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Subject: [Voice of Experience 2.0] Is Jati worth $500? rss

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Joe Huber

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Jati

Designed by Keith Havens, and not quite published by 3M. Later published in Spielbox.

Note - all pictures included in this review are from BGG or other sites. My photography skills aren't nearly this good.

The Game

First, I suppose I should establish my authority (ha!) to write about Jati. There are 19 plays of the game recorded on BGG; I don’t record my plays, but if I did that number would nearly double, as I’ve played the game 17 times. Of course, having said that, I’m sure that at best I'm a mediocre Jati player. There’s just so few people who actually play Jati that there are no experts.

Jati is one of a very small set of games which is principally famous for its lack of availability. Oddly, as hard-to-obtain games go, Jati shows up with a reasonable frequency on ebay, appearing about once every 4-6 months. They do not go cheaply, however; most sell for around $500.



Of course, to _play_ Jati, you don’t need to go spend $500. As Sid Sackson noted back in 1965, the game can easily be played with paper and pencil. Or, if you prefer, you can search out the 1986 edition of Spielbox which printed the game. So how does one play Jati?



Well, first you have to decide which version of the game you’re going to play. The 1965 edition, on a 10x10 board, has different rules from the 1966 edition, on a 10x9 board. A detailed comparison of the rules differences can be found here. Personally, I would recommend the 1966 rules:



Regardless of which rules you choose, however, the game itself is very easy to learn and play. Each player has 18 colored squares, plus II and III multiplier tiles, for a total of 20. The first player plays any of their tiles on any space on the board. Turns alternate; on each subsequent turn, the active player must place one of their tiles on a space orthogonally adjacent to a tile already on the board.

Once all of the tiles have been placed, the game is scored. Using 1966 edition scoring, you look for all rows or columns of five or more tiles of the same color (potentially with the multiplier tiles interspersed) or diagonals of four or more tiles of the same color (likewise potentially with multipliers). Each line scores a base value (5 for a 5-length straight, 8 for a 4-length diagonal), with additional points for additional tiles (2 for a straight, 5 for a diagonal), and then any multiplier is applied. Whoever has the higher total score wins.



Reactions

Actually, before worrying about reactions, there’s a historical note worth mentioning. For some time (perhaps as long as four decades, though I’d guess at least a decade) there was a mistaken understanding that Jati was designed by Sid Sackson. While reasonable evidence was given that the game was not designed by Sackson, it was only in 2008 that it became widely known that the designer was Keith Havens. A couple of copies have surfaced with Havens’ signature, one of which included a newspaper clipping from the Minneapolis Tribune from December 5th, 1965, about Havens - and Jati.



Having resolved the issue of the authorship of the game, how is the game? Well, it’s an abstract – there is no theme to either assist the players in learning or to interfere with the play of the game. The first thing you notice, upon playing the game, is just how little of the board is used; even on the 10x9 board, more than half of the spaces are left open. While it’s good that the game doesn’t fill the board – it keeps scoring easy, and leaves sufficient room to play through all pieces – the particular number of plays chosen consistently feels light to me. A portion of this is the result of a basic issue with this game – and many others. If, in a turn, you can only accomplish a portion of a goal, there is no guarantee that the end of the game will align with interesting moves. And, unfortunately, it’s something of a let-down when the last turn (or two, or three) offer no opportunities for scoring.

But at the heart of the game, Jati is – as Sackson noted in his previously referenced write-up – closely related to other connected-line games such as Go-Moku. (And, in fact, there’s a variant in the 1966 version of the game which is essentially Go-Moku, albeit on a far smaller board.) The endgame issue with Jati derives directly from the innovation the game makes – being driven not by being the first to create a line, but instead by the scoring of all legal lines. But I’m afraid that this change, while it makes the game interesting to a non-abstract gamer such as myself, is likely to be anathema to a fan of Go-Moku – and, given the endgame effect, not unreasonably so.

One oddity about Jati is the decision to reward diagonals at a shorter length – and with more points – than straight lines. What’s odd about this is that the game naturally tends to build in diagonals. Because of the rule that pieces must touch, the first player’s second piece is almost without exception diagonal to her first. And while there’s nothing wrong with this, the net effect is to make straight-line plays primarily into bluffs, rather than effective weapons.

A far bigger strategic concern than straight lines is the multipliers. I find that the winner of the game is almost always the player who made greatest use of her multipliers. In particular, a player who manages to connect a single multiplier to multiple diagonals, both multipliers to a single diagonal, or even simply take advantage of an opponent’s multiplier is at a distinct advantage; unless the opponent manages something similar, this player is likely to win. And, in fact, this is where the threat of a straight line becomes sufficient to drive an opponent’s actions; if you have a successful diagonal with your III multiplier, and threaten a straight with that same multiplier, you can often convince your opponent to block this off.

All this said, Jati is not a particularly deep game. Although I can’t imagine what would possess someone to do so, writing a strong Jati AI should be a fairly trivial exercise for a good programmer; the restrictions the game provides allowing for reasonably deep lookahead along with an easily calculated value of any given position.

Conclusions

Is Jati worth $500? Applying Betteridge’s law of headlines, you can probably guess – the answer is clearly no. Whatever expectations you have for a $500 game, Jati will almost certainly fall short of them. The game is interesting – but not compelling. The components are typical for 3M in the period; nicely done, but simple, and certainly not the type of components one expects in other very expensive games such as CATAN 3D Collector's Edition or War of the Ring Collector's Edition. And – while there’s certainly every indication of a healthy market for Jati (and, apparently, many folks trying to collect as many copies as they can), the price has been fairly stable at around $500, making a later windfall unlikely.




Of course, that does still leave another important question to consider: Is Jati worth playing? With a couple of caveats, I would say “yes”. The inclusion of the multiplier tiles and the use of a scoring system for _all_ lines meeting the required length does, as Sackson noted, make for a very different game than 5ive Straight or others in the genre. And, in fact, that’s precisely what draws me to the game – why I’ve bothered to play it as much as I have. Other n in a row games tend to have a property I don’t care for in abstracts; a very binary state of “won” or “not won”. Now, they avoid the sudden-victory condition I find in some games, which greatly frustrates me as there’s no sense of building a position. And, in fact, I’d recommend 5ive Straight for fans of this genre; it’s easy to find, and offers some interesting refinements itself, particularly when played as a partnership. But Jati goes one step better; allowing you opponent to score can even be a good thing, if it gives you a better scoring opportunity.

Ah, but the caveats. The first one is critical – there may be a strong first or second player advantage to the game. I haven’t seen one yet, but that’s readily attributable to the fact that I’m not a strong abstract player. My instinct is that if there is an advantage, it’s a first player advantage, but that’s really just a hunch; in practice, I’ve seen first and second players do equally well. The second caveat is that because of the imbalance in the scoring, I believe the game focuses players too strongly on diagonals. I might suggest a variant, where scoring for straight lines also starts at four-in-a-row, using the same algorithm (one point for each required tile, two for each additional tile). This would avoid the issue of straight lines being too slow a threat – and too wasteful of the limited resources available – and I think might make for a better game.

One concept I’m very familiar with from classic videogames is that the more rare they are, the less likely they are to be good games. This makes sense, intuitively; good games would be more likely to find an audience, and thus result in the manufacture of more copies. There are, of course, exceptions; good games which were released just as a company was about to exit the business, and thus never made it to enough players and reviewers to garner an audience. The same concept should logically apply to boardgames – but because boardgames are a smaller niche, I find that there are correspondingly more enjoyable games hiding in the weeds. Is Jati one of those games? Not – really. While it’s not a bad game – in my opinion, a much better game than its reputation – it’s still just another abstract. So grab some graph paper and try it. If you like it, make your own set from an old copy of Quinto, spend a bunch on ebay – or plan to spend a lot of time in Minneapolis-area thrift stores.
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Kevin Garnica
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Nice review. I've never heard of this game before, so thank you for enlightening me.
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Stephen
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eBayers should be aware that there is another game named Jati which is not only not worth $500, but which will not sell for $500. Caveat emptor.
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Joe Huber

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StephenV wrote:
eBayers should be aware that there is another game named Jati which is not only not worth $500, but which will not sell for $500. Caveat emptor.


Indeed - though it's actually more of a puzzle. (And, to add to the confusion, it's also from 3M; I guess that having decided against publishing the board game they still wanted to use the name.
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Chris Ferejohn
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Re: Is Jati worth $500?
It seems like it would not be difficult to make your own copy of this (and probably one that looks nicer frankly. Given the absence of unique components, I'm kind of surprised this goes for as much as it does - I guess there are just enough people out there looking to have a full set of the 3M bookshelf games?
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Persechini Cyril
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Nice review! People doesn't buy a Jati for the game but only for this rarity. It's only for crazy 3M collectors like me!

This game is not bad, not very good but there is so much better games...
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Domenic
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huber wrote:
on each subsequent turn, the active player must place one of their tiles on a space orthogonally adjacent to a tile already on the board.

Quote:

One oddity about Jati is the decision to reward diagonals at a shorter length – and with more points – than straight lines. What’s odd about this is that the game naturally tends to build in diagonals. Because of the rule that pieces must touch, the first player’s second piece is almost without exception diagonal to her first. And while there’s nothing wrong with this, the net effect is to make straight-line plays primarily into bluffs, rather than effective weapons.


I haven't tried Jati, but diagonally adjacent squares are not orthogonally adjacent, so it would take two moves to add each diagonal tile but only one move to add each straight-line tile. So it makes sense for diagonal lines to score more.
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Joe Huber

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dommer2029 wrote:
I haven't tried Jati, but diagonally adjacent squares are not orthogonally adjacent, so it would take two moves to add each diagonal tile but only one move to add each straight-line tile. So it makes sense for diagonal lines to score more.


Except - if the other player must play orthogonally adjacent to your play, that nearly always creates the opportunity for you to play diagonally.

Picture: (Player one plays A & C, player two B)

..
A.

..
AB

.C
AB
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Domenic
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huber wrote:
dommer2029 wrote:
I haven't tried Jati, but diagonally adjacent squares are not orthogonally adjacent, so it would take two moves to add each diagonal tile but only one move to add each straight-line tile. So it makes sense for diagonal lines to score more.


Except - if the other player must play orthogonally adjacent to your play, that nearly always creates the opportunity for you to play diagonally.

I see. So the first player can start with two diagonally-adjacent pieces. The second player can then choose to continue with a parallel diagonal line. I don't think that's in the second player's best interest though, since the first player is going to score first. So the second player should start working on a straight.

Whenever a straight is blocked, you will get a one-move diagonal adjacency by moving next to the blocking piece. That suggests that blocking should be done sparingly. E.g., don't block his extra straight piece that will give him 2 points if that will let him play a diagonal piece worth 5.

Does that diagonal start give the first player a big advantage?
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