Zertz Review


One of the latest games that I stumbled upon a demo copy of (thanks to Great Hall Games in Austin, TX) was Zertz.

Zertz is one of the games of the "GIPF project" (which also consists of Dvonn, Yinsh, Punct and a few others). To start the game of Zertz, the players create a playing board consisting of round discs arranged in a hexagonal pattern. From here, each of the players takes turns by either placing a marble from a shared pool (and removing a disc along the outer edge of the board) or by jumping marbles (like in checkers). If a player is able to remove a section of the board when he removes his disc, then he is able to capture all of the marbles that were in the removed section. If he is able to jump one or more marbles, then he captures each of the marbles that were jumped. Once one of the players has either 2 marbles of each color, 3 white marbles, 4 gray marbles, or 5 black marbles, they win the game.

The first pro of Zertz, like all of the games that I have encountered in the Gipf project, is the interesting spatial reasoning strategy that goes into the game. Whereas most board games that I play consist of attempting to defeat the other player by gathering resources, defeating troops, earning money, etc, the Gipf project focuses on completely abstract spatial reasoning. Zertz is no exception. The placement of marbles and which discs to remove are both vital to the strategy of the game. Another element of strategy that we encountered was in whether or not to jump marbles at any given time - you may be able to jump a single marble and collect it, but you would leave your opponent in a position to jump several others on his next turn.

Another pro of the game is related to removing the pieces of the board. First off, this is a mechanic that I have never seen before (and it was well executed, so kudos). This dynamic nature of the board causes the game to not be played the same way twice. Yes, the early pieces to be removed will be along the outer edge, but as the game progresses, you may find large parts of the board cut off from each other, and you may also find that the marble you were about to jump can no longer be captured in that way because there is no longer a disc behind it.

Unfortunately with the dynamic board comes the first con - the board is a pain to set up. This con will lessen over time, as I found that the board wasn't nearly as hard to setup the second time as it was the first time, but the first time I was pretty annoyed at this element. (Here's a hint, set it up one row at a time instead of trying to build the hexagonal grid and then fill in the middle.)

The other major con was that the strategy did not seem to be quite as in depth as in other games in the Gipf project. Specifically, when it came to preventing your opponent from jumping pieces, it seems like the key is simply to not place two marbles next to each other. Also, capturing pieces by removing discs from the board become essentially a non-factor because it was easy enough to see that a player had all but two discs removed. From there, it became a stalemate because whoever removed one of the discs would allow the other player to capture the marble(s) by removing the second disc.

Overall, I give Zertz a 7.5/10. I enjoyed the game, and I would be happy to add it to my collection for the right price. If you enjoy spatial reasoning games, I would encourage you to check out the project as a whole, but also to try this one. If you don't like spatial reasoning games, then stay away, because this isn't the game for you.  As one final note, if you enjoy the game but want to play it on a larger board (this is what my wife would recommend), you can find the means to do so using the GIPF Project: Expansion Set 2, which includes pieces for both Zertz and Dvonn.

If you enjoy abstract strategy, then you should check out My top ten abstract strategy games, Gipf, and Punct.


  1. Perhaps the game has more depth than you imagined .. The main strategy here is to plan a lot of moves ahead and to play a lot of moves simply giving to the other player a ball to eat, preparing in this way the board for a single, and final, move. Here you'll find a complete stategy guide on Zertz (http://www.scat.demon.co.uk/zertz/strategy.htm), where you'll be able to understand that probably the game's weakness is exactly the opposite. I mean that usually, between good players, the game can be 'over' in just three moves, being the others obliged by the future winner. I don't know if I was clear enough, but the article I linked can be more enlightning than me ... for example, the capture 'by removing discs' can be THE real winning strategy .. ;)

  2. You are probably correct, there is probably a lot more depth than I gave it credit for - I'm a self-professed newbie at abstract games and their strategy. With that said, I still prefer Dvonn and Yinsh (the other Gipf games that I've played) but I would like to try all the games from this project. And even Zertz is on my list of games to acquire at some point... just not at the top.

  3. You can try to play zertz against computer AI using a free program, Holtz, which contains also Dvonn ... (http://holtz.sourceforge.net/) This can help to explore the game ... ;)

  4. Nice review; Zertz is one of my favorite gifp games and among my favorite abstracts in general.

    Another tidbit of advice for setting up the board: Using the orientation of your picture as reference, I like to arrange the center "column" of rings (7) FIRST, and then flank out on either side, placing one less ring until I have 4 per column on the ends.

    This has been the most efficient way of setting up the board in a way that makes sense to the way my mind works.

  5. Zertz is a very cruel game. Bad losers should be forbidden to play this game because it is very unforgiving and very tactical. It is very difficult to calculate agressive moves (basically sacrificing in order to shrink the board in the right areas) and even more difficult to calculate defensive ones (the art of prevent sacrifices).
    I often sacrifice 2 whites, 4 grays and 5 blacks just in order to WIN the game with 4 whites. Needless to say the Opponent is left with a very bad taste in the mouth and a desire to kill.
    Make one mistake and you're "dead, dead, dead".