1. e4 (by Tom Russell)

Mary Russell

The first time I played Ty Bomba's Boom & Zoom, I opened with the equivalent of "1. e4", attempting to contest control of the center of the board:

In Ty's notational system for this game, that'd be 1. 3T e1-Z-e4: that is, the three-piece Tower (3T) in e1 zooms (Z) to e4. Since each tower can fire (or "Boom") in eight directions, zooming to e4 would allow it to exert pressure on the maximum number of squares. This greatly restricts where my opponent can safely move, because there's only a handful of squares on their side of the board that fall into e4's blind spots.

The response 3T c8-Z-c5 exerts pressure slightly off-center, but it allows for 2. 3T e4-Z-b7.

This in turn allows 3. 3T b7-Z-off, and there's nothing my opponent can do to stop it. It's pointless for him to try - so likely he'll develop one of his other pieces. Maybe he'll try 2. … 3T e8-Z-h5.

Of course in bearing off, I've given up control of the center - it's really just begging my opponent to respond with 3T f8-Z-f5. Now three moves in, while I might have three points safely squirreled away, my three remaining Towers haven't budged. My opponent, on the other hand, has three towers in the 5 row.

The enemy towers in f5 and h5 are especially concerning, because

  1. … 3T f5-Z-f2
  2. 3T f1-B-f2 2T f2-Z-off


  1. … 3T h5-Z-h2
  2. … 3T h2-Z-off

are both distinct possibilities. 4. 3T f1-Z-g1 allows me to put pressure on both f2 and h2, but:

  1. 3T f1-Z-g1 3T f5-Z-f2
  2. 3T g1-B-f2 2T f2-Z-off
  3. … 3T h5-Z-h2
  4. 3T g1-B-h2 2T h2-Z-off


  1. 3T f1-Z-g1 3T f5-Z-f2
  2. 3T g1-B-f2 2T f2-B-g1
  3. 2T g1-B-f2 1T f2-B-g1
  4. 1T g1-B-f2x

Both of which are faintly disastrous. In the first case, the second player has four pieces off the board to my three, but I've got three towers left to his two. In the second sequence, he hasn't managed to bear anything off yet, and I've even removed one of his Towers from play.

But it's perhaps the smarter play for my opponent, because my g1 Tower is now reduced to one block and can be picked off or ignored at his leisure. While my d1 Tower prevents 3T h5-Z-g4, he can use 3T h5-Z-g5 to threaten 3T g5-Z-g3 which in turn will allow 3T g3-B-g1x. That gives him three Towers in play to my two, and his three all have considerably greater freedom of movement. The natural inclination is to respond to 3T h5-Z-g5 by putting pressure on g3, but:

  1. 3T d1-Z-e1 3T g5-Z-g4
  2. … 3T g4-B-g1x

or, worse:

  1. 3T d1-Z-e1 3T g5-Z-g4
  2. 3T c1-Z-d1 3T g4-B-d1
  3. 2T d1-Z-f3 3T g4-B-f3
  4. 1T f3-B-g4 2T g4-B-f3x
  5. 3T e1-Z-d1 3T c5-Z-e3
  6. 3T d1-B-g4 1T g4-Z-h3

And after that sequence, I'm faced with a serious case of zugzwang. Because realistically, I have no good options. The best is probably

  1. 1T g1-Z-f1 1T h3-Z-h2
  2. 1T f1-Z-g1 1T h2-B-g1x

The worst move I can make at this juncture is 16. 3T d1-Z-f1, because that invites 3T d8-Z-d5. The d5 Tower can bear off in two moves, the h2 in two (if I don't boom it), and the e3 in one. It will take me at least that many moves to get to the other side of the board, and I'll have suffered a loss as a result (there really isn't a safe move that follows 16. 3T d1-Z-f1 3T d8-Z-d5).

The problem is that I've been playing too passively, and I've been allowing my opponent to dictate the pace and tempo of the game. I'm at a disadvantage in material on the board, but that's also an advantage here: I can end the game sooner than he can, and I've already got three blocks off. My opponent has no response to 16. 3T d1-Z-g4 that would prevent me from bearing off my last Tower on move 18 with at least two blocks.

So now, the mistake is his: he was playing too aggressively, too focused on whittling down my forces. He would have done better to leave them on the board, limping and useless and a single block high, because then in order to end the game I'd have to get them off the board as well.

One of the lovely things about the game, and one of the reasons why we're so excited to be publishing it, is that it asks you to do many contradictory things: you must be ruthless and you must show mercy, you must be careful and you must be bold. It's a racing game and a positional one, simultaneously. The stronger you are somewhere, the weaker you become somewhere else - a recurring theme in some of my designs, so you can bet I was delighted to discover this aspect of Ty's game.

I'm still discovering it. Our little playthrough here, in all its myriad and branching variations, is absolutely lousy with blunders - practically every move in the above should be followed by "??". The very first blunder may have been 1. 3T e1-Z-e4 in the first place! This equivalent of the orthodox chess opening might have dominated my early experiences with the game, but I'm starting to think that a much stronger opener would be either 3T e1-Z-b4 or 3T d1-Z-g4, as they practically force the second player to respond with 3T c8-Z-b8 and 3T f8-Z-g8, respectively.


  • My 7 year old son and I have played the game several times. So simple to learn, yet we are still discovering intricacies in the design. I do see a fine line between being defensive and hurrying across the board to score points. Great game!

    Jeremy L. Jones

  • Excellent understanding of the dynamics of the game!

    Ty Bomba

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