Narork ra zorda is a dwarven board game so popular as to be ubiquitous in dwarven culture. It is a strategy game with elements of chance that allow for millions of possible starting configurations. The name literally means “stones and sticks”.
The Board and Pieces:
Narork ra zorda is played on a 12–12 board. The two rows closest to each player are called their “camp”. Various “mountains” cover other areas of the board. The entire thing looks like this:
Each player also has a deck of 72 “cards”, which usually look more like dominoes. There are seven “suits”, with each number from two to six having two copies in each suit. The suits are Helmets, Spears, Rifles, Speeds, Builders, Carts, and Axes. In addition, there are two Spy cards.
Each player also has 24 stones, marked with numbers or otherwise differentiated, in identical pairs. These stones should have some way of differentiating which belong to which player. Usually, one player receives stones of a lighter color while the other receives darker stones. Finally, there are a large number of “sticks”, which are usually small twigs such that at least twelve can easily fit on a single square, which are unmarked and are shared between the players.
Beginning the Game:
To begin the game, each player “shuffles” their cards. This is usually accomplished by turning them all face down, and having each player shuffle his around, being careful to keep them separate. They then draw or pick up thirty-six of the cards. Their cards are not shown to their opponent. If either player dislikes their hand, they may return it to the rest of their deck, reshuffle it, and then draw thirty-five cards. This process may be continued by the player, drawing one less card each time, for as long as the player continues to wish to redraw.
Once both players are satisfied with their hands, they each take one of their two sets of twelve stones. They then place their cards, face down, under each of the stones. No stone may have more than six cards, or two cards of the same suit.
Once all the cards have been placed, both players take their other set of twelve stones, and begin to place them inside of their own camp, taking turns, with the player with darker stones placing first. Once all the stones have been placed, the player with darker stones has the first turn.
During the Game:
On each player’s turn the player can do one of five things: Move, Spy, Build, Destroy, or Attack.
- If a player decides to Move a stone, they first flip up any cards of the Speed suit that are under the corresponding stone and have not already been flipped up. For example, if they want to move the stone that is marked with a three, they flip up the Speed card under the stone marked with a three that is resting on top of cards. They then move the stone on the board to a location that their Speed card allows. If they have no Speed card, they may move to any space directly (but not diagonally) adjacent to their current position. If they have a Speed card of value two, they may move to any space directly or diagonally adjacent to their current position. If they have a Speed card of value three, they may move to any space directly adjacent to their current position, or any space directly adjacent to that space, provided they may validly move to the first space. If they have a Speed card of value four, they may move to any space along a diagonal path starting from their position, provided that they may validly move to any space between their current position and their destination. If they have a Speed card of value five, they may move to any space along a vertical or horizontal path starting from their current position, provided that they may validly move to any space between their current position and their destination. If they have a Speed card of value six, they may move to any space along a diagonal, vertical, or horizontal path starting from their current position, provided that they may validly move to any space between their current position and their destination. No stone may move to a space that is occupied by a mountain or another stone.
- If a player decides to Spy, they choose one of their opponent’s stones that is occupying a square that could be validly moved to by one of your stones that possesses a Spy card, were it not occupied by the opponent’s stone. Your opponent must flip up all of the cards possessed by that stone.
- If a player decides to Build, they choose one of their stones. They then place a number of sticks on the square that stone occupies equal to that stone’s Builder value, which defaults to one if they do not possess a Builder card, up to a maximum of six sticks on that square plus the value of their Carts card, which defaults to one if they do not have a Carts card.
- If a player decides to Destroy, they choose one square that has sticks on it. They may then remove a number of sticks from that square equal to the sum of the Axes values of any of your stones that are directly or diagonally adjacent to it. Axes values default to one if a stone does not have an Axes card.
- If a player decides to Attack an enemy stone, that stone’s Helmet card is flipped up, if it has one. Then the player calculates the sum of all the attack values of the stones that can attack that stone. A stone can attack with a Spear from any directly or diagonally adjacent square, flipping up their Spear card. The attack value of a stone using a Spear is equal to the value of the Spear card, or, if it does not have a Spear card, it is one. A stone can also attack with a Rifle if a horizontal, diagonal, or vertical path no longer than the value on the Rifle card possessed by the attacking stone can be traced between the attacking stone and the attacked stone without moving through mountains or other stones by flipping up the Rifle card on that stone. The attack value for Rifle cards with values two to five is one, and for Rifle cards with a value of six, it is two. If the attack value of the attack is greater than or equal to the Helmet value of the defending stone, which defaults to one if the defending stone does not have a Helmet card, plus the number of sticks on the defending stone’s square, the defending stone is removed from the board.
One player wins when the other player has had all of their stones removed from the game, when they have six more stones left on the board then their opponent, or when the other player concedes the game. The game is declared a tie when both players have made one thousand, two hundred and ninety-six moves, or both players agree to a tie. Ties are fairly common, especially in higher-level play. Due to the inherent randomness of the game, tournaments usually play “best of sixteen” matches each tier, where a player must win seven games to beat their opponent.
Several basic strategy types have been categorized over the centuries that narork ra zorda has been played. These basic strategy types are the foundation for any more complex strategy.
Striking is one of the more common strategies among less experienced or low-level players. This strategy involves attacking immediately using a few elite stones, each of which has a high-level Speed card, a high-level Helmet card, and a high-level Rifle card. These stones are then used to rapidly move around the opponent’s end of the board, removing as many enemy stones as possible, hoping to force the opponent to surrender or to win by removing six of their stones before any of yours are removed. This strategy is fairly easy for a high-level player to defend against by strategically positioning high-level pieces of their own as defenders and sometimes by Striking back, and loses popularity rapidly as player strength increases as a result.
Castling is also a popular strategy among less experienced players, and involves creating a “castle” by starting your stones in a double row on one side of the board, and then giving all of your cards to the stones on the outer rim. It is used to force a tie in a game where a player drew a hand that is subpar, but which also contains a large number of Helmet, Builder, and/or Cart cards.
Advancing is the most popular strategy among higher-level players, in which the management of information is key. The idea is to slowly advance one’s squares, using stones with Speed cards to back up the advance and support any areas which fall under attack or begin to weaken. Once the player has enough room to maneuver, they proceed to build fortresses to strike from, and try to learn as much information about their opponent’s card placement as possible while concealing as much information about their own cards as they can.
There are some basic “archetype” card combinations for stones have been acknowledged by players almost universally. These are combinations that tend to work well, and how to use them, how to discover that an an enemy is using them, and how to defeat them, has been studied and written about in dwarvish culture extensively. The number and variety of archetypes one can form is often a key consideration when one is evaluating a hand for possible redrawing. The following is a brief introductions to these archetypes.
One of the most well-known archetypes is the Sniper. The Sniper is a combination of a high value Rifle card with a high-value Speed card. An Ultimate Sniper is a more specific subset of this, and possesses a six of Rifles and a six of Speeds. A Cannon is another variation, which possesses a five or six of Rifles, but no Speed card over three. Snipers work well against enemies with low Helmet values, and are often extremely effective during the beginning of the game. They can also be useful to reveal the Helmet values of enemies with Helmet cards, especially if you lack a Spy card. However, as the game progresses and more of the stones that lack Helmets acquire sticks, the usefulness of the Sniper decreases rapidly. As a result, it tends to be used less often in higher-level games.
Another ubiquitous archetype is the Warrior. The Warrior possesses a high value Spear card, and a high value Helmet card. There are innumerable variations on this theme, including the Mounted Warrior, which adds a high-value Speed card, the Warrior Fortress, which has a Builder card and a high value Carts card, and the Barbarian, which adds a high value Axes card.
A third common archetype is the Builder. The Builder possesses a mid to high value Builder card, and a high value Carts card. The Builder experiences a huge amount of crossover with other archetypes, including the Warrior Fortress, and the popular Entrenched Cannon, which has high value Rifle and Cart cards, and a medium or high value Builder card. Practically every other archetype can benefit from the ability to build.
The final most common basic archetype is the Striker. The Striker has high value Spear, Builder, and Speed cards. He is increasingly useful near the end of the game, when the number of squares with sticks increases rapidly, and his ability to move quickly to locations that are defended well enough for him to survive attacks, while waiting for an opening to strike, or looking for a square where he can be a key point for an attack. His ability to build allows him to support himself. One of the most useful variations includes a low-value Helmet card, which can vastly increase the number of places the Striker can strike. This archetype doesn’t get a lot of crossover, and any that does occur usually involves some kind of Sniper variant.