The tigers were stealthily making their way onto the meadow, where the goats were grazing. Watching their calm and coordinated approach made you believe there was going to be only one outcome - and it wasn't going to be in favour of the goats. However, the sheer number of grazing animals didn't make it easy for the hunters. It didn't take long for one animal to sense the danger. Suddenly, the whole flock was alert and bunched together, making it virtually impossible for the large cats to attack. It was now their turn to make the next move in this Bagh Chal from Lemery Games.
Even though the game is actually a highly abstract and very strategic, two-player board game, its name, which is Nepali for "tiger game", is very apt. As you take turns playing as the tigers and then the goats, you can almost see in your imagination how the drama will unfold. As the big cats thin out the herd by taking out one animal after another, the goats fight back by pushing the hunters into smaller and smaller corners, making it hard, if not impossible for them to move. It's never clear who will come out victorious.
Mühle and Checkers
The goal of the tigers is clear: kill all the goats. The goats, on the other hand, need to block all four tigers, which isn't easy. All animals move one step along the lines of a 5x5 grid, that's intersected diagonally as well as horizontally. Additionally, tigers can jump across a single goat to kill it. So if the goats pair up, they can block the tigers in. That's easier said than done though.
Bagh Chal reminds me a little bit of the German game Mühle, with the way pieces move around and can jump over each other, mixed with the tactic of blocking the opponent in Checkers. If you have played either or even both of these games, you are likely to have a small advantage. Ultimately though, the game is like so many other abstract strategy games: it's very easy to learn, but very hard to master. It's also the sort of game that you can easily play with some scratches in the dirt and a handful of pebbles or similar tokens. It's obvious to me why this game has had such an appeal in Nepal.
As it turns out though, Bagh Chal has faded away. It's only relatively recently that it gained in popularity again and Lemery Games' crowdfunding campaign has done a little bit to help the game survive. As a "Pay What You Want" project, there was never any guarantee that it would fund and go into production, but the kindness of strangers prevailed. Mind you, the version that Krisztina and Tamas have created is really lovely. It comes in a small, silken, drawstring pouch, with a silken cloth game board and small wooden game tokens. It looks really gorgeous and feels very luxurious.
Bagh Chal in a Bag
Being so compact, the whole game easily fits into a handbag or coat pocket. It also doesn't take up much space on the table and playing time is pretty quick. That makes Bagh Chal ideal for playing on the train, bus or even plane, as well as in a pub or restaurant. In fact, I played this game with my wife on a train through Germany. It was the perfect time filler.
While being a very strategic game, there are also a lot of tactics involved. Yet, unlike games such as Chess, Bagh Chal doesn't make you have to think too hard. There will be situations where you do need to plan a few steps ahead, just to make sure you don't miss anything, but it's never so bad that you sit there for minutes thinking about your next move. I think the game is much more about spotting what the opponent is likely to do next. It's more of a spatial game in that sense. You can easily miss a tiger's next kill or the fact that a goat can block your tiger in on their next turn. You do need to keep a close eye on everything.
So, if you fancy an ancient game that you can easily take anywhere and play virtually everywhere and that trains the brain without being too much of an effort, then Bagh Chal is definitely for you. At the same time, you can do your bit to keep this lovely game alive, which is a wonderful feeling.