Alak is one of those strange little games that I find myself playing every once in a blue moon. I only play it online at Superduper Games and I can’t see myself ever playing it in real time or face-to-face. It’s really more of an intellectual exercise than a game, if there actually is a real difference between the two. However, there is something about it draws me back.
Alak, in a nutshell, is a one-dimensional Go. In fact, the game literally did start out as an intellectual exercise as part of the book The Planiverse, which is the spiritual successor of Flatland as a game that the people of a two-dimensional flatland would play.
I have to say, Alak does seem to be exactly the kind of game that would develop under such circumstances. The board is a just a line. There are some rules allowing players to create safe groups without liberties and a rule similar to ko to keep the same patterns from repeating.
Still, when you compare the scope and complexity of a nineteen by nineteen Go board to a one by nineteen Alak board, it’s kind of hard to deny that an Alak board is very limited. And let’s be honest, since Alak is clearly inspired by Go, it’s hard not to compare the two games and there is no comparison.
So why do I ever play Alak?
The brutally honest answer is that it is a very simple and convenient game to play by e-mail. The board and the notation for play are easy to use with my not-so-smart phone’s rather simple browser so I can respond to a move anywhere. The bare simplicity of a one line board means that I can look at the board after even a long break and be able to remember or figure out what’s going on.
I also can’t get away from the fact that the idea of a game that just uses a line as a board that actually works. It’s not a great game but it’s not a broken game either. Even if you love abstracts (which I do), there are much better ones out there. However, my perverse fascination with the concept of the game means I just can’t look away and, since Supersuper Games allows me to play it without the restrictions of time and place, I find myself playing it.