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Subject: Arimaa, or "wow, they've fixed chess!" rss

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Tiago Luchini
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A little about my bias first: I'm not very keen on two-player nor abstract games. I normally dislike games which are purely abstract with a thin theme layer. These probably tell a lot about my preferences in boardgaming and sure does not look promising for Arimaa.

First time I played Arimaa I couldn't restrain myself of exclaiming: "Wow, they've fixed chess!" Of course, this is a very personal view and I'm sure millions of people would simply disagree with me. Chess is a classic and deserves our respect but Arimaa tackles some points that pleased me to a great extent when compared to Chess.

Strategy above memory

Chess is a game of pattern recognition and memory. If you can quickly recognize a pattern and analyze future steps to a certain degree of depth, you'll be a reasonably good chess player. By practicing these and reading the extensive chess literature available, you'll become a master. That's why computers are good at it.

Though it pleases some, it might also be a downside for others. As far as I am concerned, I won't be memorizing books and books for a single game (there are way too many games out there deserving to be played and my time is not that abundant).

Arimaa is not a game of memory. There are around 17 000 different possible movements for each single round (compared to 30 in chess). Memorizing them all and being able to plan future outcomes is pretty hard. It requires a better sense of feeling and a higher level of strategy. The initial set up is also open for players to define and this avoids those tedious mechanically-trained first movements from Chess.

There is a chance though that Arimaa becomes a well-studied field and, depending on its acceptance, this initial level of freedom may start do dissipate.

Simplicity that tends to complex behavior

In Arimaa, all pieces have the same movement rules. Even though that's pretty simple compared to Chess, these simple rules evolve into a very complex behavior in game. This is a lot of fun: it feels so much closer to modern boardgames than Chess!

Chess is also very complex but this complexity is everywhere in the game.

Freedom is the way to go

A beautiful feat in Arimaa is the winning target: you have to take any one of your weakest pieces all the way to the last row of your opponent's field. This sounds as a very simple target and also pretty feasible considering you have 8 rabbits (your weakest piece).

Chess' winning target is a bit more obscure for beginners. The "what" is already complex enough and players have to work out the "how". Arimaa gives a very simple "what" and players still have to work out (very hardly) the "how".

Having multiple chances of reaching your target is liberating and brings a nice sense of freedom that's not very common in chess.

No draws and amazing comebacks

Arimaa has no provision for draws: you either win or lose. This is not so impressive if you compare it with most modern boardgames but is a fact when comparing with chess. I've always found too depressing to sit at a game knowing that I might spend a couple of hours and simply reach a boring and non-attractive stalemate.

Another co-related feat is that, again much closer to modern boardgames than chess, Arimaa offers amazing possibilities of comebacks. You might have been pressed all the way through the game and then realize that you still have very palpable chances of winning if you follow the right path.

It does not mean that Arimaa is lenient with the losing player. It simply means that even if losing, you know there is still a chance of turning the game and having a comeback. It brings a psychological fun layer to the game.

As an example I can describe one of my games where I was been beaten hardly. I had initially lost a couple of key animals and my opponent was dangerously advancing to my right flank. He almost managed to take control over my right trap and caused a lot of confusion there. At the left side I was a bit more open but still facing dangerous animals on the way and my opponent was full power on that corridor with his rabbits.

Until then, I was clearly losing. An army of rabbits was lined up to take victory. I had already lost a camel, a horse and a dog and there was apparently very little hope for me.

But then I decided to sacrifice a couple of rabbits and a cat in order to lay down my hands on my opponents camel from my left flank. He had to defend his back line with two cats and a desperate dog. His right flank attack became completely secondary and he suddenly had to find a workaround for a fragile situation he created in his own back. With some rounds tricking his bigger animals with my elephant, I've managed to reach the target with my rabbit and win the game.

Conclusion

Chess is still a classic and will remain as such. Arimaa deserves its own space as an amazingly good abstract boardgame for two-players. The whole comparison with Chess is actually a shame as Arimaa could certainly stand on its own.
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Michael Howe
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I agree tht Arimaa is a fine game, but it is not an attempt to "fix" chess. Arimma is a completely independent game that happens to make use of commonly existing equipment. And I also wonder about your understanding of chess, given your statement about "a boring and non-attractive stalemate." Stalemates are rare and usually quite clever and interesting ways for the weaker side to salvage a draw. Very few draws are of the stalemate variety.
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Bobb Beauchamp
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While pattern recognition might be one way to characterize chess, it's a fairly shallow and simplistic one. And what I gather from this review is that this game "fixes" chess by...adding more options. That's not fixing, that's obsuring the fact that some play chess by looking for patterns and seeking to employ counter patterns based on what you think is going on. Arimaa simply appears to make this harder by adding more patterns. That's not a fix, it's just delaying the curve on when Arimaa falls prey to the same faults the reviewer places with chess.

But I'd guess that with both games, feints and subterfuge both eventually come into master play. The brilliance of chess is that you can play open and direct, trying to win through brute force, or you can play subtle, using misdirection and decoys in order to hide your true intent. Much like actual warfare. Were chess as obvious as claimed, there'd be no point in continuing to play.
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Tiago Luchini
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mhowe wrote:
I agree tht Arimaa is a fine game, but it is not an attempt to "fix" chess. Arimma is a completely independent game that happens to make use of commonly existing equipment.


Sure: now I have a better use for my chess set
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Tiago Luchini
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kingbobb wrote:
Arimaa simply appears to make this harder by adding more patterns. That's not a fix, it's just delaying the curve on when Arimaa falls prey to the same faults the reviewer places with chess.


That's certainly a risk which, I personally feel, will never realize. My feeling is that the amount of patterns in Arimaa is overwhelming leading to the strategic part of the brain being privileged in comparison to the pattern recognition part.
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A nice review - I've only recently started played a pbem game of this myself and I'm looking forward to how it plays out.

I think the comparisons to chess are misplaced. Yes, you can reuse you chess set to play Arimaa, but there the similarity ends. Arimaa strikes me as much more in the genre of Hnefatafl than chess.

I like Arimaa's push and pull moves - a very modern touch to what looks to be a very fun abstract.
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Tiago Luchini
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leroy43 wrote:
I think the comparisons to chess are misplaced. Yes, you can reuse you chess set to play Arimaa, but there the similarity ends. Arimaa strikes me as much more in the genre of Hnefatafl than chess.


Hnefatafl's a game in my queue for trying quite soon!

I agree that comparing Arimaa and Chess is drastically misplace but, unfortunately, quite unavoidable. This is because the strong roots of Arimaa in connection with Chess. That's actually a shame. In the designers' shoes I would certainly create a following on my own instead of connecting so tightly with Chess roots.
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Fritz Juhnke
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I have been through a several phases in comparing Arimaa to chess.

1. "Arimaa is a chess variant."
The board is the same, the pieces are the same, the rabbits (pawns) can't move backward, getting a rabbit across (queening a pawn) is winning, or nearly so. Also the inventor says on his own Web site that he was inspired by chess.

2. "Arimaa has nothing to do with chess."
Chess strategies don't cross over to Arimaa. For example, control of the center is important in chess, but in Arimaa putting your pieces in the center (except for the elephant) is dangerous. Also, the winning criterion is distributed among the rabbits, not focused on the king. There is no analogy to king safety in Arimaa; on the contrary the elephant, unlike any chess piece, is essentially invulnerable. Your chess knowledge may handicap you at Arimaa more than it helps you.

3. "Arimaa and chess are awesome for the same reason."
How incredible is it that chess has been around for centuries, and there is still no one right way to play it? We can't even agree on the best first move! Go ahead, read all the books written by chess masters, but you still won't know THE strategy for winning. That's because there are strategies within strategies built on strategies. Chess doesn't run out.

Yes, Arimaa "fixes" chess by eliminating draws and opening memorization, but that improvement is easy. I could do that with an otherwise totally lame game. The incredible part of Arimaa is that it appears to have an infinite learning curve, like chess. You learn something about Arimaa, and immediately you win more, which is gratifying, but you aren't done learning. There's another lesson just around the corner.

Ultimately what will lure chess players to Arimaa is not that it fixes some flaws of chess so much as that Arimaa recreates what is most beautiful about chess.
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Behrooz Shahriari
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tiagoluchini wrote:
Chess' winning target is a bit more obscure for beginners. The "what" is already complex enough and players have to work out the "how". Arimaa gives a very simple "what" and players still have to work out (very hardly) the "how".


I'm really not sure what you mean.

The 'what' - "Capture the opponent's king." - seems hardly complex.

Both goals seem about as simple as each other and every game that involves meaningful decisions necessiates working out 'how' to reach a goal.
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Tiago Luchini
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Bezman wrote:
The 'what' - "Capture the opponent's king." - seems hardly complex.


This sounds the same as saying that "Going to the moon" is hardly complex (it's possible, but not for everyone - just ask a Russian or Chinese engineer).

In reality, chess' objective is rather complex. Chess is a game of pattern recognition and the winning objective is to find one pattern (or a series of them) out of the billions of possible ones that will fit in the forthcoming next steps and that will allow a series of independent and highly diverse roles to interact in creating an emerging winning pattern.

Comparatively, Arimaa minimizes the pattern factor (even though it's still there) by simplifying many things which, in turn, make it a more exciting and strategical game. One of the simplifications is the winning factor. You just need to move one of many pieces into one of many targets.

By simplifying the factors and multiplying the patterns, Arimaa has an exciting outcome that, IMO, gives a better use to my chess set.
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Behrooz Shahriari
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tiagoluchini wrote:
You just need to move one of many pieces into one of many targets.


And in chess, you just need to move one of many pieces into the target.

Actually, my issue came from the fact that I originally thought you were calling Arimaa's goal more understandable. Now that I realise you didn't, I'm still confused.

Maybe you could help clarify what you mean by defining your intended meaning for: 'pattern factor', 'winning factor', 'factors' and 'patterns'.

Just now, it seems like a contradiction when you first state "Arimaa minimizes the pattern factor" and then that it is "multiplying the patterns".

Btw, I'm not trying to nitpicky here - I just honestly don't understand what you mean.
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Tiago Luchini
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Bezman wrote:
Maybe you could help clarify what you mean by defining your intended meaning for: 'pattern factor', 'winning factor', 'factors' and 'patterns'.

Just now, it seems like a contradiction when you first state "Arimaa minimizes the pattern factor" and then that it is "multiplying the patterns".


You are definitely right: I must make myself clearer here.

My understanding of chess is that the game boils down to pattern recognition (your ability to recognize and act upon the observable and planned patterns). It's a great game in this sense, I must add.

As a chess player, your brain has to be able to be very good in recognize these patterns. If you do so, you play well. I call this yhe pattern recognition factor (the mental component, the playing feeling, the fun part that you can take our of playing the game).

The number of available patterns in chess is big but not enormous. It can be handled by trained brains (and computers).

Arimaa, on the other hand, has gazillions patterns. Trying to recognize them is just a waste of time for the brain. As an Arimaa player, your mental disposition throws away the pattern factor (this playing feeling) and focus on other things, namely for instance, strategy.

This is by no means an affirmation that there is no strategy in chess. The strategy is just elsewhere. In chess your strategy is to explore the patterns known and unknown by your opponent. It boils down to patterns again.

In Arimaa, you'll hardly focus on the patterns (even though they are there - gazillions of them). Your strategy will be more subtle

Of course, some brainiac can spend the rest of his life studying Arimaa and its almost infinite patterns. Will it make him a better Arimaa player? Probably. Will he be the ultimate winner like in chess? Definitely no.

Bezman wrote:
Btw, I'm not trying to nitpicky here - I just honestly don't understand what you mean.


Hope I made myself clear. I did get mixed up in some concepts that were too clear in my mind and... er... only there
 
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Arimaa » Forums » Reviews
Re: Arimaa, or "wow, they've fixed chess!"
Reading the title I expected a train wreck, but was surprised to find instead an interesting review. Thanks!
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Behrooz Shahriari
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tiagoluchini wrote:
Hope I made myself clear.


Somewhat.

I'd definitely agree that Arimaa multiplies the number of viable 'patterns' of moves by a lot - not just because of the 2-moves-a-turn but also the custom setup. There's a lot of potential reaction to strategies and experimentation there.

I think these same things that were designed to make the game difficult for brute-force 'look-ahead' strategies computer programs use will also make the game less susceptible to necessiating the sort of memorisation of openings or sequences of plays.

I too see that as a major advantage.

One communication issue though: when you say, "One of the simplifications is the winning factor..." are you pointing to the fact that there are more potential ways to win (since any rabbit can move to ANY back square)?

I'm unsure what else you could mean but that doesn't make much sense to me...
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Bezman wrote:
One communication issue though: when you say, "One of the simplifications is the winning factor..." are you pointing to the fact that there are more potential ways to win (since any rabbit can move to ANY back square)?

I'm unsure what else you could mean but that doesn't make much sense to me...


I think this is an American football vs hockey/soccer conparison. In AmFB, as in Arimaa, getting in the endzone is all that's needed, so defense must be dispersed, so a winning move is simpler to put together. In hockey or soccer, there is a smaller area to defend, as in the area with access to the King in Chess, meaning that overpowering or breaking through a more localized defensive position is needed. Granted, teaching the rules for winning is pretty simple in both, but to a beginner I'm sure getting any rabbit to the farthest row would seem simpler to do than capturing a specific piece.
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Tiago Luchini
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Bezman wrote:
One communication issue though: when you say, "One of the simplifications is the winning factor..." are you pointing to the fact that there are more potential ways to win (since any rabbit can move to ANY back square)?


I don't know if you have ever tried to teach Chess or Arimaa to kids but this is better understood from their perspective.

When explaining Arimaa you mention that one can win by moving any one of the rabbits all the way to the last row. To that, kids normally say "Cool! That sounds easy enough!"

When explaining Chess you first have to review the last six weeks of teaching the different roles and their different movements. Then you have to make clear that kids understand that a certain piece (the King) has to be under a certain scenario where it's efficiently surrounded by the indirect influence of any combination of all those other roles which, in any case, the kids can't even remember.

The normal response from the kids is: "What the...?! Are you out of your mind?!"

That's the basic difference.

Again, it simply means some can find more joy in Arimaa's simplicity while some will, for ages to come, enjoy Chess.
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Tiago Luchini
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Bezman wrote:
One communication issue though: when you say, "One of the simplifications is the winning factor..." are you pointing to the fact that there are more potential ways to win (since any rabbit can move to ANY back square)?


I don't know if you have ever tried to teach Chess or Arimaa to kids but this is better understood from their perspective.

When explaining Arimaa you mention that one can win by moving any one of the rabbits all the way to the last row. To that, kids normally say "Cool! That sounds easy enough!"

When explaining Chess you first have to review the last six weeks of teaching the different roles and their different movements. Then you have to make clear that kids understand that a certain piece (the King) has to be under a certain scenario where it's efficiently surrounded by the indirect influence of any combination of all those other roles which, in any case, the kids can't even remember.

The normal response from the kids is: "What the...?! Are you out of your mind?!"

That's the basic difference.

Again, it simply means some can find more joy in Arimaa's simplicity while some will, for ages to come, enjoy Chess.
 
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Have you taught chess to any children, Tiago? I taught all of mine how to play when they were small, and none of them had a problem. Whether they remain interested depends on the child, but I've never seen one who couldn't understand the rules by the time they were 6 or so.


[edit] I wasn't in any way trying to take an anti-Arimaa stance with that comment. I haven't learned it yet, but hope to soon. If it's even easier to teach than chess, that's great.
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Tiago Luchini
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Sphere wrote:
Have you taught chess to any children, Tiago? I taught all of mine how to play when they were small, and none of them had a problem. Whether they remain interested depends on the child, but I've never seen one who couldn't understand the rules by the time they were 6 or so.


Maybe my chess teaching skills are not very good... which is a completely valid theory and, most certainly, true.

My son loves Arimaa and the first thing he mentions when faced by a chess set is: "Dad, let's play some Arimaa!" Of course, other kids are probably different. Haven't tried to teach Arimaa to too many of them.
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Fritz Juhnke
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Cherocoy wrote:
I love both Arimaa and Chess and the Victory Condition(s) in both games seem rather elementary. However, to me, teaching the One victory condition of Chess - checkmate - seems simpler than teaching the Three victory conditions of Arimaa.

You forgot to mention the four drawing conditions for chess: stalemate, insufficient material, perpetual check, and the fifty-move rule. Taking all game-ending situations of both games into account, I would say chess and Arimaa are equally simple (or equally complicated, depending on your point of view).
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Mark crane
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This is a nice review on its own merits. It's unfortunate that you have angered the chess gods and their minions, however.
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Nate Schmidt
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Interesting technique - review by comparison and contrast with another abstract. And indeed, Tiago, you took on a 'big one' when choosing to make the comparison to the king of abstracts (personal opinion)!

BTW, I just stumbled across Arimaa yesterday and having played chess for years, am very eager to both learn Arimaa for myself and teach it to my 7-year old son, who approached me a year ago about learning chess (He pretty much has the piece movement down now, and is just starting to think past one move).

One final comment - perhaps a better 'fix' for chess was suggested by one of it's finest players, Bobby Fischer: Chess960
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fischer_Random_Chess

Nate
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Laurentiu Cristofor
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tiagoluchini wrote:
Chess is a game of pattern recognition and the winning objective is to find one pattern (or a series of them) out of the billions of possible ones that will fit in the forthcoming next steps and that will allow a series of independent and highly diverse roles to interact in creating an emerging winning pattern.


To me, pattern recognition suggests a game like Tetris. If you want to stretch the term to cover Chess, you'll end up covering Arimaa as well.

tiagoluchini wrote:
Comparatively, Arimaa minimizes the pattern factor (even though it's still there) by simplifying many things which, in turn, make it a more exciting and strategical game.


Actually, in your terms, Arimaa maximizes the pattern factor in an effort to prevent you from calculating what patterns are possible "in the forthcoming next steps". And it may give you some comfort to know that your opponent may have missed a good way for you to retaliate, but make no mistake: an opponent that defeats you easily at Chess will defeat you at Arimaa just as easily. Good players of abstract games are not good just because of memorization as most weak players seem to think, but because of their analysis skills, and those can be put to use in any other game. Someone that can analyze a position better will miss less opportunities even if they miss some.
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