Karum's Karom Board Wokshop, £40
by Dave Farquhar
Karom is a gem of a game. I bought it at a craft fair recently, having gone there intending to buy a water colour. The game is thought to have originated in the East, possibly in Northern India or Burma, and is apparently known throughout the world. Mike tells me it is big in Germany and that Essen always has large displays. I had never heard of it - so much for my qualifications as a game reviewer.
The game is played on a square wooden board, mine is I believe made from beech, surrounded by a raised wooden frame. A hole is positioned in each corner, forming a pocket reminiscent of a snooker table. Indeed snooker is the nearest comparison to the game I can think of, and I shall try to write this using snooker terminology where appropriate. I have the smallest size table, which fits comfortably onto my son's Early Learning table. This puts it at the perfect height for players to kneel on the floor, and allows the pocket nets to overhang nicely.
Each player has nine small 'stones', set up in the middle of the board; one playing black, the other white. In the very centre is placed a red stone - the queen. Players alternate flicking a striker (a large flat circular piece) from their own base line, at the stones, in an attempt to pocket their own pieces. The Subbuteo flick technique comes in useful here.
Karom may be played singly, with the players sat facing each other, or in pairs, with one playing from each side of the board. The first player or team to successfully pot all of their stones wins the frame, and gains a score dependent on the number of their opponent's pieces left. A bonus is scored for potting the queen, and neither player may complete the frame until it has been sunk. Play of the game is simple, with few rules to learn. Penalties usually consist of pieces belonging to the defaulting player being brought back onto the table.
Why do I like the game? Firstly it looks good. The design and base lines on the playing surface are screen printed and hand painted, and the board is signed by the craftsman who made it. With the addition of the stones the whole thing is very attractive. Secondly it feels good. I do not have many games that are tactile. The stones are pleasantly smooth and rounded, and skim across the surface with a satisfying action (I understand that Go is another aesthetically pleasing tactile game). The board is polished before each match (Mr Sheen etc), and the striker can be sanded down to speed its movement. Thirdly, it plays very well. Games tend to be closely fought, building up through a series of frames to an exciting finish. Two rules in particular add to the tension:
In order for the queen to be potted, it needs to be immediately covered by the successful player. This he achieves by sinking one of his own stones immediately after the queen, and that aint easy! It is amazing how difficult a simple shot becomes when its success is required in order to gain the queen. The other tricky rule is that the striker may only be propelled forward. In order to hit stones that are behind the base line, the striker has therefore to be flicked towards the opposite edge, and bounced off it to come back and knock out, or pot the stone. This means that frequently a frame which appeared to be all over ends extremely tensely, where one player may be desperately trying to rebound the striker at just the right angle to sink his last stone, while the opponent is busily potting all his. This highlights the main difference with the pairs game, as such a situation cannot occur. What is behind the base line for one player will be in front for the partner.
I hope this has given some idea of the pleasure gained from Karom. I have played it frequently with my wife and friends, and it is the sort of game that non-gamers can easily be attracted to play. As well as being a tense, competitive game, it is a good social game, with the four players clustered around the board.
My board cost around £40, and was made by Karum's Karom Board Workshop, of Annan Farm, Easons Green, Nr Framfield, E Sussex TN22 5RE. I understand that they give demonstrations every weekend at Covent Garden Jubilee Market in central London. For further details they can be contacted on 0825 840 574.
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