The Way of the Stones is an enigma that appeared though the mists of time some 30 years ago. Boards of 96 squares, 12 across and eight down, were discovered by archaeologists in several parts of the globe within a few years of each other. Places as far apart as northern England, Egypt, the Israeli desert, the Nepalese Highlands, Japan and Central America revealed similar boards from quite disparate periods of time.
During the ensuing years scholars managed to link the boards with a philosophical school. However, it was not until an anonymous Taoist monk delivered an ancient scroll and set of 72 stones to the first person he met, that the mystery could eventually be unravelled. So the story goes! Even without the history, Ishido is a remarkable game - the strategy of chess with the simplicity of ludo.
The 12 x 8 board is divided into two areas. The Beyond is simply the outside squares and are darker in colour than The Within - the centre 54 squares.
Ishido opens with six pieces already in place, four on the corners of The Beyond and two in the centre of The Within. The next piece to be played is shown at the top right corner of the screen in an area called The Touchstone.
Before indicating the location of the next piece on the board, two factors have to be considered - its shape and colour. A stone can only be placed next to another provided there is a link with the shape and/or colour. This is how points are amassed.
Any stones placed in The Beyond do not score, their importance is strategical. Four types of stone match provide the points - single-sided match, two-sided match, three-sided match and a four-way. The points score double for each side of a match, beginning with one for a single-sided to eight for a four-way.
The Pouch contains the 72 stones available in each set. Once these have been used or there is no possible match the game ends and the winner is the one with most points. At any point during the game you can click on The Pouch to discover how many stones remain.
To prepare yourself for the complete challenge there is a one player option available. If you feel confident you can also play the computer. But be warned, it may look as if it is being careless placing a lot of stones in The Beyond, but will inevitably come back at you with a four-way - I know to my cost!
You may also use the game in two-player mode against anyone good enough to warrant your skilled attention.
There are eight pre-defined boards and stonesets to choose from. In days of yore, Ishido players always carried their own stonesets. If they won a match then it was their right to destroy their opponent's set. An editor to design your own set will allow that personal touch to the game. The editor is extremely user-friendly. Stonesets are designed by selecting a basic shape and then creating your own images and colours. Once you are happy with the design, you can then save to disk for later use.
Ishido will surely become one of those classic and timeless games. It will doubtless take only a minute to learn bt a lifetime will be required to master its subtleties and the idiosyncrasies of your opponents.