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Subject: Catchup: a review rss

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Ryan James
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Davis
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A review of Catchup, the hex placement game by Nick Bentley

Catchup is one of those games. The rules seem almost trivial -- even more simple than Go, though slightly more complex than Hex -- though under their simplicity lies an ocean of depth. See, like Hex Catchup is played on a hex grid, though in this case it's a hexhex rather than diamond shape. And also like Hex the win condition is a simple mathematical property: have the largest connected component once the board is filled. But before I go on about it's mathematical elegance, perhaps I should describe the rules.

You start with an empty hexhex board, commonly with a side length of 5 though any nontrivial size will do. One player is white and the other is black. White starts by placing one white stone in any of the hexagonal cells. After this players alternate placing up to two stones of their color in empty cells. Except, if your placement(s) cause the size of the largest connected component at the end of your turn to be larger than the size of the largest connected component at the beginning of your turn, your opponent can place up to three stones on their next turn. It doesn't matter if you are overtaking your opponent or simply increasing your lead, the opponent can drop three stone. Once the board is full, whoever has the largest connected component wins. If there is a tie, consider each player's 2nd largest connected component, and so on.

And that is it. So why do I love this game so much? Its purity, its beauty, its elegance. Since once a stone is place it is there for the remainder of the game, there is remarkable clarity. You can always see your components and how to connect them. Also, the catchup mechanism will always be triggered since it is impossible to checker a hex grid with two colors (though you can with three, so a three player version of catchup might not be all that interesting). Further, the win condition and board geometry combine to make ties impossible (hexhex boards always have an odd number of hexes). And then there's the elegance of the catchup mechanism. Any time you advance the win condition, your opponent gets an extra stone, and the option of an extra stone is always an advantage. Clean and direct.

All of this combines to create one of the finest games I have ever played. It has the clarity and simplicity of connection games like Hex, but with a completely different goal which not only completely changes the dynamics of the game, but also enables a beautiful catchup mechanism. A catchup mechanism which not only helps keep the game engaging, but also becomes a device to exploit.

Catchup: there's an app for that. And quite a fine one. The app, available for iOS, is packed full of features without compromising its ease of use. It supports both asynchronous online and local two-player play as well as single player against an AI. An AI with an unprecedented 20 levels of ability, and it is adaptive. The game comes with several preset color schemes in addition to the ability to create your own (I'm currently using the green one). It also collects an impressive array of statistics. All this with some pleasant background music and a set of achievements that range from simply winning your first game to winning against the AI with at least level 14 while having at least 6 separate groups of stones.

In short if you at all enjoy abstract games you need to give Catchup a try, and you can't go wrong with the iOS app.
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Nick Bentley
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Madison
Wisconsin
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!!! Welp that's one more thing to cross off my bucket list.

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