So if you’ve been reading this blog recently, you’ve seen many a picture of people playing a game with blue beads on what looks like a big Red and Green flower or something. That game, dear reader, is Ketchup.
Ketchup, like all great abstracts, is a game with simple mechanics but very deep strategy. The goal is simply to end the game with the largest group of stones, and each turn consists of a player placing two of her stones. The ‘catch’, however, is that if a player creates the largest group on the board during her turn, her opponent will get a third stone to place on his turn. The tension in this game arises in the decisions you’ll make regarding when to increase your groups and how much larger to make them.
Now, I encourage you to take this knowledge and play a few quick games of Ketchup on a website, IgGameCenter (where it’s listed as Ketchup 4.0), RIGHT NOW. Then, come back and read my review and see if it matches up with your experience.
I’d also encourage you to click play on the following YouTubes:
The reason, of course, is that I believe Ketchup’s closest musical analogue is the Bach’s masterpiece: The Art of Fugue.
Every game of Ketchup you will play starts out in a very similar fashion. To be sure, there are only a handful of distinct opening moves the first player can make. But, like Bach’s Fugues, a few slight changes can take the game in very different directions each time you play it. I have played this game nearly 60 times in the last few weeks and although I feel confident in my ability to recognize the strength of a player’s position, I am still repeatedly surprised and challenged with every game whether I’m playing someone new or the very designer of the game, Nick Bentley.
If Baroque music isn’t your thing, perhaps it’s better to think of Ketchup as the abstract game version of those capsules that turn into dinosaurs when sprinkled with water. Except, you and your opponent are both those dinosaurs and there is very limited water. You better soak it up before your opponent does or you’ll be split in two or completely wrapped before you know it.
I spoke above about the tension in this game, and tension there is aplenty. Even though I’ve analyzed 20 different games of Ketchup, hoping that somehow I’d divine a few principles about game play, I still feel anxious about when to attack. Will I split my opponents forces or just give her that extra stone she was waiting for to envelop mine? Ketchup has defied predictability with 63 games going to the start player and 63 games going to the second player on IgGameCenter over the past few months. I dare you to play 63 games and try to ‘solve’ this sucker. And then, I’ll make you play on a slightly bigger board where the strategies will be of a different flavor. Say, triceratops instead of pterodactyls.
So, yeah, Ketchup is either Bach or Dinosaur battle, and it deserves a few hundred plays by every reader of this blog. I’ll be on IgGameCenter, happy to show you all how to lose.