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Subject: Pit of Pillars rss

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christian freeling
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Pit of Pillars leads the method of capture of Tinkertown Cemetery to a logical conclusion. I definitely feel I should have gotten the idea to make the capture tokens (i.e. the graves in Tinkertown) mobile, without having the generic activator concept literally blowing it into my face. But I don't know if I would have. Thanks again Joe!

Tinkertown Cemetery was an ad hoc implementation that needed some tinkering indeed. On a regular square board capture implicitly starts on squares with lower capacity, that is in corners and along the edges, before creeping inward to the large capacity-4 center. To get a more even distribution of squares with different capacities I made arbitrary decisions regarding board shape, and they work out fine. But the mobile capture tokens in Pit of Pillars change the whole landscape. Their infiltration of the center changes the distribution: squares along the edges regain lost capacity, while squares in the center may lose capacity, without any guarantee of permanency. Mobile pillars also allow for an almost square board, but doubling the number of c2 squares by omitting the corner squares would seem a well motivated decision.

Here are some very basic observations about the implications of the capture mechanism in both games:

* Most of the time, but not all of the time, players would like to capture.
* Most of the time, but not all of the time, players will have reserves.

Reserves can only be entered one at the time, so they can only capture groups that are on capacity. That's why most of the time, but not all of the time, it is wise to keep groups "sub-critical", that is: one below capacity.

On the board, things are different because double and triples can cooperate to capture, using two sub-capacity groups. In the examples below, both are willing to capture but both do only have reserves to do so. The groups are doubles at a two-square distance. It's white's turn.

Two c4 squares
Both A and B are c4 squares, so white can't jump with B, but he can safely prepare a capture by entering on A. Not on B of course because then Red can jump and capture. He cannot afford to wait because then Red will enter on B.
Here White is screwed.
Here he can afford to wait because Red cannot enter without being captured next move. Alternatively, White can enter on either group.


A c4 and a c3 square
Here White must capture B to A. Entering on either column would give Red the opportunity to capture.
Here White is screwed.
Here White must enter on B.
Here he can afford to wait or he can enter on B.


Two c3 squares
Here White must capture B to A.
Here he's screwed.
Here he may capture either way, but he can afford to wait.


The attack dilemma
Here's a basic truth:

* Capture cannot increase the number of one's groups and will quite often decrease it by one or even two groups.

One might think that capture will always pay off, because opponent's men are removed, and own men return as reserves, so what can go wrong? This can go wrong: the object of the game is to remove all opponent's groups from the board, even regardless of whether the moving player uses his own last group to that end.
Now consider one is full swing on attack. One gets lots of reserves in hand but at the cost of losing groups in the process. With lots of reserves in hand, and a couple of men buried in the opponent's groups, the number of one's groups on the board can fast drop to a critical level. A level that forbids one to capture because one cannot afford to lose another group! The opponent thus gets the option to raise existing groups to capacity and exploit their increased range and vulnerability. On the edge of the choice between attacking- or defensive moves, this can be a difficult judgement call. Investing too many groups in an agressive strategy can totally backfire.

In time …
Pit of Pillars may turn out to be a great game. I'm very satisfied with it and I feel it may be good enough to fit in the ArenA. It is also the last game of this season's harvest. At my age one cannot afford to close a season with a mediocre game, lest it should be one's last!
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christian freeling
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Check it out
- (rules)

Note: It's clear that white's reserves should be stocked on H8 rather than on H1 - we'll change that shortly.
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christian freeling
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Nowhere men please listen,
You don't know what you're missing …
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Luis Bolaños Mures
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christianF wrote:

Action is about to start in our ongoing game, so I'll soon have an informed opinion about it. For now, my uninformed opinion is that it's a very nice coherent concept. Congrats.

I'm not a fan of stacking games, but this one might be an exception. One of my main gripes with them is the anti-ergonomic quality of large stacks, so I like the fact that stacks aren't usually higher than 4 pieces in this game.

On a minor note, the rules say: "Instead of moving a stack, a player may choose to enter a man on any square, whether vacant or occupied." I think this means: "Instead of moving a stack, a player may choose to enter a man on any empty or occupied square, but not on a square occupied by a pillar." If so, I think the latter wording is better.
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christian freeling
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luigi87 wrote:
christianF wrote:

Action is about to start in our ongoing game, so I'll soon have an informed opinion about it. For now, my uninformed opinion is that it's a very nice coherent concept. Congrats.

I'm not a fan of stacking games, but this one might be an exception. One of my main gripes with them is the anti-ergonomic quality of large stacks, so I like the fact that stacks aren't usually higher than 4 pieces in this game.

On a minor note, the rules say: "Instead of moving a stack, a player may choose to enter a man on any square, whether vacant or occupied." I think this means: "Instead of moving a stack, a player may choose to enter a man on any empty or occupied square, but not on a square occupied by a pillar." If so, I think the latter wording is better.

Thanks I've changed the wording to
"Instead of moving a stack, a player may choose to enter a man on any square that is either vacant or occupied by a stack."
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Joe Joyce
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christianF wrote:
Pit of Pillars leads the method of capture of Tinkertown Cemetery to a logical conclusion. I definitely feel I should have gotten the idea to make the capture tokens (i.e. the graves in Tinkertown) mobile, without having the generic activator concept literally blowing it into my face. But I don't know if I would have. Thanks again Joe!

Considering you had an indirect hand in getting me to the generic activator concept, I'm glad you've enjoyed the idea so much. Contingency plays such a role in history. I was designing 4D chess variants, or maybe variant chesses, when I got involved in the ChessVariants' website's Tournament #2. During a game of shatranj, I made a few comments on how bad the pieces were from a modern standpoint, and said I'd change the moves of a couple pieces to make it a better game, again from a modern standpoint. A kibbitz comment from David Paulowich encouraged me to add promotion rules and post the resulting game, so I did, and accidentally designed Modern Shatranj, which people actually played! (Unlike my 2 'just wonderful' 4D games.)

This got me considering shatranj, and I did a look at the ideas and pieces, and realized you could do a lot with shatranj-style pieces if you developed them in a different direction than longer linear moves. So I designed a handful of short range pieces that were more powerful than the standard shatranj-style pieces, and tried to put them into a game, which I couldn't quite do. I saw an 8x10 board, but ... Then someone invited me to a game of Grand Chess, and I immediately saw I had at least 2 games, a "Great" Shatranj, and a Grand Shatranj, which together used perfectly the pieces I'd designed.

So I emailed you, asking for permission to use the Grand name and set-up, which you graciously gave. Two games further on in my shatranj series, designed because I found I really liked the short range but powerful pieces, I was gifted by the Muse with Chieftain, which used leaders, the first deliberate activators. After some years of experimenting and finding what I thought were great games, I generalized the idea to activators and posted it here. Then you picked it up, completing the circle.

So thank you.
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christian freeling
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joejoyce wrote:
So thank you.

You're welcome, and I also have to thank you for getting me on this track.
Pit of Pillars shows every indication of being a great game so we'll transfer it to the ArenA shortly.

Like now: Pit of Pillars
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christian freeling
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luigi87 wrote:
Action is about to start in our ongoing game, so I'll soon have an informed opinion about it.

For those interested, here's the ongoing game.
 
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christian freeling
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The above game isn't very interesting (except that it shows that in the land of the blind, one-eye is king), but the comments may be worth reading.

As for a game between two players with a dawning understanding of strategy and tactics, this one is a nice representative. Implicitly, to understand what's going on, emerging interest is required (and justified, for that matter, if I may represent the game rather than the inventor).
 
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christian freeling
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The two games in the two posts above both have an educational drawback. The first one gives interesting reflections on the game's structure, but the game itself sucks because I caught Luis unawares and basically clueless regarding strategy and tactics.
The second one is between Jos and me, and with a history of Tinkertown Cemetery games between us, as well as a number of PoP games, this game gives more of an impression of what the game is about. But there's no commentary because we're both too focused on winning to give away any clues. That, I realise, must leave the average interested poster with a rather chaotic impression.

After discussing strategy and basic tactics, Luis challenged me to another game, so let me take the opportunity to provide some general comments on the fly.

Here's the game

As I write, we both made one move. Since you're reading this, you probably will be familiar with the "one-bound-one-free" opening protocol. Within that placement protocol there are a number of strategical considerations, one of which is trying to get the first move in the subsequent stage. The strategy involved is so opaque that the protocol effectively doubles as a turn-order balancing mechanism. Initial placements are not concerned with it, but towards the end it becomes a major consideration. Here's my comment after the first full turn:

Quote:
I'll give some general comments on my own strategy in this phase. Obviously I try to get 'the move', but that hardly plays a role in the initial placements.

I try to avoid c-3 squares because they're vulnarable to singles by the opponent, and countering by putting an own single on top raises the piece to critical.

Whoever gets the move, making sure you can make an early capture is important: you get at least one reserve and one pillar to work with. Reserves prevent the opponent from raising stacks that aren't under attack by pieces on the board, to critical.

The obvious stepping stone to capture is getting two pieces of height 2 at a distance of 2. On c-4 or c-3 squares these are safe from attack by singles because they cover one another. If both are on c-4 you cannot yet capture yourself (you need one more single on either) but you're safe even from attack by a double. Placement is concerned with this: you cannot, for instance, create such a 'double double' by moving two singles that are a knight's move apart.

I won't give away to much on my specific plans, but I'll try to give some general comment like the one above, in several stages of the game.
All stages have their own strategy, and endgame strategy, as I pointed out in earlier posts, is unlike anything I've seen before in any game. I hope that you'll soon find that endgames, to cite Alice, are curiouser and curiouser.
 
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christian freeling
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It's always nice to have a clear example of something you want to make clear. In this case it's the endgame predicament of Pit of Pillars.

Here's a game between Ed van Zon, who has a few games under his belt (as well as having written the applet) and Tjalling Goedemoed, a dutch Draughts master rated around #50 in the kndb rating and author of an online Course in Draughts.

Here's the game

Ed's last move is an illustrative (not to mention obvious) oversight. Instead of entering a highly crucial reserve, he captures one more group, which loses immediately. Even with two pieces left his future would have looked bleak, so it's really a blunder, but it clearly illustrates the capture dilemma in the endgame.
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Nick Bentley
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I finally got to play a game of this against myself over the weekend. So far, it seems a really, really nice game. Well done.
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christian freeling
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milomilo122 wrote:

I finally got to play a game of this against myself over the weekend. So far, it seems a really, really nice game. Well done.

Much as I value your first impression, I can't help feeling that if it's based on playing against yourself, it can't possibly do the game any justice and that you're actually praising it to oblivion. I've commented favorably on Catchup, Ayu, Oust and Slither, among others, but that's because I've actually played Catchup, Ayu, Oust and Slither.

I know that one of your pet topics is "negative feedback". So if you want to experience how it can lead to a crucial dilemma at the very core of a game - can I afford to take this piece and live through the consequences? - then be my guest. This dilemma isn't new, all great games know it one way or the other, but in the particular combination of mechanism and object of PoP it emerges as pivotal.

P.S. The dilemma may also read: "can I afford not to take this piece and live through the consequences?".

P.P.S. It's not difficult to see the source of the dilemma and its game-specific character:

* There's a limited number of men.
* Capture always means the removal of men of both colors, the opponent's color being removed and the captor's color adding to his reserves.
* Only on rare occasions does a capture not lower the number of the captor's pieces on the board. Usually a capture will lower the number of the captor's pieces by two or one.

That last fact, combined with pieces that reside in opponent's stacks, leads to vastly dwindling numbers of pieces on the board, for a player who captures too much. He gets loaded with reserves, but the game is decided by presence on the board! A player down to one piece will lose if he captures anything, even if it is by using a reserve! He can only enter a reserve and and the opponent, if he has any reserves, can cap it again - that means his opponent can raise any stacks to critical and to his advantage. Of course being down to two pieces isn't all that convenient either.
That's it in a nutshell.
 
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Nick Bentley
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christianF wrote:

Much as I value your first impression, I can't help feeling that if it's based on playing against yourself, it can't possibly do the game any justice and that you're actually you're praising it to oblivion.


I agree it's not ideal (though it has advantages - mainly playing out a bunch of variations quickly, and having a bit more time to reflect), I'm working with what I've got, which is a busy schedule where I've been triaging all kinds of activities I hate to give up. I've dropped all my online play for now in the interest of staying focused and I don't have anyone at home who plays abstract games.

But! Because playing against myself has become a regular activity, I've developed a good feel for the relationship between the feel of solo play and real play. The fact that PoP feels as good as it does to me in solo play only recommends it more.
 
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christian freeling
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milomilo122 wrote:
Because playing against myself has become a regular activity, I've developed a good feel for the relationship between the feel of solo play and real play. The fact that PoP feels as good as it does to me in solo play only recommends it more.

I value this ability of being able to foresee what cannot yet be seen, but I feel it should not go without the support of some complementary analysis like the one below.

On the mindsports homepage, the difference between a strategy game and a tactical game is summarised thus:
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 opaque, like Othello.

There's a permanency issue regarding subgoals. In tactical games subgoals don't cast long shadows because most of them are fairly immediately linked to the main goal. Crucial dilemmas, presenting a choice that will predictably cast a long shadow over the remainder of a game, are a hallmark of strategy games.

At least two of my 2013 games (the year, yes) came out above expectations, Inertia and Pit of Pillars. Inertia excells by being completely self explanatory, but that implicitly means that there's no choice in the outcome. Inertia is a tactical game of considerable depth, but I wouldn't call it a strategy game. It offers everything LOA has to offer, except vulnerability to opening analysis. I hope and trust it will eventually gather a similar following.

Pit of Pillars, given object and mechanism, is almost self explanatory, yet there's some arbitrariness involved like:

* Why are the cornersquares removed?
* Why can't mono-colored stacks be captured by entering on them?
* Why do pillars move as queens rather than rooks?
* Why can't queens capture one another?
* Why does the vanishing of one or both colors from the board end the game, even though players still have reserves?

For those interested I can argue these decisions, but for the moment I'll ask you to accept them, because the main point I'm trying to make here is: Pit of Pllars is a strategy game because it is wider, deeper and more varied in the plans it allows and the execution thereof than any game that might be labelled 'tactical'.

To illustrate that, here's a partly analysis of a game I played with Red against Ed. For your convenience, every diagram links to it. I've omitted reflections on strategy in the placement stage for now (though they are interesting). Ed managed to get "the move", the first move after the placement stage, and we proceeded with setting up and making early captures, because you don't want to be without reserves in the early movement stages: it would allow your opponent to raise stacks that are safe from capture by pieces on the board, to critical, and higher stacks are more dangerous, at least in this stage.

Analysis starts at a critical point towards an endgame: can I afford to take at E6, knowing I will be down to 1 piece the next move? But also: can I afford not to take at E6, being a reserve down?



E6 did become critical because White captured at F6 and left the pillar in place. Instead he moved the pillar at G3 to G4, making G2 a capacity-4 square. This made me wonder, because usually you'd rather have a 2-stack on a capacity-3 square. Now, if I cap it, White cannot 'recap' because it would raise the stack to critical and Red could simply capture it.
But entering on G2 would give White the chance to capture at E6, getting one more reserve while still having two pieces on the board. And moving the emerging pillar to E2 would isolate Red's triple on G2. So despite having G2 on offer, Red decides to capture at E6 and live through the consequences. Like diving under a sheet of ice with only one breathing hole in sight.



One move later and Red's on a leash: he can only enter men to ensure his very presence. He cannot capture anything because that would mean immediate loss. White can afford to put stacks to critical by adding pillars to adjacent squares, and Red can only create a new stacks and have them capped, but … White cannot do that indefinitely because Red has more reserves! That's the breathing hole. At some point the leash must be loosened and Red will have the chance to capture. Of course there must be prey ready by that time, that's why Red has already lowered the capacity of G2 by moving a pillar to G3.



We're a few moves onwards (that can be followed in the actual game) and here it is: White, down to his last reserve, was forced to take a 4-stack of his own color at G2, to get two additional reserves and capture two red men in the process. He moves the pillar to C6. Red of course takes a deep breath, because he must capture at D8 and have the leash tightened again.



And here he's on the leash again, but with just enough reserves to get him to the next breathing hole.



Which comes here: White, again down to the last reserve, was forced to capture to get an additional reserve. He did so at A4, moving the pillar to C2. Now all white stacks are critical: they're all 2-stacks on capacity-2 squares.



Red has captured at B5 and moved E3F2, White has capped G3 and Red is a reserve up.



Red has recapped at G3 and has moved the pillar at F3 to G3 to make the stack sub-critical again. White, down to his last reserve, could not raise it to 4 because Red would capture it with his last reserve (no, not with G2 of course, that would literally be suicide). So White decided to capture at C7 and move pillar C6F3 to make G3 critical. Big mistake! But no prospective alternatives either because after all White is two men down. Maybe capping G2 would have worked, but Red then could recap and capture one of his 3-stacks by moving it to a c-2 square, knowing that Red cannot capture the other because he'd be out of reserves.
But he didn't and instead moved the above, which allowed Red to move the surpisingly strong 36…G35 pillarG6F5!



This move puts G5 and G7 in a direct confrontation, but … White cannot capture because it would mean his immediate loss! White is now on the leash. He must enter and does so at D5, blocking G6 with a pillar, but setting G5 to critical in the process.



Red has next captured at C3 and moved a pillar away from the stack at G6, to make it sub-critical again. White follows suit by entering on G6 and moving G7 away, but he is now without reserves and Red still has two and uses one of them to simply cap D5.



It's White's turn. Red has three pieces on the board and a reserve in hand. White now has two isolated stacks that are completely unable to assist one another. Every capture would blow one or both off the board, and if one remains, like after 39.G58, Red can simply cap it.

This was quite an epic effort, and it left me elated and Ed in a "where did I go wrong?" mode. And it left those among you who are interested in strategy games with a glimpse of the excitement Pit of Pillars has to offer.
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christian freeling
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I'm too intrigued by Pit of Pillars strategy, or more precisely its endgame strategy, to resist a further attempt to show something … well, intriguing.

christian freeling (nl) - Ed van Zon (NL)
Ed's final comment:
"Congrats! You must be getting it (somewhat), but I'm just dancing in the dark. Why that is, is fascinating in itself, so …"

So we play yet another one:
Ed van Zon (NL) - christian freeling (nl)
with my first comment:
"Getting it … somewhat, indeed. The opening and middle game are fairly clear to me, and then comes the endgame, and sometimes the strategy is to prevent you from capturing at all, but then it switches via making sure I get at least a follow up capture to making sure everything stands critical. Then suddenly it's a parity issue and I win. I'm not sure how or why these switches in strategy occur. Quite confusing actually.".
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christian freeling
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Here's Kobus, stocking up for the next 6 weeks with a 2k rabbit. It's how I feel playing Pit of Pillars against novices.
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Luis Bolaños Mures
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christianF wrote:
Here's Kobus, stocking up for the next 6 weeks with a 2k rabbit. It's how I feel playing Pit of Pillars against novices.

Nah, Pit of Pillars novices are more digestible. Less hairy.
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