Dango board game – learn to play with game rules

By: Dennis B. B. Taylor


Get your hands on Dango – click here to download, print, and play!

I want to tell you about Dango, a game that was written about back in 1996 in a monthly issue of the “Go Game in Russia” almanac. Unfortunately, this almanac is no longer being printed since 2008.

Let me start by telling you how I discovered this game. It was during a Go-Boat event called “The Volga-” in 1991. I didn’t pay much attention to it at first, but I saw some German players playing with cards and placing stone shapes on a Go board. It puzzled me why they were doing that instead of finding other ways to have fun.

Fast forward to “the Volga-1993”, and a contagious craze for Go-poker (or Dango, as we later called it) had taken hold. I found myself playing it constantly throughout the event, even more than Go itself. Suddenly, it didn’t seem foolish anymore.

Let me tell you about this really cool game called Dango. It’s a game that’s both original and skill-based, but it also has an element of luck involved. That’s what makes it so appealing – players of all levels can enjoy it together. I first discovered Dango when a few people brought the game cards. It sparked immediate interest among the players, and I was hooked.

When I returned to Kazan with my friend Vasily Uldanov, we didn’t have our own Dango cards. We had to come up with a solution. Luckily, we found a way to play using two regular sets of playing cards, which totaled 36 cards in total. The only thing we had to do was assign a meaning to each card before the game started.

Alright, let’s dive right into the game rules. They’re pretty straightforward if you already know how to play Go, but there are a few little details that can cause disagreements. That’s why we made some rules specifically for our game to prevent any future disputes.

Hey there! So, let’s talk about Dango cards, shall we? These cards can be divided into two types. First, we have the cards that represent various Go shapes, totaling to 24 cards. Now, there are a couple of rules for these shape cards. The first rule is that when you have shapes that can be reflected in different positions, like the keima shape for example, you need to put the shape on the card exactly as it appears. (Although, just so you know, we changed this rule later on to allow all reflected variations of the shape, which actually makes the whole game simpler). The second rule for these shape cards is that you have to follow the Go rules when placing your stones. This means you can only put your stones on empty spots and you can’t make any moves that would result in suicide. Now, let’s move on to the second type of Dango cards – the action cards. These cards have meanings related to actions. There’s been a lot of debate about these cards, so I want to take a deeper look at them.

Let’s talk about the first group of action cards. They’re pretty straightforward! You have five options to choose from:

  • Place your 3 stones: You get to put three of your own stones on the board.
  • Place your 2 stones: This time, you can put two of your stones on the board.
  • Remove your 3 stones: You can take three of your stones off the board.
  • Remove opponent’s 3 stones: You can take three stones off your opponent’s side of the board.
  • Place opponent’s 3 stones: Now you can place three stones on your opponent’s side of the board.

Just a note: in our card set, we added an extra card called “Play any move.” This card allows you to make a regular Go move. In Roman Gataulin’s version, there are 35 cards, but one of them isn’t used and is set aside.

When playing this game, you have the freedom to place all your stones or your opponent’s stones at any point on the board. However, there’s one important rule to remember: you can’t make suicidal moves. Suicidal moves are when you place a stone in a position that would result in it being immediately captured.

Now, let’s dive into the logic of the game. Imagine you have the card that says “Place your 3 stones.” Each individual stone by itself would be a suicidal move, but when you place all three stones together, they are considered as a single move. It’s like they become a three-eyed(!) group with a unified purpose.

For example, if you use the “Place your 3 stones” card and decide to put black stones at positions A, B, and C, you would actually be making a single move. In this case, you would have the power to capture a white group on the board.

So, even though you might think that each stone is a separate action, the game sees them as a united force. It’s an interesting and somewhat perplexing concept to wrap your head around. Just remember, three moves combined can have a much greater impact than individual moves on their own.

(on Dia.1 – with the card “Place your 3 stones” You can put black stones at A, B, and C and capture the white group.)

Alright, let’s talk about the next set of action cards.

The first card is called “Pass a move.” Basically, all you have to do is pass your turn and wait for your next chance to play. The second card is the “Free card.” It’s similar to passing, but with a twist – it allows you to make two moves in a row at any point during the game. The interesting thing about the “Free card” is that you can use it first, make your two moves, and then discard it.

Now, there are a couple of things that may cause some debate. Firstly, you need to use the “Free card” before making your two consecutive moves. This means you have to let your opponent know that you’re about to play two moves in a row. Secondly, if your opponent also has a “Free card,” they can’t stop you from making your moves. They can make two moves after you, but they can’t interfere with your consecutive moves.

So, here’s the deal. There’s this card game we’re playing, and it has some interesting rules. Let me break it down for you:

First, we have what’s called a “Free block.” This nifty little card allows me to refuse my opponent’s last move. Pretty cool, right? If I use this card, though, I have to pass my turn. But wait! If my opponent played a “Free card” before, I can only cancel one of their two moves. Gotta keep things fair, you know?

Now, let’s talk about the next group of cards. We’ve got the “Double” and “Alternative.” These cards are a bit special.

  1. “Double next card” is one of these special cards. When I get this card, it’s like hitting the jackpot. I can use the next card I draw right away, without passing, and I get to use it twice! Imagine that! For example, if I draw a “Bamboo joint” card next, I can place two of those little bamboo joints on the board. Or, if I get a “Place your 3 stones” card, I can put down a whopping 6 stones! Talk about unlimited possibilities! But remember, this “Double next card” can’t be used with certain other cards. It’s a little complicated, but basically, it just doesn’t work with those cards. Bummer, I know.

So there you have it. That’s how these cards work. It’s all about strategy and making the most of the cards you have. Pretty cool, huh?

  • If your opponent played a move with stones in the previous turn, I have a special move called “Alternative” that will change those stones. For example, if they played a black keima, I will replace it with a white keima and return their stones to them. If they played your color stones, I will change them to their color. Just like the “Double” card, the “Alternative” card is used up and disappears after the next turn.

Dango board game - learn to play with game rules

Let me explain a fun rule we have. If your opponent captures any stones on their previous move, you have the chance to switch their stones with yours. However, the captured stones don’t go back on the board.

Now, let’s talk about the last card, the “Replace” card. This card is your secret weapon against your rival. At first glance, “Place your 3 stones” might seem more advantageous, but take a look at Dia 2. If two marked white stones are replaced by black, they capture five white stones that were safely connected. “Replace” can also be used to cut off your opponent’s groups, connect your own groups, destroy their defense, and more. The true power of “Replace” lies in its ability to put and remove stones at the same time, anywhere on the board. I have to mention that “Replace” is most powerful when there is already an established position on the board, with groups in combat. If a player gets a “Replace” card after a “Double” card, the game is most likely to be over (although you never know what happens in Dango!).

The standard card set is designed for a 13×13 board, but to make it more exciting, we use a 19×19 board and “roll” the cards twice. Before the second use, we shuffle the cards. It’s important to note that a game with newcomers on a 19×19 board can last for more than 1.5 hours.

There are some things to consider when switching from the first card round to the second. If the last card played was a “Double,” it expires. First, we have to shuffle it again. If it comes up first in the second round, the “Double” can become a quadruple. Imagine your partner placing 3×4=12 of their stones all at once. That would be too much! Another scenario is if your partner places four shapes, like in the Dia.3 diagram. They would fence off all the territory in one go! And it goes on like that. “Free Block” and “Free Card” can be saved for the second round without using them in the first. The downside is that when we shuffle the cards, those two won’t come up in the next round. But there are some important advantages. First, it’s always good to have a “Free Block” ready in case something goes wrong. Without a “Free Block,” it can be tough! Or, if you need two consecutive moves to save a group, you never know when a “Free Card” might come in handy.

After the card set is finished, the players start playing normal Go, which is called yose. Sometimes, you can save or kill a group with just one move, but you can’t use any “Shape” cards in that part of the board. The moment when players stop using cards and move on to normal Go is very important. This is where holding back a “Free Block” or “Free Card” for the second round comes in handy. You will have 33 cards instead of 35, so you’ll have an advantage of two moves when you switch to regular Go. However, opponents often urge to use these cards in both the first and second rounds. They can also be left for the last stage, which is the “classic Go,” but that rarely happens. It only occurs when the cards come up right at the end of the round and there’s not enough time to use them.

Considering that black begins playing yose first and gets more profit from it, I recommend assigning 10.5 points komi using the standard nigiri procedure. This equalizes the chances of both players to win.

So here’s the deal, let me break down this game strategy for you. The most important thing to remember in Dango is this: “A good stone is a dead stone.” Now, if you take a look at those fancy diagrams up there, you’ll see just how much the situation on the board can change with every single move. It’s like a rollercoaster ride, full of surprises. You never really know for sure which groups or territories are safe until the very end. That’s why capturing more than 2 stones is usually a must-do, and the sooner the better.

Now, here’s where things get interesting. In classic Go, the goal is to spread your stones and claim as much territory as possible. But in Dango, it’s all about creating a solid “outpost” that can become the heart of your strategy. Think of it like building a fort, you want to have a strong foundation.

Now, here’s a little secret that can give you an edge. The more stones you have on the board, the more effective your action cards become. So, at the start of the game, try to get as many shapes out there as possible. It’s like stocking up your arsenal for later.

But wait, there’s more. You see, knowing what cards your opponent might have in their hand can be a game-changer. It’s like having the inside scoop on their strategy. So, keep an eye on the cards they discard, it could give you a hint about what’s coming your way. Trust me, it’s worth remembering.

Oh, and one last thing. Don’t underestimate the power of fear. When you see your opponent with two “Replaces” or three “Alternatives,” it can make you sweat. So, make sure you remember what they’ve thrown away. Otherwise, you might find yourself on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

If you remember your own or your partner’s unused shapes, you can try to strategically position your groups or eliminate your opponent’s group, taking into account the remaining shapes.

I recommend avoiding frequent Dango games as they can negatively impact your Go performance. You might make less precise moves in regular Go games while hoping to use your “Replace” card. Dango is a great game to play alongside traditional Go when you want to unwind, have fun, or if you’re simply tired of the classic version. So, if you’re intrigued by this game, go get yourself some cards! Best of luck!

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