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Subject: A slightly more modest proposal rss

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Richard Moxham
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The current quest to find the indispensable 1001 (or even 101) abstracts is one in which I don't feel able to take part. It isn't that I'm scornful of the project - simply that I don't know anything like enough games.

I can see a couple of dangers, though. One is that 101 is a highly ambitious figure. I'd have thought it very hard to name that many of anything without becoming a bit slap-happy - better, surely, to subject oneself to the discipline (however painful) of pruning down to a more demanding limit. And the second is that, if the plan is to collate the lists of individual contributors, there's a likelihood of arriving at a catalogue not materially different from others already existing in various places.

So I should like to propose a parallel exercise, on no more compelling grounds than that it happens to interest me personally a little more.

I'll introduce it by giving two sample lists. First, here are what, though I shall undoubtedly find fault with my own judgement in the morning, it seems to me at this moment might well be the ten greatest music albums of my listening life:

Jackson Browne: Late For The Sky
Joni Mitchell: Blue
Bruce Springsteen: The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle
Bob Dylan: Blood On The Tracks
The Eagles: Desperado
Oasis: (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?
Carole King: Tapestry
The Beatles: Revolver
Elton John: Elton John
Steely Dan: Pretzel Logic.

And here, by contrast, are ten which I strongly believe that nobody should allow themselves to die without having heard:

Michael Murphy: Geronimo’s Cadillac
Jim Croce: I Got A Name
Pete Atkin: Driving Through Mythical America
Donald Fagen: The Nightfly
Ry Cooder: Bop Till You Drop
Francis Cabrel: Sarbacane
Neil Sedaka: The Tra-La Days Are Over
Fanny: Mother’s Pride
Ellen Foley: Nightout
Ian & Sylvia: Early Morning Rain.

I wouldn't claim the same pre-eminence for these ten as for the others, but I would claim that each of them is a creation as near perfect in its own terms as makes no difference, and a real thrill to discover. Whether others agree with me in all particulars is not really important. The point is that it's a list of this second kind (only, of abstract games, of course, not records) that I would be interested to read.

Two things more. Firstly, I'm going to take the liberty of listing some individuals whose lists I'd particularly like to see. These are people whose knowledge of abstract games and/or their way of talking about them has especially impressed me during the time I've been aware of them. So, keeping to the theme of ten:

Christian Freeling
Nick Bentley
Luis Bolanos Mures
Carlos Luna
Clark Rodeffer
Rich Gowell
Russ Williams
Dave Dyer
Nestor Romeral Andres
Cameron Browne.

If these good people - and naturally any others - would care to take up the challenge, perhaps they would also be so good as to respect a small number of 'house rules', as follows:

1. Chess and Go excluded
2. No games of their own invention
3. (In the unlikely event of their being so tempted) none of mine
4. No families of games - individual variants named in their own right
5. A strict numerical prescription - exactly ten.

Let's see whether this one sinks or swims.
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I like it! I'm not sure rules 1 and 3 are strictly necessary. 1, given that they only have ten games I imagine they'd have some insightful reasoning if they do choose to use up an entry on one of the two most popular strategy games ever. But I understand that there is a risk of it effectively becoming a Top 8 if they all include both of those out of a sense of obligation. And 3, come on man. Rule 3 should just be "don't let fear of flattering or offending other designers affect your choices in any way, with subsection (i) don't get butthurt if your game isn't on someone else's list.

I'd be interested in your top 10, actually. I've only recently discovered Trig and Morelli and haven't gotten to play them (my Java plugin isn't working since I updated Ubuntu, but I will probably get the nestorgames Morelli soon) but my first impressions of the rules are a firm and enthusiastic "I could do some hanging out with that business," and I'm a picky mofo. But yeah. I'm trying to think of what other games have that "whitewater" pacing and peculiar remote forms of capture/win condition, i.e. what could have inspired your games. So I'm curious.
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David Bush
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Using music as a way to say something about abstract board games is a creative approach, but music is much more universal. Abstracts are so far in a remote backwater that even among those of us who read this thread, I am certain we have very different notions of what is "ideal" or "perfect." The effort to truly appreciate an abstract requires a very personal journey. Those who follow the path for a specific game may share their appreciation, but the language changes with each new game.

It's like branches of mathematics. The language of Math came about because no other language can handle the abstruse concepts. AFAIK mathematicians don't generally try to convince each other to study another chosen specialty. They know their colleagues are well occupied looking at the vastness before them. So, I don't see the need to claim that my personal discoveries should really be experienced by anyone else. It would be nice if more people played the games I like, but it's more important that they learn to appreciate contemplative thinking, in whatever guise it presents itself.
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I too would love to see lists from the people mentioned (with one by faidutti as well) and likewise a GeekList of all of the Geeklists.
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Russ Williams
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OK, if I grok the intent, here an "off the top of my head some notable cool games well worth playing which you might not have played, even though I'd probably say a different set of 10 tomorrow" list:

Shogi
Alice Chess
Havannah
Slither
Ayu
Trax
Fight!
Margo
Homeworlds
Alfred's Wyke

Why I thought of these 10:

SHOGI: Like most of us, I've played Western Chess. But I'd never really known much about Shogi, and the kanji symbols seemed a barrier to entry. I bet I'm not alone in that; most people I know haven't tried Shogi, probably including many abstract game fans. I finally tried it, and wow, the drop rule with re-entry of captured pieces is great. I like it more than Western Chess.

ALICE CHESS: This is apparently one of the more popular modern Chess variants; not being highly into Chess or Chess variants, I only learned about it somehow haphazardly a couple years ago. No new piece types to learn, just a great twist of there being 2 boards. Each time a piece moves, it teleports to the corresponding square on the other board. (Like Alice through the looking glass.) You can actually physically implement this two different ways, either by literally using 2 boards, or use a single board and put a checker under a piece to show that it's on the alternate board. Interestingly, different people find different ways to be clearer or more functional. I find it interesting that such a simple concept (pieces jumping between 2 parallel universes with each move) leads to physical awkwardness so that it's not even clear how best to represent the game state!

HAVANNAH: Surely most of us have heard of it, but I'd not personally played it until a couple years ago. I was already a Hex player, and Havannah was a neat aha-experience. I like that it's almost as simple as Hex in concept, but there is a race element which doesn't exist in Hex. (I.e. in Hex, it's impossible for winning paths to exist for both players simultaneously, but it's possible in Havannah, so merely creating a theoretical win does not suffice in Havannah; you need to achieve the win in fewer moves in case your opponent is also on the way to a win.) And the 3 different ways to win work nicely together.

SLITHER is a pure connection game. It's gotten a fair amount of buzz in our little forum here, but I'm guessing many have not tried it yet. It solves the problems of connection games on a square grid (i.e. how to deal with diagonal adjacency) and also manages to mash up the feel of a classic "placement game" with a "movement game", as each turn you place one piece and move one existing piece to a neighboring point. The result is a game which often creates epic battles with dramatic turnarounds.

AYU is similarly simple yet harder to describe. The board starts with all the stones of both players disconnected from each other, and each move must cause one of your groups to become closer to another of your groups. You can never split groups. If all your stones are connected in a single group, then you win - but technically that's because you have no legal move, which leads to another sneaky aha-insight, that you can win while still having more than one group, if your opponent is unwittingly dividing the board into regions isolating your groups so that you can't make a move which makes a group closer to another. Sometimes there is a desperate race to stop blocking/separating 2 enemy groups before the enemy runs out of legal moves and wins!

TRAX is certainly rather well known and has been commercially published for years, with wonderful clacky bakelite tiles which are a joy to play with, and even a published strategy book. But I get the feeling that not so many people actually play it much. I like placement games which grow theoretically without bound, and Trax is a classic in the genre. (See also Palago, Spangles, Andantino, Che, ...) It's also cool that all the pieces are identical (but 2-sided - you choose which side to play.) I recently acquired a second set (of 64 tiles) because a few times we'd had a game run out of tiles, and now it's always cool and notable when I have to break out the second TRAX bag of tiles during a long game.

FIGHT! is a brilliant little coin game which I've enjoyed for years, both 2-player and multi-player. Many times I read people saying that "abstract strategy games are fundamentally about geometry and spatial relations" - I think that's often true, but certainly not necessary. Fight! proves to be a great counterexample. Plus it's great that you need no special equipment or planning ahead to bring a game - you only need some coins. It's a good restaurant game, for example. Each turn you just put one of your coins into the central pot and may take back coins whose sum value is less than the coin you just added. Run out of coins and you lose. The 2 obvious strategic goals of having a large number of coins (each coin guarantees you another turn) and having coins with large total worth (so you can get more coins back out of the pot) are often interestingly in conflict with each other.

MARGO is my obligatory nod to the forbidden mention of Go, as well as the obligatory 3-dimensonal game! It's a wonderful natural extension of Go to 3-dimensional stacking. Knowledge of Go rules is needed, but knowledge of Go strategy can sometimes amusingly lead you astray! I like playing it, and I like how elegantly and naturally it generalizes Go to 3 dimensions in the form of a "stacked balls making a pyramid base" game.

HOMEWORLDS is my obligatory Looney pyramid game (of which there are many possible candidates for this kind of list; see also Pikemen, Tic Tac Doh, Alien City, Blam!, Martian Chess, Gleebs & Grues, Branches & Twigs & Thorns, ...). I chose Homeworlds because it also represents an unusually themed and non-minimalist sort of ruleset, and it makes the point that an abstract strategy does not have to be totally simple and elegant like Hex. (Or maybe it pushes the limits of the definition of "abstract strategy game"!) Homeworlds is sort of a surreal wargame/abstract hybrid. The rules are non-trivial and almost always confuse people the first time. Yet everything works together well and is there for a reason. It's also clever since the pyramids serve both as stars (standing vertically) and as ships (lying horizontally) and ownership is indicated by pointing away from the owner (a nod to Shogi!) The 4 colors of pieces define powers (move, attack, create, change). The map is a connected graph of stars which dynamically changes as play proceeds and itself creatively defines connectivity (2 stars are connected if they are not the same size pyramid). Very original unusual game.

ALFRED'S WYKE is the only game in this list which I've only played virtually and AFAIK it doesn't really exist in a published form, even though it wouldn't be hard to make a physical set. It's played on a square grid and is in some sense a simple "make 4-in-a-row" type game. But it has a very clever core mechanism in which each turn you choose one of 5 types of actions to do (which increase your influence in various spaces by certain amounts). If you reach a certain threshold of influence in a cell, then it becomes yours permanently. The key twist (which could/should be used in more games) is that you cannot choose an action which was most recently used by you or by your opponent, so once play is under way, only 3 actions are available to you on your turn. The 5 actions are:
4 (add 4 influence to a single location)
3-1 (add 3 to one location and 1 to another)
2-2 (add 2 apiece to 2 locations)
2-1-1 (I think you get the idea)
1-1-1-1-1 (Notice that the others increase your total influence by 4, but this one increases your total influence by 5 - thus you normally prefer to use this action, and so jockeying for positions where you make a serious threat (typically to permanently convert a cell, possibly winning) which must be answered by some other action, leaving you able to use this action again, is an important tactic. I.e. that asymmetry in action values is a feature, not a bug.)


There you have it. I am interested to read other people's lists and reasons why a game is interesting or worth playing (and not only from the 10 people Richard named).
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Richard Moxham
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russ wrote:
There you have it. I am interested to read other people's lists and reasons why a game is interesting or worth playing (and not only from the 10 people Richard named).


Stupendous, Russ. Precisely the kind of thing I was hoping for. And of course I'm keen to hear from people I didn't name, too.
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Stephen Tavener
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russ wrote:

This one is new to me; thanks, Russ! Aside: I can't believe I left Alice Chess off my 101 list.
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With such a thread title, I was hoping for some good satire.
 
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I love this and reminds me of a book idea I've had for years. The book would be called:

"10 magnificent modern mimimalist games"

...or something like that. It would be a bit like Cameron's Connection Games book, except it would trade breadth for depth. Each game would be discussed over two chapters: one focused on the design of the game, and the other on strategy. Ideally, the content for each game would be written in consultation with both the designer and the best players.

It's impossible to pick 10 without feeling I've left essential games off, but here's a first stab at what the book might cover:

Hex
Slither
Entrapment
Amazons
Margo
YINSH or GIPF
Quoridor
Arimaa
Ayu
Connect6 (12* drop rule is, imo, one of the most important modern innovations in abstract games)

I guess you can quibble with Hex, on the grounds it's not modern, but it's so central to my and others' game design universe, it feels like a "must include". If not, replace with Havannah.

Also, one huge problem with this exercise is it's extremely hard to pick games of this kind when they require so much evaluation to understand and appreciate. I'm certain there are a number of games I'd swap out for the games above if only I had more experience with them and could appreciate them better. But without that experience I don't know which games those are.

I'm an especially bad candidate to choose games as a result of this, because I tend to only play a few games and stick to them.

I don't have time at the moment to discuss why I chose each of these games. I'll try to come back and add explanations later.
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christian freeling
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milomilo122 wrote:
Also, one huge problem with this exercise is it's extremely hard to pick games of this kind when they require so much evaluation to understand and appreciate. I'm certain there are a number of games I'd swap out for the games above if only I had more experience with them and could appreciate them better. But without that experience I don't know which games those are.

I'll second that. I appreciate simple concepts, elegant implementations and an object that feels natural to the concept. But I'm not the best of players and even in the ones I occasionally play I lack sufficient experience for a considered evaluation, and since all of them have been played and labeled good games by others, it wouldn't contribute all that much in the first place.
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Russ Williams
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milomilo122 wrote:
(12* drop rule is, imo, one of the most important modern innovations in abstract games)

Coincidentally I finally played Connect6 recently several times (thanks, alfredhw!), and that plus your several recent mentions of the 12* protocol led me to try a couple games of Andantino a short while ago using the 12* protocol just to see what would happen. Based on 2 games (not exactly a huge data sample, I know), it seemed to work fine...
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milomilo122 wrote:
(12* drop rule is, imo, one of the most important modern innovations in abstract games)


Where can one learn more about this 12* drop rule?

 
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christianF wrote:
milomilo122 wrote:
Also, one huge problem with this exercise is it's extremely hard to pick games of this kind when they require so much evaluation to understand and appreciate. I'm certain there are a number of games I'd swap out for the games above if only I had more experience with them and could appreciate them better. But without that experience I don't know which games those are.

I'll second that. I appreciate simple concepts, elegant implementations and an object that feels natural to the concept. But I'm not the best of players and even in the ones I occasionally play I lack sufficient experience for a considered evaluation, and since all of them have been played and labeled good games by others, it wouldn't contribute all that much in the first place.


The problem is even worse for those of us who design games, because so much of our time is spent playing our own games.
 
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fogus wrote:
milomilo122 wrote:
(12* drop rule is, imo, one of the most important modern innovations in abstract games)


Where can one learn more about this 12* drop rule?



there's a little bit about it at Connect6's wikipedia page

It just means: first player places one stone on her first turn, and then from then on, starting with the other player, the players place two stones per turn. It can also be generalized to moves or any other kind of action.

It gets rid of an asymmetry present in a giant swath of the world's games:

At the end of the first-mover's turn, she's taken one more action than her opponent has over the course of the game.

BUT

At the end of the second-mover's turn, she's taken the same number of actions as her opponent over the course of the game.

With the 12* rule, *both* players end their turn having taken one more action than their opponent over the course of the game.
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christianF wrote:
milomilo122 wrote:
Also, one huge problem with this exercise is it's extremely hard to pick games of this kind when they require so much evaluation to understand and appreciate. I'm certain there are a number of games I'd swap out for the games above if only I had more experience with them and could appreciate them better. But without that experience I don't know which games those are.

I'll second that. I appreciate simple concepts, elegant implementations and an object that feels natural to the concept. But I'm not the best of players and even in the ones I occasionally play I lack sufficient experience for a considered evaluation, and since all of them have been played and labeled good games by others, it wouldn't contribute all that much in the first place.


Come to think of it, I have this very same problem with my own games. I *think* I know which are my best ones, but there's some among the scads of "less played" ones that have a chance of being just as good or better, but I haven't played enough to find out.
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christianF wrote:
I appreciate simple concepts, elegant implementations and an object that feels natural to the concept.


Those are perfectly sound criteria for a list. Mileage is always going to vary with specific games but for people looking for a certain "flavor" of game it's still a start. Plus, it could illustrate what an elegant implementation looks like to you.

But I'm not trying to bully anyone into making a list if they don't like doing it. And Christian has plenty on the record on his own site (hmm so his first five would be Shogi, 10x10 Draughts, Oust, Ayu, and Hex- don't mind me I'm just being a creep ). Just pointing out that the lists don't necessarily have to be definitive or holistic. In fact I suspect the OP's intent was that they be neither.
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I'm almost certainly the least experienced Abstractist on Richard's list, and if I offered a roster of ten games it would be more nearly akin to something like "The Ten Abstracts I Have Played" than to any "special" subset of those I've encountered. In light of that fact I'm just going to mention a few of the creations that I particularly enjoy at boardspace, with just the briefest of comments accompanying each.

Fanarona- This would be my "Ancient" pick for sure. The game is pretty amazing considering the minimalist components from which it is wrung. There are roughly three phases of play. First, a very congested starting phase, where the approach-and-withdraw capture mechanic is used to "erode" a more complex interaction structure or surface between the two players. The second phase, put simply, is a massacre. Pieces are decimated in an exciting five to ten ply orgy of violence, but one which possesses more tactical depth than many realize. Third, and finally, is the endgame, which many seem to assume involves the game petering out or drawing. But the more play one gets of this under their belt, the more clear it becomes that the endgame, where the board is sparsely populated with survivors, is subtle, tense, and shot through with non-obvious tactics. All in all a minimalist gem.

Volo- The game has aggregation as its goal, but its play involves a kind of "heartbeat" of expansion and contraction-aggregation, engendered by the two types of actions one may take. Movement must involve a combining, or in other words, a reduction, of the spatial sprawl of one's flock. But placement, on the other hand, MUST be made non-adjacently, relative to the rest of one's pieces. At least a handful of placements must be made, and so it becomes a question of who can manage this heartbeat in such a way that the final, full, aggregation happens first for them. If the opponent is tough, this may take more expansion/placement beats than one would intuitively suppose, and so patience is vital. Another minimalist gem, this time a modern one.

Carnac- Carnac's pieces, the so called Menhir, have a fascinating structure. They are two position by one position rectangular blocks, three of whose sides (two long sides and one end) show one player's "ownership" symbols, and the other three sides of which show the other player's symbols. Menhir are placed in an upright position by the players (this is the only orientation constraint, and so either end may be showing on top, and any rotational orientation of the four long, initially upright sides, may be taken as well). Once placed, the opposing player is given the choice to "tip" the Menhir over in any direction where its fall is unobstructed, or the player passes his turn. If the Menhir is tipped (or if it cannot be tipped over legally) the tipping player then adds an additional Menhir to the board to complete his turn. The goal is to create Dolmen, which are groups of as few as two Menhir showing at least three orthogonally contiguous symbols of the same type (said symbol representing the owner of the Dolmen) face up. The winner is the one with the most Dolmen on the board when the Menhir run out (28 are included). The size of the Dolmen matter only when breaking a tie, which actually happens a sizable fraction of the time. A key tactic involves connecting, and thus reducing the number of, the opponent's Dolmen. Reversals of the lead are common right to the end, and routinely make for very tense, even occasionally thrilling endgames. Not what I'd call a minimalist game, but a gem for sure.

Gounki- This game is terribly underappreciated in my opinion. The ability to combine pieces into more capable "superpieces" is used to great effect in this race, or traversal, game. The superpieces not only have enhanced movement capabilities, which are the sum of the move capabilities of the component parts, but they are also able, in one single action, to decompose/deploy by dropping off a piece at a time on different board positions, which makes for an often devastating advance. There is capture in this game, and so, for a race/traversal style game, it can get pretty bloody. AWESOME.

Heck, I'll take it to ten, just because Richard asked for it!
Only a few words for each remaining game.

Gyges- communal pieces, racing through each other to the opposite end on a small board. Fast, dynamic, interesting.

Santorini- punches well above it's weight (5x5 board) in terms of tactical richness. A great game. Intense and dynamic.

Yinsh- almost stands to Othello in something like the relation that the latter stands to tic-tac-toe. I exagerrate a bit, but only a bit. Great (big) abstract.

Kamisado- Should be tried just because of its funky use of color to undergird a race/traversal game. When I play it (I suck) I always feel like I'm having more fun than I should be.

Zertz- again, communal pieces, but this time with forced captures. Most already know it's a great abstract.

Tzaar- it bugs me a bit actually, how the bulk of the game seems disconnected in some sense from the endgame tactically and or strategically. It feels like the immobilization/piece-type-exhaustion win/loss criteria just sort of end up staring you in the face in the late game (if you haven't made early, doom inducing, screwups), and you don't really know how you got to that particular endgame puzzle, and then, based on just a few move decisions involving lots of thinking, you either pull it off or you don't. All that said, this is an addictive game which is lots of fun to play.

'Nuff said.
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milomilo122 wrote:

It gets rid of an asymmetry present in a giant swath of the world's games:


And seems to eliminate a problem that I've had in my own dumb little design. Thank you for the great explanation.
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mocko wrote:
If these good people - and naturally any others - would care to take up the challenge, perhaps they would also be so good as to respect a small number of 'house rules', as follows:

1. Chess and Go excluded
2. No games of their own invention
3. (In the unlikely event of their being so tempted) none of mine
4. No families of games - individual variants named in their own right
5. A strict numerical prescription - exactly ten.

Let's see whether this one sinks or swims.


Well, I'm honoured to be in your list (I'm also curious about other people's lists) and I've been thinking about the whole "1001 abstracts to play before you die" thing so there is no reason to not answer your request but I would like to apologize in advance for my lack of English skills: I'm not a native English speaker so, please, forgive any grammar or spelling mistakes you'll find in the text.


Before starting, I should mention that reducing the list to just 10 entries is somewhat flawed. I mean, if we all stick to the real spirit of the thing (proposing a list of abstract games that EVERYONE should try at least once in life) all our lists will be really similar. As someone has already mentioned, the top 10 of a 1001 abstracts list will hardly differ from expert to expert and will contain games that most people has already played (chess, checkers, go...). Being popular around the world is not a reason to not being included in a list like this, quite the opposite. In the other hand, suggesting an already popular game adds little value to the list (it is rather difficult to say something original about chess nowadays... don't you think?).

Therefore... How could we create a list that is interesting for everyone while takes into account the social relevance of the most popular abstract games? Using them as categories, of course!

To illustrate my point I will make a list of 10 fundamental (and already popular) abstract games, specifying in every case why I consider them to be fundamental. Then I will add a pair of related games to every entry (in a full 1001 abstract games to play before you die list this number will be bigger and variable but here I feel that I'm stretching your house rules too much and therefore I will try to keep it short). The whole idea is that the popularity of the game that I'm using as a "category" will help people to understand better the other games and to explore the list in a way that matches their current knowledge of the field and their personal preferences.


The First 5

Here I'm assuming that you know nothing about abstracts and, thus, The First 5 are oriented to teach you the basics of the field. Most people build this knowledge during their childhood. If this is your case, you can skip the steps you have already done.

1.- Tic-Tac-Toe: You should play Tic-Tac-Toe. Then you should break Tic-Tac-Toe (play perfectly and tie every single game). This is a rite of passage that will help you understand better what perfect play is (everyone is able to develop perfect play for this game on their own). To go deeper in this field you should learn the perfect strategy of Nim, THE representative of the whole impartial family of games, playing perfectly, in this case, means to always win or always loose depending only on the turn order. Finally, you should develop a sense of what an infinite game is and what does it mean to play perfectly this kind of games. Edward de Bono's L-Game is a little jewel you can analyse as easily as Tic-Tac-Toe, unfortunately that does not mean that you can always win, it just mean that the game will never end.

2.- 4 in a Row: Arguably, 4 in a row is the second abstract game most people plays in their life. It is also widely available and one of the oldest abstracts that use a vertical layout. With 4 in a row you will definitely learn what a "double threat" is. You can explore further this concept by playing Quarto! which is my favourite game of Gigamic. Finally, it is provable that you will look for more sophisticated versions of the pattern building mechanic and Andantino is a good next step. Its author, David L. Smith, is better known for other remarkable games like Trax, Chex or Spangles (most of them currently published by NestorGames).

3.- Checkers: is, for most people, the first abstract game that can be played seriously. With this game you will understand what a sacrifice or an exchange are. Once you get bored of the thousand versions of Checkers that are out there you can use Dan Troyka's Breakthrough to reinforce these same ideas while maintaining the simplicity of rules and materials. In fact, I've always considered Breakthrough as Checkers without the boring parts in the sense that complete annihilation can be lengthy for the casual player in comparison to the most direct crossing objective of Breakthrough, where the game ends just after its dramatic peak. Other games have addressed the total annihilation problem in a different way. Mark Steere's Mad Bishops solves the problem with a moving protocol that precludes all the movements that avoid direct confrontation with the adversary: you should either kill or get into trouble in every single turn of the game. Simple, elegant and fierce... a game worthy of its author.

4.- Dots and Boxes: In order to round up your theoretical background in abstract gaming it is necessary to go further in the Combinatorial Game Theory road. Most people do not realize how deep Dots & Boxes is and, thus, it would be a better idea to start with a clearer game. Konane seems a good option. While being easy to play and relatively easy to find or build, Konane can be used to understand most of the concepts of the CGT field. After that, you can try Domineering, designed by one of the fathers of the CGT (John Conway) and, provably, the best provider of examples for CGT concepts that you can find. Finally you should return to Dots & Boxes and read the Berlekamp's book about this game. The monstrous deepness of this apparently simple paper & pencil game will now become apparent.

5.- Reversi: At this point we are running out of abstract games for the casual player. Fortunately some of them eventually make their way to the shelves of the shopping mall and reach the general public. This is the case of Reversi, one of the most recent classic abstracts. Reversi is fun, simple and requires custom pieces to be played, three qualities that ease a commercial mass market edition. Something similar happens with Abalone, a beautiful game whose board and pieces just feel right when you are playing with them. One of the latest addition to the commercially successful abstract family is Kulami. The Steffen-Spiele's XL edition of Kulami is simply gorgeous and the rules are clever enough to warrant a long shelf life for this little gem.


The Big 5

You are now prepared to enjoy and appreciate any abstract game. You have the tools and the experience. It is time to visit 5 of the most important abstracts in the world (and their close relatives!).

6.- Tablut: I love the minimalist (and expensive) Clemens Gerhards's edition of this game but you can find beautiful editions of it everywhere nowadays. Tablut is a viking game about hunting. You must follow your enemies and kill some of them but the whole Tafl family of games is about surrounding and enemy and slowly stretch the lace around his neck until immobilize it. If the complexity of the Tafl games is overwhelming at first you can try Catch the Hare, an older and simpler hunting game already mentioned in the Book of Games of the Spanish king Alfonso X 'the wise' (if you are a king back in the medieval ages it is wiser to spend your time reading and playing games rather than making war, don't you think?). Finally, one of the most thematic abstracts of the list: Murus Gallicus, a little game both original and fun from a very promising designer: Phill Leduc. The best modern siege game you can play, for sure.

7.- Awale: The Tafl family is related to hunting as the Mancala family is related to harvesting. Awale is one of the most popular representatives of this family in the whole Africa and will teach you the basic principles of the Mancala games. In western countries, however, other games of the family have reached more popularity. Nowadays is easier to find a mobile phone app to play Kalah (popularized by Nokia as Bantumi!) than any other variant of the game. My personal favourite and one of the simplest members of the family is Cups, the rules of which you can find inside the great Sid Sackson's book A Gamut of Games.

8.- Chess: After hunting and harvesting, battling was one of the most popular activities of humankind in the old ages. Chess is often understood as a simulation of a battle but from the practical point of view of our particular abstract gaming course, Chess is relevant for being iconic (in the western countries it is THE abstract) and for its complexity. However Chess complexity comes along with the variety of its components and this fact is sometimes used to despise it as inelegant. In any case, Chess is rich both in strategy and tactics and has played a very important role dignifying board games as an adult entertainment. There are also, books, newspapers problem sections and lots of pop-culture references to this game that justify learning its rules and becoming familiar with its associated vocabulary (fork, gambit, opening, pawn structure, pinned piece, variation, zugzwang...). You can play several hundreds of variants of Chess, including some foreigner close relatives like Shogi, where the captured pieces join your army instead of dying. Alternatively, you can use your Chess pieces to play other interesting games such as Arimaa, a game specifically designed to be difficult to play by a computer.

9.- Go: If Chess represents a battle, Go represents a full war. Pretty much as it happens with Chess, in eastern countries Go is THE abstract. In the other hand, Go's complexity doesn't comes along with complicated rules but with the seemingly infinite possibilities of a 19x19 board. Go's overwhelming complexity and its somewhat artificial rules to avoid endless repetitions preclude some gamers from go further in the study of this game but, again, the cultural relevance of Go and its influence in our community make it fundamental for everyone interested in the field of abstract games. Additionally, learning Go's basic vocabulary (atari, eye, fuseki, gote, joseki, ko, komi, liberties, miai, moyo, seki, sente, snapback, suicide, tesuji...) will help you to express your thoughts about other abstract games. There have been several attempts to design games with the same level of strategic complexity, rules simplicity and organic feel of Go. Mark Steere's Tanbo, the game of roots, retains all these qualities but also the material complexity of Go. Cameron Browne's Margo jumps to the third dimension to offer far more deep per square centimetre than any other game in this list.

10.- Hex: connection games are, provably, the most abstract abstract games you can find. Most of them rely on such basic mathematical concepts (connection, size, distance...) that they could be abstracted further and played directly over any graph a mad mathematician can imagine (and mad mathematician are really imaginative people...). Hex is the ultimate sophistication in terms of abstraction and its elegance is broadly acknowledged by all abstract fans. In the last years the connection games family has gained some popularity and new ideas are reinvigorating the field. Dynamic Connections Games, where the elements that you must connect during the game are not known in advance are a fresh novelty. Luis Bolaños Mures's Xodd/Yodd is a good example of this mechanic and makes good use of the recent trend in the abstract design community: to allow two moves per turn from the second move on. Markus Hagenauer's Cairo Corridor proposes a very original twist to the connection mechanic, being the best example of the disconnection mechanic (remove cells until just one path remains!).


Finally 2 lists that summarize the whole thing (only the second one follows all your House Rules):

The 10 classic abstract games you must play before you die

1.- Tic-Tac-Toe
2.- 4 in a Row
3.- Checkers
4.- Dots and Boxes
5.- Reversi
6.- Tablut
7.- Awale
8.- Chess
9.- Go
10.- Hex

The 10 not-so-popular abstract games you must play before you die

1.- Nim
2.- Quarto!
3.- Breakthrough
4.- Domineering
5.- Kulami
6.- Murus Gallicus
7.- Kalah
8.- Arimaa
9.- Margo
10.- Xodd/Yodd


With all these games you will know the most popular abstracts in the world but also the new trends in abstract design. You will understand the theory, get some intuition and meet some important authors and publishers (always from my surely biased point of view, of course...). After playing all these games you no longer need guidance and you can start exploring the field by yourself.


PS: Many great abstracts have been left out of this lists, however, they are so close that it would be unfair to not mention them. Commercial hits like Hive, Blokus or Kris Burm's GIPF series. Sophisticated meta-games like Nick Bentley's Mind Ninja or games designed by a computer program like Cameron Browne's Yavalath and Pentalath. And of course, newborn games that are already acknowledged as masterpieces like Corey Clark's Slither or the Dieter Stein's Abande/Attangle/Accasta trilogy... All these games, and many more, require some space and I'm sure that a full 101 abstract games you must play before you die is necessary to avoid left them out unfairly.
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Tim Koppang
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I love this thread.
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I say foo on subjective greatest hits lists. Put your brain where your
mouth is, and score games based on how much they are actually
played. What would a brain hours list look like?
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Tim Koppang
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ddyer wrote:
I say foo on subjective greatest hits lists. Put your brain where your
mouth is, and score games based on how much they are actually
played. What would a brain hours list look like?

Good question. I have a feeling you would be a good person to ask...
 
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ddyer wrote:
I say foo on subjective greatest hits lists. Put your brain where your
mouth is, and score games based on how much they are actually
played. What would a brain hours list look like?

To be fair and not unfairly penalize recent yet excellent & newly popular games which simply haven't had as much time to generate a lot of plays yet, perhaps it should not be simply brain hours, but:

(brain hours) / (age of game)

?
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tckoppang wrote:

Good question. I have a feeling you would be a good person to ask...


Not really. Assuming you could define what is abstract, and excluding
wildly popular choices such as Chess and Go, there's really no data,
not even a source of data, for how much abstract games are actually
played.
 
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ddyer wrote:
I say foo on subjective greatest hits lists. Put your brain where your
mouth is, and score games based on how much they are actually
played. What would a brain hours list look like?

If we're going strictly on hours:

1. Chess - I played competitively up to the age of 18, have read numerous books on openings, endgames, and puzzles, and taught kids in the local library for a year or so. No other game, abstract or otherwise, will ever come close.

2. Go - haven't played anywhere near as much, but there are a lot of puzzle books out there; and I like puzzles.

3. My designs, naturally. Designing a game takes a lot of brain time. As a completed design, Crosshairs gets most table time because of the strong theme... and because two of my regular opponents frequently beat me.

4. ZÈRTZ - I playtested this, then played it a lot on pbmserv. I don't get to play much in real life.

5. Trax - another pbmserv game that I played an awful lot.

6. Santorini - with the elegant design and special powers, this is a great crossover game.

7. Hex - elegance incarnate.

8. Pylos - the design pulls in people who otherwise wouldn't play abstracts.

9. DVONN - again, I helped playtest this, and it remains one of my favourites of the series.

10. GIPF - I played in one of the GIPF tournaments in Belgium, and it remains one of my favourites. It doesn't get a lot of table time these days, but it should
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