Focus Game

I’m pretty terrible at abstract strategy games, but it’s only because they bore me to near death. They have no theme. They usually involve capturing or dominating your opponent’s pieces, and they hold no surprises. They are a battle of nerves and wits that I would rather avoid; however, I cannot deny the beauty and simplicity of their design.

Focus is an abstract strategy game that was created by the prolific American game designer, Sid Sackson, who created such classics as Acquire, Can’t Stop, and I’m the Boss! It has been published by many companies over the years under a variety of names, but Focus or Domination are the most common. Focus was the winner of the 1981 Spiel des Jahres award. It will play from two to four players, but is recommended for two or four players. The rules are simple like most abstract strategy games, so Focus is accessible for younger gamers. Playing time is supposed to be around 45 minutes, but if you are like me then it will seem more like three hours.

Focus game set upTypically, Focus games feature a board that will allow the movement of stackable pieces in four player colors. Each player will have 13 pieces and all of the pieces begin the game spread out on the game board. On a turn, a player may move any stack of pieces that has their color on the top. The stack must move as many spaces as the portion of the stack the controlling player wishes to take, so if I move a stack of four pieces, then I can move it four spaces. If I choose to only take the top three pieces of the stack, then I can move three spaces. Any stack that exceeds five pieces will then have the bottom pieces removed until there are only five. Enemy pieces taken in this manner are captured but your own pieces are placed in reserve and may be placed on a later turn. Managing your reserves is essential for victory, as it allows you to take control of established enemy stacks. Play continues until one player controls the board.

Focus is a great game if you like abstract strategy games. I enjoyed playing for a while, and I would give it another try. I would especially like to try a faster playing variant that Sackson created where the game ends when a player has captured two or more pieces from each opponent. If I manage to find a copy in a thrift store, I will buy it; however, I don’t see myself spending big money to track it down for my collection.


This is part of my Spiel des Jahres winner series. If you would like to comment on the 1981 winner, Focus, then please do so on this post. If you would like to discuss or comment on the Spiel des Jahres award in general, please do so on the Spiel des Jahres series post.

2 thoughts on “Focus”

  1. This is one SdJ title I’ve stayed away from…for just the reason you describe. I figured it would be an exhausting analytical contest of lookahead. Not my thing. When I play abstracts, its because their physical beauty overcomes my resistance to brain-burning. Even then, it really helps to be a game that is known to be over quickly. The Gigamic “coffee table” quality wooden games are like that, and the GIPF series isn’t too bad. For that reason, I have a copy of Pylos on my office desk right now, and I’ll probably play DVONN once in a while for years to come. Focus, meanwhile, is something I’ll only try if someone wants to experience all of the SdJ titles…and then I’m guessing it will be a one-timer for me.

    Interesting that the SdJ jury picked such a stark abstract game back then, but hasn’t done so ever since. Of course titles like Qwirkle are abstract, too, but the gameplay doesn’t FEEL the same. The difference is perfect information. Classic abstracts have perfect information, which leads to that brain-burning analysis I don’t enjoy. Just by pulling pieces out of a bag (and then hiding them from each other), a game like Qwirkle opens up to have greater possibilities for luck and surprise.

    1. Those wooden games are gorgeous. Hive is one that I will play occasionally, partly because of those great hexagonal Bakelite tiles.

      I also find it strange that my first game design ended up as a perfect information abstract. It’s no wonder I don’t like it.

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