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Brain Teasers To Test Your Mental Mettle

Eat a banana and break out the smart food. It’s time to work the grey matter!



Sorry about the title…I had no choice! I love alliteration and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Wanna know something else? I love strategy games. They ruin me mentally when I lose and give me a god-like rush of dopamine when I win. It’s what keeps me coming back after being thrashed and scampering off with my tail between my legs.

I also love the weirdness of abstract games like the ones I’m writing about today. Shapes are a popular and often employed; as is the notion of less is more. Rules are kept simple to create a clear sense of balance. Here are some that I’ve been enjoying recently.


Players: 2
Playtime: 20 min

It is your goal in Katarenga to get two of your figures past the opposition’s baseline. Although this may seem easy, your opponents can be unpredictable. As you move, the playing figures’ abilities will change. You can only outsmart your opponent through tactical play by understanding the advantages of the four possible actions, utilizing the different strengths, and planning ahead.

It’s got a solid chess vibe but makes things interesting. The first few games tend to be full of surprises. This is because it takes a while to really start being able to plan out your next two or three moves. Once you start getting the hang of it, the game pace can become very fast.

From the designer:

Katarenga is a two-player abstract consisting of a variable board, 16 pawns, and rules of movement derived from Chess. Each pawn’s move is governed by the colour of the square it moves away from (red = rook, yellow = bishop, green = knight, blue = king). For each game the board is constructed from four double-sided quarterboards, each of which can be placed either way up and any way round, yielding a total of over 24,000 different 8×8 boards. In the basic game your aim is to get two of your pawns to the opposite side without being captured. The same equipment can be used for playing a variety of other games with the same rules of movement and capture. Can you invent more?


Playtime: 30 min

Abalone is truly a beautiful game to look at. It’s got this otherworldly vibe. Like it’s from the future or somehow it was found on the ship from Alien…and Aliens. Top marks for design.

There is space for two teams of large marbles on this stylish and functional board. Each player takes turns pushing the marbles around the board, with the goal of knocking off six of the other players’ marbles. It is based on the idea that marble columns have weight, which is determined by the line of marbles.

If the column is to be pushed along that axis, it will need to be pushed with a heavier group of marbles. It can be challenging to defend yourself perfectly with six possible directions. Keeping your column from being flanked is tough. Additionally, marble sets can be purchased to play the game with up to six players.


Players: 2-4
Playtime: 15

Quoridor, an abstract strategy game, has an amazingly deep strategy for its simple rules. A pawn must be advanced to the opposite edge of the board to win the game. A pawn may be moved or a wall may be erected on your turn. By positioning walls against your opponent, you may hinder him, but you will not be able to completely block him. Your opponents are doing the same thing to you. Whoever reaches the other side first wins.

I love how A/B this game is. Your turns are either fully defensive or fully offensive. Anticipating your opponent’s next move and blocking it yields sweet rewards as their face contorts with unabated rage. The wall units kind of lick into place meaning this game passes all but the strongest breezes picnic test.


Yinsch starts with five rings on the board for each player. The movement of a ring leaves behind a marker. These markers are black on one side and white on the other. Whenever a ring jumps over a marker, the marker must be flipped, so its color is constantly changing. Players must try to form a row of five markers with the marker of their own color facing up. 

The player who succeeds in forming such a row removes one of his rings as an indication that he has achieved it. It is the player who removes the most rings who wins the game. You become weaker with each row you make, because you have fewer rings to choose from. It’s like there’s a constant blue shell in effect; working to balance the game out. Sweaty palms, all the way!

Yinsh is actually part of a series of games called the GIPF Project. There are six games in total with each being a different type of abstract board game. I’ll be doing an article on these soon. 

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