that is due to start next week. The game is for 2-4 players, and is about building a gorinto (a type of Japanese Buddhist pagoda) by increasing your understanding of five different elements – Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Void.

At the start of the game, you’ll put 100 element tiles in a bag and mix them up. You’ll pull most of them out and arrange them on the 5×5 grid in a pattern as indicated in the rules. The first suggested arrangement is in a peak shape, but there are five different patterns you could use. The grid is bordered on two sides by ten other randomly drawn tiles. You’ll draw two goal cards and two key element and put them on the scoreboard. Everyone gets a player mat that will track their understanding.

On your turn, you’ll pick up a tile from one of the ten on the edges of the grid. Then, you’ll move it to any space in its row or column. Once you have placed it, you may take element tiles based on the tile you placed and your understanding of the represented element. At the start of the game, your understanding for each element is one, which means you must take one tile. This number will increase as the game goes on.

Each element has a collection pattern, which tells you where you can collect tiles from. If you used a Void element, you can collect from the four diagonally adjacent spots to the place where you left it. Using a Wind element allows you to collect from the orthogonally adjacent spots. Fire lets you collect any tile from the column, and Water lets you collect any tile from the row. Earth lets you take any tile from the stack under the tile you used.

When you collect tiles, they go in the matching spot on your player mat. This is where you can see how your understanding has increased. Each tile you’ve taken increases your understanding of that element by one. What that means is that you can take more tiles when using that element. So if you have two Fire tiles, you can take three tiles from the column when using a Fire element. It’s important to note that you can only take the top tile of each stack (unless using Earth), and you must take as much as your understanding. Of course, if your understanding is higher than four, you won’t be able to take more than that (again, unless using Earth and landing on a particularly tall stack).

A season ends when all players have taken three (for 2-3 players) or two (for 4 players) tiles from the border. At that point, you’ll score the two goal cards before drawing ten more tiles for the borders. The game ends after the fourth season, when you’ll also score the key element cards (two points for each of the indicated elements). The player with the high score wins.

I got a preproduction copy of this game, so components you see in the pictures are not final. The plan is to have recessed pieces that stack better and don’t knock around so easily, which I think can only be a good thing for a game like this. I mean, the wooden tiles in my copy are nice, they just bump around incredibly easily.

The game does have a pretty striking look to it. I mean, it’s a board with a pile of tiles in five different colors. Plus, there are several different layouts you can use, which makes the game look a little different each time.

Gorinto is ultimately an abstract strategy game, and while the “theme” here is based on the particular style of Japanese Buddhist pagodas, that’s really just a framing device for the game. Still, it’s interesting to see the thought that went into this theme. Gorinto means “five-ringed tower”, and is primarily used for memorials. Each of the five rings (or sections of the tower) represents one of the five elements – the cube at the base is the earth ring; the sphere atop the cube is the water ring; the pyramid atop the sphere is the fire ring; the crescent atop the pyramid is the air ring; and the jewel at the top of the tower is the ether ring, also known as energy or void. There’s other symbolism involved, but just knowing all this gives some more context for what you’re doing in the game. Especially since the elements on your player board are stacked in that exact order.

image from trocadero.com

There are several typical features of abstract games – typically, they aren’t reliant on theme, they are fairly rules-lite, there is a low amount of luck, and players tend to have the same information. Most of those apply here – theme isn’t terribly important, the rules can be explained pretty quickly, and there’s nothing hidden. There is a large amount of randomness to be found, though it’s all up front, i.e. what is referred to as “input randomness.” Every tile in the game will come out, but the order is extremely varied. The main board is made up of 60 tiles, and each round, ten more will come out of the bag. You can’t control the order, you just have to roll with it. Once out, the tile randomness is set and you shift over to strategic thinking. In the beginning, it’s mostly about trying to set yourself up to grab as many tiles as possible, and by the end, you’re focusing on how to best maximize your score for the goals. Which makes this a lot like an engine building game, not something you typically see in abstracts.

Turn order can have an effect on gameplay, particularly if someone in front of you makes the move you needed to make. But there’s always something to do, even if it’s not the ideal thing, which is good. Even if you can only take two tiles instead of four, that might not be terrible, depending on your goals.

And speaking of the goals, they’re the primary way to provide variability from play to play. Sure, the random distribution of tiles makes each game a little different than others, but the changing goals are really what provide the spark for the game. In one game, you may be trying to focus on making your shortest stack as tall as you can so you can score it, and in another, you may be trying to focus on making the difference between your tallest and shortest as large as possible. And then, there are the endgame goals, ensuring that everyone will be trying to get the same tiles throughout the game, which of course increase competition and interaction. The goals are kind of the glue that hold everything together, as well as what makes each play unique and interesting.

The game plays very quickly, and works pretty well at 2- and 4-player counts (I haven’t played with three). Scores in the two-player version are much higher than at four, which makes sense as you only get two turns per round with four players versus three with two. But the scores in the games I’ve played have all been ridiculously close. My wife beat me in a two-player game, 146-145, and I lost a tiebreaker in a four-player game (we both got 89, and I lost because the other guy had taken fewer tiles than I had). That really speaks to this game’s balance despite the randomness.

The biggest issue with this game that I’ve found is the setup. It takes a bit of time to randomly pull 60 tiles from a bag and arrange them onto 25 spaces. Cleanup is much easier – just dump everything in the bag. But it’s not a game you can just whip out and play within seconds of opening the box, despite being more fillerish in nature. That doesn’t bother me too much, though I think it’ll be easier with recessed pieces.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I absolutely think this game is worth a look. It’s an engine building abstract game, which is pretty unique in itself, with lots of strategic decision points and tight gameplay. If you’re a fan of abstract games, as I am, then this is one to check out.

A couple of other things to mention in case you’re wanting to check this out. It will be hitting Kickstarter next week (on the 12th, as long as nothing goes wrong). I’ll try to remember to update this post with the link when it goes live (EDIT: Here’s the link!). Also, there are five Dragon tiles that will be included in every Kickstarter edition and sold later at conventions and such. These are basically wilds – they collect as any element you wish, and when collected, go in any pile you wish. I never played with them, so I can’t give you any thoughts, but just wanted to give you complete information.

That’s it for another review. Thanks again to Grand Gamers Guild for providing a review copy of Gorinto, and thanks to you for reading!

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