Shōbu Review

I recently attended Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio. All of the One Board Family team attended and we all had a plan going into each day. We had schedules and appointments planned in advance, and we mostly had an idea of what we wanted to see. What I enjoyed most about attending Origins is that there was so much to do, it’s impossible to see it all in one trip. Because of that, I was able to give myself time to naturally experience aspects of it and wander and browse the sea of booths.

During this time, you may come across a game that was not on your radar at all. You could be taken in by that booth’s wonderful staff members and shown something that blows you completely away. This is exactly what happened when I was introduced to Curt Covert, the owner of Smirk & Laughter Games, and he proceeded to show me Shōbu.

Two Player Elegance

Shōbu is a two-player abstract strategy game with simple components. These beautifully crafted components immediately called out to me as I sat down at the table. I was a little intimidated at first because the game is literally 3 components. There are wood boards, 32 river rocks split into 2 colors, and a fairly chunky foot long piece of rope.

Shobu board layout

Usually I am comforted by the amount of iconography in a game when I first see it and I can start assuming things, such as I gather victory points here, I can place a die there, looks like I can upgrade this here, things of that nature. Shōbu had none of that, yet it sat there and shined in all of its simplicity, beautifully crafted boards, and shiny river stones.

The rules are extremely simple and quick to explain. We have posted a quick look with Curt that we filmed from Origins on our YouTube page and I highly recommend that you check it out. The strategy, however, is something to master.

Shōbu consists of 4 player boards, 2 of which belong to each player. Each player has a light colored board and a dark colored board. These two boards are separated by placing the rope in between the two boards and the players sit across from each other. Each of these 4 boards have 4 stones of your color and 4 stones of your opponents color at opposite ends on the board. Each of the 4 boards consist of a 4×4 grid pattern.

On your turn, you will be making two moves only. You will make a passive move, and then you will mirror the passive move with an aggressive move. The passive move must be taken first, and it only requires you to follow 3 rules. It must be on one of the two boards on your side of the rope, the stone must travel 1 or 2 spaces in any direction (orthogonal or diagonal), and the stone may not make contact with your opponent’s stone. You will then make a mirroring aggressive move with another stone on any color board on the table, opposite of the color you took the passive move on.

Shobu components

For instance, if you took the passive move on the light color board, you may now make your aggressive move on either of the two dark color boards on the table. It’s with this move that you will want to push your opponent’s stone off the board. The passive move is setting up your aggressive move, acting as a sort of controller. Once anyone has made enough moves to push all of their opponent’s stones off of just one board, they are declared the winner.

I’m going to be honest here: I’m horrible at abstract games. I enjoy them immensely, but I’m assuming my brain does not function in the way that is necessary to master them. I cannot master Go, I am horrible at Tak. I am a poor chess player. Tournament players use me to feel good about themselves. I will just have to enjoy abstract games for the fun experience. Hold on for a second, though; Shōbu has entered the ring!

After I was explained the rules for the first time, it just came to me. I saw what needed to be done. This game made perfect sense, and not only that, it offered so much tension that it kept me on the edge of my seat as I felt every move I made was the move that was setting me up for the win. I could see 2, 3, maybe even 4 moves ahead. Making assumptions for my opponents and having them actually play out. I am in love with Shōbu and I know you will be, too!

You can purchase Shōbu on the Smirk & Laughter website or pre-order it through Amazon.

Smirk & Laughter Games provided us with a review copy of Shōbu. This in no way influenced our opinion of the game.


  • Gorgeous high quality components make this game stand out
  • Simple yet hard to master gameplay
  • Quick to teach


  • Maybe I’ll find one after 100 games