My non-gamer friend Greg and I went to the Oregon Coast to go see R.E.O. Speedwagon at a "casino concert" (which means "they play less than 90 minutes"). Since neither of us gambles much (I did about 10 minutes of video poker), I took a couple of the games from the Gipf Project with me, Gipf and Tamsk. While I had run through a couple of Gipf games from their site at www.gipf.com, I'd never played ftf before with either game. With Tamsk, all I'd done is one solo match to get a general feel for the games.
Since Greg really isn't a gamer and as such doesn't grasp strategies as fast as someone who does game regularly, these were more learning than competitive games for both of us. We played one game of Gipf with the basic rules (no Gipf pieces, standard starting setup, no potentials), which was pretty even for a while. In the end, I had captured a couple more of Greg's pieces than he had of mine, and then I was able to prevent him from getting four pieces in a row to starve him.
Since Tamsk plays so much quicker, we played both a basic game (with no time elements) and then again with just the board timers (no 15-second timer). What a difference in the feel. Again, I had a better sense of potential movement, and did a slightly better job of interaction with my pieces to win both games. I can only imagine that the 15-second timer adds both extra time pressure as well as acting like the doubling cube in backgammon.
In the past, I've not been a huge fan of abstracts. I'd thought that the theme was necessary to hang the game on for it to be interesting for me. Gipf and its cousins have certainly changed that thinking, even to the point of me considering to ask my most definitely non-gaming wife to give one a shot, probably Tamsk as the time element makes the skill element less critical, at least on the surface.
I have played Dvonn once before, and also Yinsh a couple of times, and both were quite good as well. Zertz seems to have a problem of having been "solved", although using a larger board and more balls is supposed to fix that problem. At any rate, it can also be fixed by giving players a handicap (fewer balls to collect to win) to make a more even game. I suppose that's true of Gipf and Tamsk as well, simply give fewer pieces to the stronger player in the former and more rings in the latter.
I'm considering a Gipf Project tournament for my group next time we're at our semi-annual Sunriver retreat, coming up in a few weeks. If anyone has suggestions for running a casual tournament using these games and smart players with minimal experience at the games, please leave me a comment.