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Ishido: The Way of Stones

Amiga game review, ADF downloads, screenshots, ratings and insights
Check out our exclusive interview with Ishido programmer, Ian Gilman.

Ishido: The Way of Stones, published in 1989, is an incredibly addictive puzzle game that at first blush looks a lot like Mahjong or Shanghai (a computer game inspired by Mahjong).

The addiction grows as you begin to understand the subtle depth of the game’s mechanics. Like a good drug dealer, after a bit of experimentation the game will give you rewards in bursts to keep you coming back for more.

In Shanghai (1986) the goal is to remove stones, or tiles, from the board. In Ishido, it’s the reverse with some very cool twists.

The game is played by placing stones on a board made up of eight rows of 12 squares, for a total of 96 squares. Each stone has two "attributes": a symbol and a color. There are six symbols and six colors, for a total of 36 unique combinations. And there are two stones for each combination, yielding a total of 72 stones to the game set.

From the manual:
“You can play for points, compete against the clock, or kick back and meditate over each move with the deliberation of a master. See if you can outdo your own best score in progressive games, and learn the secret of 4-ways.”

The most basic of moves is to match two stones via color or shape. Where things get really interesting, however, is the ability to create 3-ways and 4-ways. The easiest way to understand these pairings is to study and understand illustrations in the manual, which hilariously are printed in black and white. As a result they use background patterns in place of actual color. Understanding how to create a 4-way took me several games of play. But once you get it? It’s a thrilling moment to say the least.

At the time of this writing, I’ve accomplished three 4-ways in a single game. I’ve yet to finish all of the stones, but did come as close as having 2 left before running out of moves. The manual states that a completed “Master Game” is between eight or nine four-ways. I am but a novice monk with a freshly shaved head at this point!

Theoretically it is possible to achieve 12 4-ways, although seems more like total mythology to do so. However that very concept is written about in story form in a second 27-paged booklet that comes with the game. It’s a story about two ancient Ishido masters playing against one
another for high stakes - a priest and a sorcerer. The priest finished his game with 12 four-ways and all the stones played. While he was gloating, the good master placed all of his
stones and made 13 four-ways. If only that game could be watched somehow like a short chess movie, I’d totally watch it all the way through!

If your score is high enough to hit the high score list, you get to see a colorful fireworks display over a nice black-and-white stipling-style landscape based on the board design you chose originally. To that end there are multiple board designs and stone sets you can select from, ranging from Japanese, Chinese, Egyptian, Stonehenge and more. And you can mix and match stones from one theme and put them on the board design of another theme, too - whatever suits your fancy.

But then the game goes even one step more: it comes with a built-in graphics editor so you can either modify existing stone sets or create your own from scratch! (You can’t create or modify the boards, unfortunately, but that would have made the graphics editing quite complicated for the average user back in the day).

I can say from personal experience that the game is very enjoyable and addicting for gamers of all ages, and my 8 year-old son absolutely loves playing the game and editing the stone sets into his own unique designs. To see him sitting behind an Amiga, using the mouse and creating designs that he could then use in a real game was a special moment for both he and myself. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.

Ishido is also just filled with options: Solitaire, Tournament, Cooperative, Computer play, and… the Oracle.

Built into the game are algorithms that channel the I Ching, the ancient Chinese text that was originally conceived to divine the future. If you want to know the answer to a question that’s been on your mind, you can ask the Oracle before starting a new game. As soon as you solve a 4-way, the Oracle will provide you with an answer. Granted, the text is lifted from the I Ching, so interpretation is, well, up to you. I’ve posted some pictures below of a few of my questions and the answers I received. I asked really important things, like “Will the Cubs win the World Series in 2018?”

This was a place where my son blew me away with this game, yet again. He asked simple questions, almost philosophically romantic questions like, “Will I find a flower tomorrow?” It made me so happy to be sitting next to this amazing person. My 11 year-old daughter also asked an important question, “What type of dog will I own?” Although the oracle seems better poised for Yes/No questions that specifics at that level. I didn’t have the heart to tell her, though.

Interestingly, the appearance of the Oracle’s answers depend on the stones that make up the four-way and the exact moment the four-way was completed. Sometimes they're profound; often times, though they are amusing or downright obtuse.

The producer of Ishido was Brad Fregger who was also the producer of Shanghai. Designed by Michael Feinberg, Brad Fregger took an extraordinary chance in hiring Ian Gilman to do the programming for the Macintosh; Ian was only 17 years old at the time. Brad ultimately made a wise choice and helped launch Ian’s career as a software engineer. Read more about Ian and the team that created this classic puzzle game here.

Ishido is a completely made up Japanese sounding word that has no meaning. However, according to Ian Gilman, "It's a made up word the Japanese wouldn't use, but it's composed of two real Japanese words: "ishi" meaning stone or rock and "do" meaning "path" (either physical or spiritual). This gives it the rather interesting distinction of being a fake word that nonetheless could actually mean the way of stones."

Technical Notes
This review was is based off playing from an original single floppy disk which was installed to a hard drive. It was played on an Amiga 2000 and a Commodore 1080 CRT color monitor. Ishido only needs a base stock Amiga with 512KB RAM. You need 1MB RAM to play from a hard drive installation.

Check out our exclusive interview with Ishido programmer, Ian Gilman.
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Software Resources International
Michael Feinberg
Michael Feinberg, Brodie Lockard, Beckett Gladney, Sheryl Knowles
Ian Gilman, Michael Sandige, Greg Hospelhorn (Amiga port)
Puzzle, Strategy, Tactics
Japan, Ancient Cultures
Player mode:
Single player, two-player
Release date:

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