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Essay by Christian Freeling on inventing games
« on: Mar 8th, 2009, 11:39am »

I've known Christian Freeling for several years now and am very fond of one of his games; Havannah. I really admire his talent for inventing abstract strategy games. If I am a dan 1 on the ASG inventing scale, Freeling is a dan 9. His writings are also very interesting to read. He recently wrote an essay titled "How I invented games and why not".  
 
http://mindsports.nl/index.php/how-i-invented-games-and-why-not
 
Very insightful views from someone who has been close to ASGs longer than most of us have been alive. We are lucky to still have his company.
 
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Re: Essay by Christian Freeling on inventing games
« Reply #1 on: Mar 8th, 2009, 6:30pm »

I'm intrigued by Freeling's claim that he (unlike normal people) can tell from the rules of an abstract strategy game whether or not the game will be good.  He explicitly says that he doesn't need to be able to play at a grandmaster level to know what it will feel like to play at a grandmaster level.  He begs us to take his word on four or five of his games that haven't yet been proven to be excellent games, and offers us Havannah as evidence because he knew it was a great game decades before a serious gaming community embraced Havannah and uncovered the glory that he knew all along would be waiting.
 
I have argued in other threads in this forum precisely that one can't tell a great game just from its rules.  You must play to know.  Arimaa is fabulous because of its emergent complexity, and by definition, emergent complexity can't be obvious from the start.  If you can see something on the surface, it is not emergent.  I can't believe that anyone, even a "game whisperer" could have foretold the intricacies of the camel hostage strategy from the bare rules of the game.  The way we play and talk about Arimaa today would be impossible without the accumulated experience of the community.
 
On the other hand, Freeling has so many acute insights into why rules make a game good or bad that I can't quite dismiss his claim to supernatural powers.  Just because I can't judge a game from its rules (and just because I have read a ton of trash from self-styled experts trying to judge a game based on its rules) doesn't mean that it is wholly impossible.  Given that Freeling will not profit monetarily if we believe him or suffer if we disbelieve, I am convinced that his motive is exactly what he says it is: he wants to leave his mark on the world by sharing what he knows.
 
I'm surprised he doesn't call himself Cassandra, gifted with prophecy but cursed that no one will believe him.  But he does put his faith in generations.  He believes that time will tell.  I suppose prophesy is like emergent complexity: if other people could judge your claims to be true at the time you made them, then you wouldn't be a prophet.
 
I recall that Don Green, the inventor of Octi, told me by e-mail that he had invented several other games before, but nothing as special Octi.  This poses a dilemma for us non-prophets.  If I believe Christian Freeling about the games he invented, am I not also compelled to believe Don Green about Octi?  Freeling excoriates hype that often surrounds superficial games that get quickly played out.  What enables me to know that his word is more reliable than that of the next game designer?  Merely that he has not been commercially successful and that he has Havannah?
 
Let me say right now that I hope Freeling is flat wrong in at least one respect.  He says that Havannah was doomed to commercial failure, not by any flaw in the game, but simply because it was a great abstract strategy game.  If he is right, then Arimaa will be a commercial flop because it is a great strategy game.  Z-man is a great guy with a great reputation, but he has nowhere near the resources or reputation of Ravensburger, the company that pushed Havannah.  If Freeling is right, then marketing is futile, and only time can make a great abstract strategy game popular.
 
I think that if we are going to prove Freeling wrong for Arimaa we need to pay special attention to this point he makes: "A strategy game requires more than isolated players can bring to the table: clubs, books, teachers, a whole infrastructure."  The reason Arimaa has succeeded so well to this point is all the infrastructure that Omar created: the game room per se, the presence of on-line bots to play when there was no human community, the ability to comment games, the Forum to exchange ideas, the bot ladder to give newcomers a graded challenge, etc.
 
The community is key.  Everyone who writes a bot and enters it into the Computer Championship contributes to the infrastructure.  Everyone who gives beginners a helping hand in the chat room is part of the infrastructure.  Commenting games with possible improvements; commenting tournament rules with possible improvements; writing up event game summaries; bashing bots in unusual ways; and just pain playing Arimaa as well as you know how are all contributions as well.  Thank you to everyone who does these things and so many more similar activities.
 
As I look to the future, I have a glimmer of what must be built to allow Arimaa to reach its full potential.  My book has been such a hassle to write that I shudder to ask anyone else to go through the process, but Arimaa will need more books than mine.  The Continuous Tournament has been fun, but there will need to be more on-line tournaments, run by players other than me or Omar.  There will have to be local Arimaa clubs, and before there can be local clubs, there will have to be individuals who want to found local clubs.  IdahoEv hosted the first-ever live Arimaa tournament in a gaming convention; there will have to be more live tournaments like that both inside gaming conventions and standing on their own.
 
The commercial release of boxed Arimaa sets isn't going to make any of this happen by magic; it will only enable it to happen.  I'm excited by the potential that is there, and excited by Adanac's prediction of multiple 3000-level players by 2015, but we're not going to get there just because Arimaa has the depth locked up inside of it.  There will have to be an organic and vibrant community in which players can take root and grow.
« Last Edit: Mar 8th, 2009, 10:02pm by Fritzlein » IP Logged

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Re: Essay by Christian Freeling on inventing games
« Reply #2 on: Mar 9th, 2009, 12:02am »

I don't think that there is any sure fire way to predict the future of a game no more that one can predict the evolution of the stock market or the weather in the long run. All these things are similar in that they involve countless parameters and that they are subject to the butterfly effect. Of course that doesn't mean that promoting Arimaa is useless, advertising and striving to develop a community around this game increase the probability to make it perpetual but the complexity of the situation can't even give us a hint as to what that probability might be. For all we know, 30 years from now Arimaa will have expanded to a level of popularity comparable to Go or it will have been completely forgotten, or something in between. In my view, it would be as impossible at this point to tell what will happen, as it would be to give the state of the world economy at that time. What well-known pundit predicted the crisis we're in only a mere three years ago? NOBODY.
 
Commercial success doesn’t always reward excellence; in fact, I suspect that it only accidentally does that once in a great while. We all know for instance that Betamax was superior to Vhs or that Microsoft is a mere shadow of the system it stole from. Monopoly is a stupid game that I got sick of after playing it a couple of times as a kid. Sometimes what prevails is mediocrity… we can’t help it.
 
The strength of Arimaa is that in spite of its great potential, it has very simple rules and can be learned and played by people of diverse backgrounds, and that may be the most important characteristic that will decide of the durability of the game, but who knows?
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Re: Essay by Christian Freeling on inventing games
« Reply #3 on: Mar 9th, 2009, 7:42am »

You are right, Patrick.  We can try anticipate events and we can try to shape then, but the future remains essentially unpredictable and out of control.  Just hang on and enjoy the ride!
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Re: Essay by Christian Freeling on inventing games
« Reply #4 on: Mar 16th, 2009, 8:11am »

I'm currently in the process of designing a board game, I found that without play testing the game design process would have gone no where. I've played about 200+ games of it online, and refined the rules as I discovered weaknesses in the play. However, the net result is the rules are not as simple as I originally planned, but I cannot see how one can simply look at a board, create a game, and never revise it. With or without some gift for board game making.
« Last Edit: Mar 16th, 2009, 8:12am by Ciribot » IP Logged
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Re: Essay by Christian Freeling on inventing games
« Reply #5 on: Mar 18th, 2009, 5:39am »

I have some doubts too. Rules and games are like formal systems and their expressive power. However small they are, however enlighted you are as a mathematician, it's often hard to say whether they end up modelling anything interesting, let alone anything at all, without any tedious exploration and research.
« Last Edit: Mar 19th, 2009, 4:17am by clauchau » IP Logged
christianF
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Re: Essay by Christian Freeling on inventing games
« Reply #6 on: Mar 24th, 2009, 2:56am »

Hello Omar, all,
 
Omar, thanks for your kind introduction. I certainly hope Arimaa will prove me wrong with regard to strategy games being difficult to market. I think you do a terrific job!
 
I'm not sure how far the strategical insights of the players have grown, but my guess is that by now the difference between top players and the lesses echelons is considerable. Tactics will largely have been sorted out, and positional aspects may by now have begun to dominate the top players' strategies. That's a good development.
 
Fritzlein, thanks too for a fair comment and argued scepsis. I can understand that. Allow me to clarify a few points.
 
"The way we play and talk about Arimaa today would be impossible without the accumulated experience of the community."  
 
I agree. Arimaa is by no means the easiest game to 'predict' in this sense, and my insights - limited to symmetrical abstract perfect information games in the first place - don't apply to every game equally. My insight isn't so much about specific tactics and strategies, the ones you can have endless discussion about, but about the fact that you can have these discussions, now, in the first place. Not all games provide the ever deepening intricacies that are a prerequisite for that. Arimaa does. And I don't need experience to see that, just silent reflection. In fact I would start out as poor a player as the next guy - every new game is like trying to ride a bike for the first time.
 
It is something in the structure of the game, the 'organic' quality, that reveals how strategies eventually will solidify, and though Omar uses the Chess comparison, I'd rather see he didn't. Arimaa is not a chess game and it is in fact far more 'organic' than chess type games. I don't think the comparison is useful or necessary.
 
"If he is right, then Arimaa will be a commercial flop because it is a great strategy game."
 
That may indeed be the case, though I hope not. It's difficult to predict because the online community plays such a big role, quite apart from the 'commercial succes'. We may not even need boxed games in the future.
A strong point of Arimaa however, is its low treshold and the fact that beginners soon have some 'grip' on the proceedings. Naive strategies are a lot better than no strategies at all, for beginning players.
 
"I'm surprised he doesn't call himself Cassandra, gifted with prophecy but cursed that no one will believe him.  But he does put his faith in generations.  He believes that time will tell.  I suppose prophesy is like emergent complexity: if other people could judge your claims to be true at the time you made them, then you wouldn't be a prophet."
 
Healthy scepsis, and very accurately put! Wink
 
Finally, all my games have been playtested, some modestly, others extensively. Most of it was done at the games club 'Fanaat' at the University of Twente. So it's not as if I put my insights above playtesting. It's more of a prediction of what playtesting will eventually reveal. And the intuition is of course guided by simple common sense. We all know that simple mechanisms can lead to mindboggling complexity. So, in a nutshell, if a new Draughts type game allows incredible combinations (the norm being set by 10x10 International Draughts) and has a solid and balanced set of rules. it is not that difficult to predict how its strategical behaviour will be.
 
"I don't think that there is any sure fire way to predict the future of a game no more that one can predict the evolution of the stock market or the weather in the long run."
 
Quite right Arimaabuff, and I hope Arimaa will be a commercial success. But my particular insight doesn't have anything to do with that. I judge a game by what it is, not by the measure of its success. Nor can I predict that measure, I wish I could Wink.
 
 
« Last Edit: Mar 24th, 2009, 7:16am by christianF » IP Logged
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Re: Essay by Christian Freeling on inventing games
« Reply #7 on: Mar 24th, 2009, 1:20pm »

Hi, Christian.  I'm glad you are not offended by my inability to know whether or not you are right.  Smiley
 
Quote:
All my games have been playtested, some modestly, others extensively.

Yes, sorry for my implication that you prognosticate on intuition alone.  In fact I also read something you wrote about the play testing of Havannah.  The fact that a new player could come along with a different strategy (first stone in the center) and beat all the old hands served as a very persuasive argument for the excellence of Havannah as a game.  For Arimaa a similar process of new players and new strategies forcing deeper insights has occurred several times.
 
Quote:
I'm not sure how far the strategical insights of the players have grown, but my guess is that by now the difference between top players and the lesses echelons is considerable.

The whole history rating system designed by Remi Coulom has recently been implemented for the Arimaa server by Herve D'hondt.  It shows the human players already have a skill range of more than 1400 Elo points.  I consider this measurement of skill difference more reliable than the game-room ratings, which are often distorted by bot-bashing.  I have a strong hunch that there are at least another 500 Elo points at the top of the scale that we haven't discovered yet.
 
Quote:
A strong point of Arimaa however, is its low treshold and the fact that beginners soon have some 'grip' on the proceedings. Naive strategies are a lot better than no strategies at all, for beginning players.

That's a good point.  It doesn't take forever to get some kind of a handle on Arimaa.  I once beat a beginner who said after the game that he saw what I had done to him and he would beat me next game.  I felt he was being overly optimistic about how fast he could rise to world-championship level, but I agreed with his sentiment that he would have a much better strategy already on his second game.  One can start learning Arimaa right away, without tremendous up-front investment.
 
Quote:
Not all games provide the ever deepening intricacies that are a prerequisite for that. Arimaa does. And I don't need experience to see that, just silent reflection.

In case you really are a prophet, your opinion of Arimaa is reassuring for those of us who love the game.  Smiley
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Re: Essay by Christian Freeling on inventing games
« Reply #8 on: Mar 26th, 2009, 4:52am »

on Mar 24th, 2009, 1:20pm, Fritzlein wrote:
I have a strong hunch that there are at least another 500 Elo points at the top of the scale that we haven't discovered yet.
 
...
 
In case you really are a prophet, your opinion of Arimaa is reassuring for those of us who love the game.  Smiley

 
Hello Fritzlein,
 
I tend to agree, but climbing that scale would require a massive effort by as yet non-existent grandmasters.
 
There's a big difference between a recreational game and a 'mental sportsweapon'. Many games, including Arimaa, may have the intrinsic qualities required, but whether or not it will happen depends on the acceptance as such, and the emergence of a broad and eventually professional playerbase, national and international associations and the like.
 
Even then, a game, however great, may eventually reveal a flaw. The kind of flaw that only massive scrutiny by hundreds of masters and grandmasters can reveal. 10x10 International Draughts is a great game, but a flawed 'mental weapon'. In matchplay the world's top hundred or so will usually draw. That's not a flaw of the players, but a flaw of the game. In the lower echelons the game does all right, because the measure of mistakes is higher.  
 
In my essay you will find some 'Bashne bashing'. I argue that it is a bad game, but actually it's fun to play (just started at iG Game Center). As a 'mental weapon' it is self-hampering and extremely volatile, but as a rollercoaster ride it is great.
 
So a game's qualities may be rooted in the sheer pleasure of playing, even if the strategic summits will never be tested to the limit.  
 
The only thing I regret is that the world of 'mental sportsweapons' is monopolized by a limited number of admittedly great games. I'd welcome any game (including Arimaa) able to conquer that bastion - but it's extremely well defended. That's why the opening sentences of MindSports are:
 
Quote:
We humbly acknowledge that old games are always better because inventing games is one of two human activities excluded from progress. The other one is the brain activity of people adhering to that point of view.

 Roll Eyes
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Re: Essay by Christian Freeling on inventing games
« Reply #9 on: Mar 26th, 2009, 10:24pm »

on Mar 26th, 2009, 4:52am, christianF wrote:
Even then, a game, however great, may eventually reveal a flaw. The kind of flaw that only massive scrutiny by hundreds of masters and grandmasters can reveal.

I quite agree.  Your statement is an extension of my experience that I can't judge a game from its rules, and must play it to know what it will be like.  It is possible that, after much further study, Arimaa will be "played out" in some respect.  At present, however, when the Arimaa community makes claims such as
 
1. Optimal play in Arimaa is not drawish
2. The first-player advantage (or disadvantage?!) is insignificant
3. There are many levels of expertise
4. Good strategy can compensate imperfect tactics
5. Playing to win doesn't require everyone to play in the same style
6. Positional tension may be maintained for many moves before it resolves into obvious advantage for one player or the other; it can be clear what each player is fighting for without being clear which objective is superior.
 
we are in a relatively good position to substantiate these claims.  I don't know of any other game that withstood as much scrutiny before its commercial release as Arimaa has.  Just this month we passed one hundred thousand games in the database!  
 
Quote:
The only thing I regret is that the world of 'mental sportsweapons' is monopolized by a limited number of admittedly great games. I'd welcome any game (including Arimaa) able to conquer that bastion - but it's extremely well defended.

I think it must be so.  It is rational behavior on the part of gamers not to put their faith in a game that hasn't withstood the test of time.  Why waste effort on a new game when it is very likely to prove flawed in the long run?  I also quite sympathize with masters of established games not wanting to walk away from the thousands of hours they have invested honing their skills at one game if their reward is to be a beginner at another game.
 
Admittedly it creates a nearly-closed circle of great games, because one needs gamers to prove that a game is great, and one also needs to prove that a game is great before it will attract gamers.  The circle is not entirely closed, however, and I think Arimaa should aim for the heart of it.  The market we need to try to break into is the chess market.  People should love Arimaa for the same reasons they love chess, only more so.
 
It's a crazy quirk that the people who will give Arimaa an audience at the moment aren't the best long-term audience.  Innovators love Arimaa for the improvements it makes over chess, but innovators want to keep innovating rather than plumbing the depths of an established game.  We've had a number of attempts to fix or improve Arimaa, which is surprising given that Arimaa doesn't have any obvious flaws.  It must be a function of the talents of the people the game has attracted.
 
Other early adopters may love Arimaa because it is new and cool.  But how long can Arimaa be considered new?  Next year there will be something else cool, and some of the people who jumped on our bandwagon will jump off to get on the next one.
 
The people who will stick with Arimaa in the long haul and be the future grandmasters are, to a large extent, the people we can hardly convince to give Arimaa a try in the first place.  Nevertheless, I think that is the crowd to which we must address ourselves.  Yes, Arimaa is innovative; yes it is new and cool.  But if we sell it on those grounds, it seems more likely to flash and burn out like so many games before it.  Instead we need to sell Arimaa's strength: It will not be exhausted before we are.  We need to emphasize that it is a game worthy of clubs, worthy of world championships, worthy of annotated collections of games, worthy of strategy books, worthy of simultaneous exhibitions, etc.
 
Oddly, I think humility serves us well in this pursuit.  We should freely admit that we don't know and can't know whether Arimaa is as good a game as chess is.  We should merely claim that Arimaa shows promise to be as good as chess by comparison to the merits of chess.  We want to win the hearts of people who consider their favorite game to be a discipline, a source of self-improvement in addition to a source of entertainment.  This requires not just enthusiasm for Arimaa, but a sort of reverence for the way it transcends us.
 
Let us storm the chess citadel.  Into the breach!  Our cause is just, because chess is too drawish, too unbalanced in favor of white, and not sufficiently computer-resistant.  That is not how or why we will win, though.  Our victory will come if and only if Arimaa is more chess than chess ever was.
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Re: Essay by Christian Freeling on inventing games
« Reply #10 on: Mar 27th, 2009, 1:12am »

on Mar 26th, 2009, 10:24pm, Fritzlein wrote:
I quite agree.  Your statement is an extension of my experience that I can't judge a game from its rules, and must play it to know what it will be like.

In the case of Draughts, that's not entirely fair. There were millions of Draughts games played without the game giving any real indication of a problematic draw margin.
To reveal the kind of bugs that playtesting is used for, a couple of thousands of games are usually considered sufficient. Draughts, were it a new game, would have passed such scrutiny with flying colors.
 
on Mar 26th, 2009, 10:24pm, Fritzlein wrote:
It is possible that, after much further study, Arimaa will be "played out" in some respect.

Unlikely, I think. How would it be 'played out'? Not by a computer (by the current standards or those of the foreseeable future), and not by grinding into drawishness.
 
on Mar 26th, 2009, 10:24pm, Fritzlein wrote:
I think it must be so.  It is rational behavior on the part of gamers not to put their faith in a game that hasn't withstood the test of time.  Why waste effort on a new game when it is very likely to prove flawed in the long run?  I also quite sympathize with masters of established games not wanting to walk away from the thousands of hours they have invested honing their skills at one game if their reward is to be a beginner at another game.
 
Admittedly it creates a nearly-closed circle of great games, because one needs gamers to prove that a game is great, and one also needs to prove that a game is great before it will attract gamers.  The circle is not entirely closed, however, and I think Arimaa should aim for the heart of it.  The market we need to try to break into is the chess market.  People should love Arimaa for the same reasons they love chess, only more so.

I totally agree with your analysis, but putting your faith in what people should do may lead to some frustration, I fear Wink .
 
 on Mar 26th, 2009, 10:24pm, Fritzlein wrote:
Our victory will come if and only if Arimaa is more chess than chess ever was.

Here I politely disagree. Arimaa is a race game and its connection with Chess is at most superficial. Checkmating a king is an existential theme, winning a race is not. In my opinion themes do matter, and Chess isn't called 'the royal game' for nothing, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with such a qualification.
 
Kind regards,
 
christian
 
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Re: Essay by Christian Freeling on inventing games
« Reply #11 on: Mar 27th, 2009, 8:36am »

on Mar 27th, 2009, 1:12am, christianF wrote:
There were millions of Draughts games played without the game giving any real indication of a problematic draw margin.

Very interesting; I did not know that.  Having such a real-life example increases the probability in my mind that Arimaa will eventually prove broken in exactly the same way, i.e. by being inherently drawish.  We have seen occasional positions that tended toward stalemate and piece shuffling, although only two or three I am aware of in the whole history of Arimaa, and none that were completely blocked.  I consider it unlikely that playing to win at Arimaa will drive us toward such corners of the position space, but one never knows.
 
Quote:
I totally agree with your analysis, but putting your faith in what people should do may lead to some frustration, I fear Wink.

Well spoken.  Smiley
 
Quote:
Here I politely disagree. Arimaa is a race game and its connection with Chess is at most superficial. Checkmating a king is an existential theme, winning a race is not. In my opinion themes do matter, and Chess isn't called 'the royal game' for nothing, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with such a qualification.

Perhaps we agree, and are merely using the word "superficial" in different senses.  Seen in one light we could list
 
Superficial similarities: Board, number and type of pieces
Profound differences: Move mechanic, capture mechanic, objective, strategic themes.
 
Yet from another perspective we could say
 
Superficial differences: Move mechanic, capture mechanic, objective, strategic themes.
Profound similarities: Both games are mental sportsweapons.
 
I am not entirely sure what you mean by mental sportsweapon, but you must have invented this term for a reason.  What are the characteristics of games that qualify?  Is chess in that class?  Might Arimaa be as well?  If they are both in the same class, are they not profoundly similar?  Themes are admittedly important, but is the theme of a game at all related to whether it is a mental sportsweapon?  
 
When I consider why I like Arimaa better than chess, it has nothing to do with the theme.  I do not inherently prefer race games to capture games.  I am not more drawn to wildlife and wrestling than I am drawn to royalty and mideval warfare.  (Evidence: I loved Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons in my youth.)
 
Admittedly, a great factor in my love of Arimaa is that I am good at it.  But this is circular: I wasn't good at it in my very first game.  Why did I love the game enough to engage it seriously enough to get good at it?  Why I have I spent as many hours of my life on Arimaa as only a tiny handful of people have done?
 
I did study chess too, by the way, in high school and in brief stints as an adult.  What attracted me to chess was not the battle, not the checkmate, but the basis of excellence.  Top performance at chess doesn't come from mere familiarity, mere attentiveness, or mere calculation.  Top performance arises from understanding.  How else could the master play twenty opponents at once?
 
I love Arimaa because of the learning curve.  I can feel my understanding of Arimaa steadily deepening.  That's what I felt a little bit for chess, and the feeling is much stronger for Arimaa.  That's what I mean when I say, "Arimaa is more chess than chess ever was."  The essential feature of chess in my experience was not checkmate, it was the process of coming to understand, and Arimaa has given me more of that process.
 
I don't expect everyone to enjoy games for the same reason.  Surely even chess players are not all identically motivated.  Still I believe that if you take lovers of chess who play no other game seriously, ask them why chess deserves such devotion, and distill the most prevalent themes in their answers, you will get criteria that Arimaa also meets or has a good chance to meet in the future.
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Re: Essay by Christian Freeling on inventing games
« Reply #12 on: Mar 27th, 2009, 10:15am »

Christian, your services as a game whisperer are probably much in demand, so I understand if you decline this invitation, but you would honor one member of the Arimaa community, John Herr, if you would give a considered opinion of his abstract strategy game Rekushu, described in this thread.
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Re: Essay by Christian Freeling on inventing games
« Reply #13 on: Mar 27th, 2009, 10:18am »

on Mar 27th, 2009, 8:36am, Fritzlein wrote:
Yet from another perspective we could say
 
Superficial differences: Move mechanic, capture mechanic, objective, strategic themes.
Profound similarities: Both games are mental sportsweapons.

I see your point with regard to themes. Yet in the international sports arena, certain themes dominate.
 
Checkmate: Chess, Shogi, Xiangqi
Elimination: Checkers, 10x10 Draughts, Shashki
Territory: Go, Othello
 
For the main part these games are based on an existential theme - either eliminating the 'heart' or, in absence thereof, body and limb.
 
The one co-existential theme is territory. Connection, race, breakthrough, configuration are all peripheral. Mancalas are widespread outside the western world, but barring an occasional local tournament, these too are played mainly recreationally.
 
So apart from my personal opinion, it's hard to deny themes do seem to matter.
 
on Mar 27th, 2009, 8:36am, Fritzlein wrote:
I am not entirely sure what you mean by mental sportsweapon, but you must have invented this term for a reason.  What are the characteristics of games that qualify?  Is chess in that class?  Might Arimaa be as well?  If they are both in the same class, are they not profoundly similar?  Themes are admittedly important, but is the theme of a game at all related to whether it is a mental sportsweapon?

Yes, all above games are in that class. Is the theme relevant? To a degree, I think. Pente, the simple, beautiful and deep Pente, is not a mental sportsweapon. It's like comparing tennis to tabletennis. However much energy is required to become a world class tabletennis player, the game itself lacks the charisma to captivate the masses.
One could become a Pente master, I assume, but a grandmaster? Dedicating one's life to arranging 5 stones in a row or capturing 10? Hardly.  
 
A mental sportsweapon must be a strategy game, as opposed to a tactical one. We mention the difference in our homepage:
Quote:
Strategy games have strategies varied enough to allow different styles of play, tactics varied enough to induce their own terminology, and a structure that allows advantageous sub-goals to be achieved as calculable signposts along the way.
Tactical games have strategies that are either fairly obvious (however deep), like Pente, or fairly obscure, like Othello.

As you can see I argue Othello into both categories, and inherently, the dividing line is is less than clearcut.
 
Next to being a strategy game, a mental sportsweapon must be 'inexhausible' in human terms, and preferably in programming terms. Checkers is still Checkers, and people still may enjoy it for another hundred years, but the mere thought that after each game you can consult Chinook about your mistakes is a bit of a bummer.
 
Far more games qualify than currently dominate the sports arena, including Arimaa, the six games I mention in the essay, and Hex. To really become recognized, a game must captivate the imagination of a large audience. Paraphrasing Emanuel Lasker, a friend if mine put this in his member profile at iGGC:
 
Quote:
While the Baroque rules of Go could only have been created by humans, the rules of Hex are so elegant, organic, and rigorously logical that if intelligent life forms exist elsewhere in the universe, they almost certainly play Hex.

Hex has all the qualities required wrapped up in utter simplicity of rules. As a game it is quite big, as a mental sportsweapon it is peripheral, because dedicating one's life to connecting opposite sides seems so futile, though of course it is no less futile than playing Chess, as every grandmaster will tell you in his or her darker moments.
 
For a mental sportsweapon, the hardest thing is to become what it is. Havannah and Arimaa both qualify, but I'm sceptical about their chances. For one thing they don't seem to have the right themes.
 
My best all around weapon is Dameo, and my strategy to immortalize it is to keep knocking on the door of 10x10 Draughts with the message "You're playing the wrong game". Not so much the conquering of a new audience, as turning around an existing one because their beloved game is flawed and they know it. But it won't happen in my lifetime I fear.
 
cheers,
 
christian
 
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Re: Essay by Christian Freeling on inventing games
« Reply #14 on: Mar 27th, 2009, 10:23am »

on Mar 27th, 2009, 10:15am, Fritzlein wrote:
Christian, your services as a game whisperer are probably much in demand, so I understand if you decline this invitation, but you would honor one member of the Arimaa community, John Herr, if you would give a considered opinion of his abstract strategy game Rekushu, described in this thread.

I came across it at iGGC, but I will need a couple of hours to let it sink in, so I'll reply in a couple of days if that's all right.
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