WARNING: Shogi pieces should not be able to fly of their own accord.
RELEASE DATE: 1983
Serizawa Hachidan no Tsumeshogi, besides being a mouthful, is one of the hardest games I’ve ever played. Yes, this is partially because I’m a honky who had no working knowledge of shogi until I was forced to play this game. But regardless of one’s skin color or insight into Eastern chess variants, I would wager that Tsumeshogi is hard because the puzzles are exact and precise – to a fault, depending on your predilection for shogi exercises.
As I quickly discovered, in order to even comprehend the basics of Tsumeshogi, you must understand shogi, a Japanese version of chess with slightly different rules and vastly different play styles. Take time to learn the kanji draped over every piece or at least memorize the placement of each piece and what their actions are; there is no romaji (Japanese words transliterated through Romanized spelling) under the kanji to ease you into the game. If you’re interested in learning the details of shogi, I recommend the website Ancientchess.com’s excellent how-to-play article.
After you learn each shogi piece’s moves, and shogi-specific actions like promotions, captures, and replacements, you’ll have a decent chance at “tsume-shogi,” a puzzle exercise that forces you into pre-developed shogi scenarios. The goal of tsume shogi is to check the opposing side’s king with every move, and produce a checkmate in as few moves as possible.
Because tsume shogi is a one-player exercise and not an actual game, there are less pieces on the board than there typically would be in a two-player shogi match. The amount of pieces will vary depending on the exercise, but in Hachidan no Tsumeshogi, you’re given a bare minimum of pieces to work with, which both helps and hinders the game. Again, tsume shogi won’t allow you to move a piece anywhere where it won’t check the king, which is good if you’re (like me) still learning the directional movements of each piece. But the lack of pieces turns frustrating when you’ve seemingly exhausted all your options for checkmate and you’re unsure of where to move.
Tsumeshogi, in all its, er, shogi-ness.
Now, in the beginning and intermediate difficulties (don’t even bother with advanced unless you’re a shogi master), you’re allowed three moves to checkmate the king. Failure to checkmate in three moves results in the computer politely saying “Sumimasen…” and restarting the exercise from the beginning with all of your pieces back in their original spots.
Despite my diving headfirst into the world of shogi so I could properly play Tsumeshogi, I wasn’t able to deduce the moves I needed to use in order to checkmate the king and advance to the next exercise. Ever. Constant failure didn’t reduce my enjoyment of Tsumeshogi, though. If anything, I admire the raw bastard challenge baked into Tsumeshogi‘s code, and I look forward to learning the intricacies of the game, as I’m subjected to the inevitable onslaught of shogi games throughout my Sega tenure.
What would convince Sega to release a game like Serizawa Hachidan no Tsumeshogi? What does the title mean, and who is the target audience? In the admittedly small amount of research I did for this review, I discovered that Hirobumi Serizawa was a top Shogi player in Japan around the time Tsumeshogi was produced. Since Serizawa is a Japanese surname and his is the only name that emerged in conjunction with shogi, the connection between the two seems likely. Also “Hachi-dan” means “eighth rank” which could refer to Serizawa’s shogi rank in 1983 or the rank one should be when playing Tsumeshogi; have I mentioned the game’s all-consuming terrible difficulty?
At any rate, I’m open to being completely wrong on the title, but there’s hardly any information about this game on the Internet at the moment, so one must bring their own conclusions. As for the game’s target audience, I would say die-hard shogi fans, which probably includes a lot of elderly people. Just like you don’t see American elementary schoolchildren with crossword puzzle books draped over their laps at recess, you won’t find many Japanese kids pouring over tsume shogi exercise manuals in their spare time. As with Mahjong, Sega was certainly catering to different age groups with Tsumeshogi, though I would argue that the latter appeals to an even more exclusive demographic than the former.
This is what it feels like when tsume shogi players cry.
Thanks to Google Translate and smspower.org, we have a bonus: the translation of the text on the back of the Serizawa Hachidan no Tsumeshogi box: “In Tsume-Shogi you think of professional players, to challenge your brain. Think slowly because there is no limit of time, and intend to move to the next problem. Once you’ve clogged the king, you win. Problems for beginner, intermediate and advanced difficulty. Ability of you there, and what stage.” Challenge your brain, intend to progress, clog the king, problems in every difficulty, you there: ’tis the essence of Tsumeshogi, maybe.
Play Tsumeshogi, if you dare.