Jin Li Review
A game that I had never heard of was called "Jin Li". Then, a tornado blew up my house and lots of people sent me games. One of those people, David MacKenzie of Clever Mojo Games, sent me Jin Li. As I was looking for a new game to play, I asked myself "hey, what's that weird little game in the canvas zipper?" And thus... I found friendly fish.
In fact, the fish in Jin Li are so friendly that they want to touch each other (not in the dirty way, pervert - these are good, wholesome fish!). Instead, they just like being near the other fish. Because of this, they will reward you with their form of currency called "victory points" if you are able to get them adjacent to each other. Specifically, each turn you can move one of your fish and place a stone, or you can jump over a stone. You cannot jump over more than one stone or another fish. We call those things "cheating". However, if, after moving your fish, it is adjacent to other fish, then you score one point for each fish that is adjacent to the fish you just moved. Keep doing this until one person gets enough "victory points" to escape the fishbowl. Wait, these fish like each other... they don't want to escape. Oh well, the game is played to ten anyway.
The first thing that I like about Jin Li is that you only score on the fish that was just moved. If this weren't the case, I think that the game would be broken. After all, if your opponent moves his fish next to you, then at the end of the next turn you are still next to him. However, since it is only the fish that was just moved, you have to find a way to move and still be adjacent to the other fish. And there might be pesky stones in your way.
The second thing I like about Jin Li is the pesky stones that might be in your way. If it weren't for the placing of the stones, the fish would easily swim next to each other in peace and bliss forever (though you would punish them by leaving them in the game box (canvas zipper), since the game wouldn't be any fun). The stones, however, are the key element in thwarting what your opponent (and his fish) want to do. Stones can be used to both help your fish move more quickly (if a single stone is in front of you) and to block your opponent from moving (if multiple stones are in front of him). The stones combined with fish placement and the fact that you cannot jump over an opponent's fish all combine to make for an impressively strategic game with ridiculously simple instructions.
The main "con" to Jin Li is that it is a filler game. I won't ever go meet up with any of my friends simply to play Jin Li. I used to live 5 minutes away from the game store where I played most of my games; it would take about as long to get to the store as it would to play through a game of Jin Li. I really enjoy the game, but it is by all of my definitions a filler game that I will play in between longer games.
The nit-picky con to Jin Li is that the "board" (which appears to be a mousepad with the playing area screen-printed on it) does not like to lay flat. Neither do the instructions. I think that this is because they spend most of their life rolled up inside the canvas zipper.
Right, the instructions all fit on a single page. So I should stop before my review of the game winds up being significantly longer than the instructions.
Overall, I give Jin Li an 8.5/10. It is a very nice little strategy game that is a great way of passing time when waiting for other games to be played. I would recommend that everyone go out and buy it but, unfortunately, it is not easily (cheaply) available in the United States. It is (as far as I know) only printed in Spain through Nestor Games. However, there is an iPod/iPad/iPhone version available for $0.99. I bought it and I have really enjoyed it - I would recommend you check it out as well.
Like abstract games? You might also read my reviews of Abalone, Dvonn, Pentago, and Rise.
I would like to thank David MacKenzie of Clever Mojo Games for sending me a copy of Jin Li along with several boxes of other games from his personal collection to help rebuild my collection and to give to the people of Joplin after the tornado. Thanks, David!