Omnigon Photos and Review
Omnigon is not a new game. It is copyright 1988 and has been a staple of games stores as long as I've been going in them. Yet it has never appeared on chessvariants.com and is extremely difficult to find on the Internet - the only place I can find it online is on the webpage for the same store at which I originally bought my own copy - Beany's. It retails for 24.95 USD. It is also a fun game to play.
Omnigon is a chess variant in the sense that players command an army of pieces with specific ways of moving in an attempt to capture the opponent's "royal" piece - but here is where the similarities end. The game is played on a hexagonal board of hexagonal fields, and the pieces - which can be rotated at the end of a move - have arrows on them showing in which directions each piece is allowed to move. An important rule is that all arrows also act as shields, meaning a piece can not capture another piece if it means that the capturing piece would have to move along a shielded line to make the capture. This rule changes the tactics considerably, because it means that generally a player can not protect a piece by direct defense.
Consider the following situation: Player One moves a Bi-gon to a position where it threatens Player Twos's Tri-gon. Player Two responds by moving a Star-gon to a position to protect the Tri-gon. Player Two's defense fails because Player One can still capture the Tri-gon and then rotate his Bi-gon so that its shields prevent the Star-gon from capturing it on the subsequent move.
Therefore when a piece is threatened, it generally must move away - it is illegal to rotate without moving - or it must be defended by more than one piece in such a way that a threatening piece can not shield itself from all of them. It is this characteristic more than any other that makes Omnigon unique. Omnigon is not as similar to games such as Ploy, Rotary, and Tournoy as one might initially think.
The Omnigon equipment is solid but not particularly special or attractive. The box cover boasts a "3 dimensional playing board", which is technically true but perhaps a bit misleading - mathematically Omnigon is strictly a 2D game. The board, which is made of plastic, does have a thickness of 1/2" (1.3cm), although it is hollow underneath. Additionally there is the black covering on top, which is only 1/32" (.1cm) thick. The hexagonal spaces for the pieces are cut from this covering, and although it is not particularly eye-pleasing - it reminds me of the grip tape that people put on their porch steps to help avoid slipping in the rain, it does effectively line up the pieces so that their arrows are pointing in the correct direction. Overall the board is 16" (20cm) from point to point, giving it an overall size about standard for commercial board games.
The pieces are solid plastic, nice and big, and easy to read. They are 1/4" (.6cm) thick and 1-7/8" (5cm) point to point - in the photograph I have including a US penny for comparison. The two sides are silver and gold with the arrows printed in green. The pieces are consistent in size, but unfortunately minor inaccuracies in centering and alignment of the arrows creates the optical illusion that the sides of the pieces are not all the same length. Additionally, all the pieces have a strange swirl pattern through most of the plastic, which is somewhat visible in the photographs. We couldn't reach a consensus on whether or not the swirls were simply defects in the plastic or if they were deliberately put there in an attempt to simulate wood grain. It was agreed that the swirls are not attractive and detract from the pieces, although fortunately they are easy to ignore when actually playing. In the first photo, you can also see marks on the sides of the gold pieces where they were broken off from the mold.
The game also comes with a large insert telling the Legend of Omnigon. This "legend" is a fictional account of how the game was played by a secret cult in ancient Rome, and was subsequently unknown til rediscovered by the author. It takes four times as long to read as the game rules and doesn't actually add anything to the game. The game's notation system - which could probably be improved - is explained on a separate sheet.
The game is actually smaller than it physically appears - with only 4 types of pieces, 7 pieces per side, and 37 fields of play, it definitely qualifies as a small chess variant. The box cover claims the game is "less difficult than Chess," which the manufacturers apparently consider to be a selling point, and this claim is correct. Those of you who are into making your own equipment can save 25 bucks by memorizing the rules in the store (they're on the back of the box). The game is not so simple as to be not worth playing, but its small size makes it essentially a game of tactics, without the strategical depth of chess. The box cover reads "Fast play...5-20 minutes," which I found to be quite accurate.
The game is also sharp, meaning the slightest error can often lead to devastating defeat. My playtesters to date have been my brother, Ray (pictured below on the right) and my brother-in-law, Brad (picture above on the right), neither of whom ever play chess variants except when I make them, but both of whom were able to beat me more than once. If Player Two is not careful, he may find himself checkmated after his first move (I actually beat Brad this way). It also means that it's possible for a player to suddenly attack and win the game despite being way behind in material; this occurs in Omnigon far more often than it does in chess, where it is very rare in actual play. The Tri-gon is a particularly dangerous piece, especially since it can often force mate in just a few moves without support from any other pieces - Ray and Brad were both concerned that the game is somewhat unbalanced because the Tri-gon is too strong.
Most importantly, Omnigon is fun to play. Despite some blemishes in the equipment and uncertainties about the game play, I still recommend it. Games are intense and exciting. Although I did not playtest it with children, I would expect Omnigon to be a welcome diversion for the younger chess player in the family. It is a solid addition to any game collection.
Omnigon is a registered trademark.
Created by Mike Flynn
Published by Gametree, Inc. P.O. Box 6532 Boise, Idaho 83707
Made in the USA under Patent Nos. 4305585, 4411433
Copyright 1988, 1990 Gametree, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Written by Benjamin Good. Photographs taken by Benjamin Good, Raymond Good, and Bradford Granger on Monday, July 8, 2002. Sony DSC-S85 Cyber-shot digital camera provided by Raymond Good.
Written by Benjamin Good.
WWW page created: January 30, 2003.