We've put some answers into two separate sections below: and each section looks at
each game individually and then the different sets published (series 101, series 302).
what we say and
what others have said.
The first thing we say is that there is freely available software so that you could try out all three games without purchase. The Pacru software is the most developed, and you might want a hot or cool drink besides you as you read the rules. Shacru you could probably play without even reading the rules, Azacru you want to browse the rules first. If you want to get into the games gently try Shacru first. If you want something with more strategic complexity try Azacru. If you like deeply engaging games where thinking about every move involves a wealth of possibilities try Pacru: definitely not a light game. Some people like all three - some people find Shacru too light, some people find Pacru too heavy - explore the site and play a few games and hopefully you'll get a good idea if there is a game here you'll want to play and play.
The second thing to say is that if you want more detailed information have a look also in the reviews section.
You play Pacru on a board consisting of a grid of nine squares by nine squares, divided into nine "borderlands". The game centres on the interaction between chevrons (four each) and markers. The board starts with no colour markers on the board and as the game progresses you can place markers of your own colour by moving across borders.
As you gain more markers in a borderland, so your chevrons there gain more power of movement. Using a connection change you can sweep a chevron across the board changing squares to your colour, or with two chevrons you can pincer an opposition chevron. You win the game by placing your 42nd marker on the board, or by eliminating all your the opponent's chevrons. You will probably take 15 minutes from first aquaintance to grasping the rules.
Pacru is the most complex of the three games by a long way: (though the rules are shorter than games in many genres). The Pacru rules provide for a game which has a deep level of complexity and variety, and like the long-lived and well known classics, this is a game which will endure. The distinctive arrow headed "chevrons" can only go forwards, but can move forwards and to the left or forwards and to the right, enabling them to make circular movments around the board. It is a game in which all the players are gaining territory from the start, and as it progresses each has opportunities to make the very pleasing and elegant move which was the inspiration for the game - the connection change. There are different strategies open for the more aggressive player as well as the one who likes to build their territory while avoiding confrontation - and it is a game which can be won by achieving the target number of markers on the board or by playing so the opponent loses all their chevrons.
Pacru is like to appeal to players of the classic "abstract" games: Chess, Go, Othello (Reversi), Draughts (Checkers), Parcheesi as well as the more sophisticated recent games of this nature such as the GIPF series created by Kris Burm, or Sid Sackson's abstract work. Those who wish to take Pacru further can enter the Manchester Open or the Pacru Championships at the Mind Sports Olympics where Pacru sits alongside old classic games.
Unlike many abstract games Pacru can be played by 3 or 4 players, not only two. Pacru is again unusual in having both markers (tiles, stones) and chevrons (pieces, men) and a dynamic relationship between the two. The aspect of the game where more territory in a "borderland" gives the chevrons there more power of movement can remind the player of the game Risk. The advantage of being a new strategy game is that at this point in time there is not a wealth of information on opening theory, endgame play etc. - it is that most exciting time in a game's development.
Shacru is a simple and relatively light game that takes less than two minutes to learn. It is a strategy game where you have to watch what your opponent(s) are up to. Chevrons can only move one space at a time, and each time they move they place a marker on the square moved to. A coloured marker that does not belong to you is a barrier, so each player is effectively trying to build walls which their opponents cannot pass through, so that at the end of the game they can keep gaining territory in order to have the most at the end of the game. Scores for the amount of territory won in each game by each player can be totalled across a series of games, just like tricks in a game of cards.
Shacru appeals to a wide range of players. You can make up your strategy as you go along, and your chevrons cannot be "taken" so the competitive element of the game is not at first obvious. Five year olds can, and do, play the game, though it will probably appeal most to slightly older children.
Azacru can be seen as a natural development from Shacru, though the play is so different it is misleading to call it a variation. In Azacru you are working towards making one, or a series of, connection changes as the game progresses. If you make a connection change where in addition to placing your own markers, you are removing another player's marker(s) from the board, then your chevron exits the board as soon as the move is made. This can be a good move to make for the last rounds of Azacru are usually the most crucial, and as as soon as one player says "I cannot move" on their turn, the others have just one move each left to make in which to increase the number of their markers on the board, and ideally decrease those of their opponents at the same time.
The 302 game set
This was designed in Manchester, made in Germany by quality game makers Ludofact, who manufacture games for both large and small publishers. The chevrons and markers are made of wood, and the chevrons are an unusual and distinctive shape. The board is a good quality cardboard board which despite its size folds neatly into the 302 box. The design on the board, and the board itself is relatively plain and simple with no additional colour or writing on the board: this was a deliberate design decision because the board is the background for games which become increasingly colourful as they continue, and play tests indicated that a more striking board made the chevrons & markers harder to see. The game comes with comprehensive rules in a type size that can be read comfortably by most people (there is a UK (English) edition and separate German edition ... for other languages rules are being made available on this website). There are (deliberately) no surplus card or plastic internal dividers in the game box, but instead specially created coloured boxes to hold the markers & chevrons for each player.
The 302 game set and the accompanying games would be a fine present for anyone from nine upwards, or even for younger people who have already shown an interest in games like chess and checkers/draughts. A family with children as young as five could play Shacru progressing to the other games as the children became older. Since the games can all be played by 2, 3 or 4 players they are ideal for families: and a larger family would simply need to have two (or more) sets.
The 101 game set
This was based on the original prototype boards designed by Mike Wellman & Pelle Astrom, with coloured glass tiles set in wells. The game comes with a the base game board and a lid, and all the game components (apart from the rules) fit within the game box. The game board is made of wood veneer on MDF. The pieces are wooden and individually hand made by Pelle himself. The lid features the Pacru logo, designed by Calligrapher Simon Daniel. The game is a pleasure to look at both in the starting position of the game (with all "neutral" tiles) and particularly as the game progesses and becomes a visual mosaic of colour.
This is very much work in progress and suggestions (or corrections) very welcome.
The Pacru Board
The Pacru board is 9 by 9 squares divided into 9 areas. This is like Realm, like Sudoku, and probably like quite a few other games (most recently Uptown which despite what the box might suggest is also an abstract - and Uptown also has tile placement, though no moving pieces). In the 302 board the cells or squares are in fact star shaped, but this is primarily to assist in the correct and obvious placement of the chevrons within the square ... the 101 board is made of squares.
A crucial concept in Pacru,Azacru & Shacru is that a square can both have a piece (chevron) on it, and be of a certain colour (or "neutral"). This "3 dimensional aspect" to the game (that a chevron can be on a neutral square or a square of "its own colour") is realised most fully in the 101 series board, and in the 302 board by the device of having room in the square for both a "marker" (colour) and a "chevron" (piece). This concept is of course not unique. It exists in Monopoly with pieces moving into squares, and houses/hotels also occupying the same space, and in many other non-abstract games. It also exists in some, but rather fewer, other abstract games: Yinsh for instance with markers and rings able to co-occupy a "point" (which can still be thought of as a cell or square).
features of game like Othello features of game like Reversi You can do something on your turn that results in the tiles / counters / stones / markers being turned over
features of game like Risk There are distinct regions / continents / borderlands on the gameboard. Having acquired territory in a region gives you extra (armies in the case of Risk, power of movement in the case of Pacru). However there is no extra advantage in Pacru to having the whole of a borderland your colour, beyond excluding anyone else from landing within it (which simply follows from the rule that you cannot land on a square / territory that is someone else's colour).
features of game like Chess Nothing in the rules of Pacru is particularly like Chess - except for the very general features shared with many other games - pieces / chevrons that can move and can also permanently capture other pieces by replacing them in their position on the board. There is a specific starting position etc.
However in terms of feel there can sometimes be something about working out the interactions of opposing chevrons moving towards each other that resembles some king and pawn endgame interactions in chess. The power of movement of a well placed chevron in Pacru can be as far as the edge of the board in all three directions it can travel, and so like the queen, bishop or rook in chess it is easy for a beginner to move another piece into its path without realising they are doing so ... but again this aspect is in common with any game where pieces have a power of movement of more than one square at a time, and the distinction that Pacru chevrons have a varying power of movement depending upon the number of markers in the borderland where they are currently located is rather more significant.
At a very general level Pacru is a game which like Chess does in actual play can be divided into opening, middle game and endgame. Whereas in chess what you do in the opening will be reflected by the general positioning of your pieces and pawns in the middle game, in Pacru this will be reflected much more in the positioning of your markers, since the chevrons themselves are so few in number and can so rapidly change in their position on the board and orientation. In each game there is a sense of a story being told, a drama being played out with various different scenes occurring.
features of game like Yinsh Both games have static markers and moving pieces. There is some kind of connection change move in the game where a piece travels from a marker to a marker of the same colour and markers in between are changed as a result (this is somewhat of a distortion of the sequence of events in Yinsh), but in Azacru the change includes positions without any markers, and never changes your own markers. The game ends in Yinsh when someone has achieved removing three piecces off the board, in Azacru it can end one round after a player has removed their last piece, but in Azacru the trigger for the ending is that a player cannot make a move, whether this is due to lack of pieces or the positioning of the pieces. However in Yinsh a piece (ring) is removed when a row of 5 markers is achieved, in Azacru this will only happen when a connection change move removes opposition markers. Most crucially in Yinsh the player who finishes first is the winner, whereas in Azacru it is down to the count of markers on the board, something irrelevant in Yinsh. In the end any resemblance between the games appears to be superficial - there are pieces and markers, some kind of marker transformation, and some kind of piece exit, but the dynamics and feel of the games are very different.
the feature of the game that it comes to an end one round after the first player cannot take their turn is definitely not unique - but not sure which are the most well known games (card games and board games) that have that feature.
features of game like Gemblo features of game like Blokus an occupied place on the board cannot be shifted so that as the game continues the empty locations on the board become fewer and fewer. The games might all be classified as easy-to-learn, colourful, multi-player abstracts.
features of game like Go enclosing unoccupied territory by a wall of your stones / markers and the edges of the board is a key element in doing well (but in Shacru if you yourself cannot manoeuvre into the unoccupied territory with your own chevrons you would gain no advantage from constructing such a wall). Since the rules are so very different this similarity is at the level of one of feeling about what it is one is doing in the game - marking out territory. The most crucial difference would be that Shacru is supposed to be a "light" game, and a beginner soon has a reasonable idea of some obvious strategies and we would imagine that it should be possible for an AI (computer) player to be written who would consistently win the game, whereas this doesn't seem on the horizon as regards Go which is unquestionably deep and complex.
Not sure which other games have pieces that move like the chevron, where the piece can only move forwards, and where it must point in the direction that it has moved. Any assistance on this point gratefully received.
Similarly not sure which other games have the idea (as in Shacru & Azacru) of a borderland twist or similar ... that when passing through some barrier,border or line, you are entitled to shift your piece in a way you cannot normally do.
The following claims are made by Mike Wellman the inventor of Pacru, Azacru & Shacru. Not that he knows them to be true, but that he believes them to be true:
Pacru and Azacru share a set of features that are not to be found in other games. Yes you can find various single features in other games but nothing that could be reasonably described as similar. It is this combination of features that partly gives a game its special flavour.
1) the rule forbidding a piece to land on a square of different colour
2) the connection change
3) the division of the board into borderlands
4) the power of movement
In addition Pacru has another set of features (not
mutually exclusive of the list above) that on its own would make the game
1) the rule forbidding a piece to land on a square of different colour
2) the way the pieces can only move forwards
3) the division of the board into borderlands
4) the borderland change
In addition to a) and b) Pacru also has two dynamics for both increasing power
in the game, and winning the game: the territorial capture primarily down to
a) and b) but also piece capture.