Niya is a two-player strategy game from acclaimed game designer Bruno Cathala.
The game is abstract, which means its theme has little or nothing to do with how the game works, like Chess or Pente.
It was originally released as Okiya in 2012, and was re-released with the new title this year by Blue Orange Games.
How It Works: The board is made up of 16 tiles, which you shuffle and put into a four-by-four grid. Each tile has two pieces of art — a landscape and a symbol, such as a bird, clouds, a rising sun, or a poetic flag.
One player has eight red tokens, the other has eight black.
The first player chooses a tile from the outside border of the board and replaces it with his or her token. The next player takes a tile from anywhere on the board, but it must match one of the two pieces of art on the tile the first player just took.
Play continues until one player has done one of the following: placed four tokens in a row; placed four tokens in a two-by-two square; or made it impossible for his or her opponent to place a token.
Why You Might Want To Buy Niya: It’s fun.
Think of the reasons you liked to play tic-tac-toe. Niya takes that feeling and lets you use strategy.
The game’s strength is that as you play, you force your opponent into limited choices. That is very interesting, and it can backfire.
The game is for ages 8 and up. Unlike several other Blue Orange games, this one won’t help a younger player out. The best player will win.
But the game is just right for teaching a young player strategy. It’s very short, only 10 minutes. You can ask your young opponent questions to help her or him see how their choices might affect you.
This is also a game young players will want to play against each other.
The game also offers tournament-style rules where you can play several games in a row and have the results add up. That’s good, because you will want to play it again, if only to correct your mistakes.
The board changes every game, so it’s never the same.
The pieces in this game are beautiful. The player tokens feel like stone. The tiles are based on the classic Japanese game Hanafuda. It comes in a nice tin, and it’s small enough to take with you.
At about $12, it’s a good buy.
Why You Might Not Want To Buy Niya: It’s a fairly light game. If you’re a Chess grand master, this game will probably bore you.
If you want games with lots of story to them, this won’t be for you. The game is set in a Japanese garden, and your tokens represent clans in a conspiracy to take over the royal court. You probably won’t remember that while you’re playing.
My Conclusions: I love Niya. I’m not great at games with spatial puzzles, but this game is short enough that I don’t feel I’ve wasted an hour when I lose. It makes me think. Hard. My opponent, who happens to be my husband, doesn’t have to think as hard as I do to play, but he loves it, too.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Niya from Blue Orange Games. I was not required to give a positive review. This is my honest opinion.