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Subject: A Beautiful Dance rss

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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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Tiananmen is in many respects a unique game. It is an abstract game (played with an ordinary Go set) but highly thematic (students vs the Communist Party at the Tiananmen Square). It is an asymmetric game but not in terms of actions (both players place stones) but rather in terms of objectives (one player plays an area control game and the other a connection game). It even offers the classical Euro game dilemma of short-term gains (place stones) vs long-terms investments (save stones for later placements). If it hadn't been for the sinister theme, the way the white and black stones try to outmaneuver each other on the board could be described as a beautiful dance.

(In the following diagrams, colors and numbers show where stones have been placed. "Missing" numbers means that the stones have been banked, i.e. Black 1-4 followed by Black 8-9 means that White banked 5-7.)



First game: The Communist Party has blocked all Student attempts to reach the edge

The rules of Tiananmen are very simple. Black's objective is to enclose the central cross-shaped monument while White's objective is to connect the monument with the edge of the board. Black can only connect orthoganally while White can connect diagonally as well. The game is divided into days, where Black (the Communist Party) and White (the students) take turns to place stones. Each day, Black places 4, White 3, Black 2 and White 1. However, each stone must be placed in the first empty point north, south, west or east of the last placed stone, givng the players the ability to restrict each others' placements. In addition, a player can choose to refrain from placing the 4/3 stones and instead save 1 stone. The saved stones can be used for a future game-ending big move (place all at once) but this comes with a cost of a weaker present position on the board (less stones to work with).

Those simple rules give the player plenty of interesting decisions. Where should I place my stones to further my objective while at the same time not giving away any good placements for my opponent? How can I steer the actions to the part of the board where I need to place stones without givng my opponent the option to block me once we get there? When is the right time to save stones without compromising my position on the board? The asymmetry of the objectives adds an extra dimension to the thinking process.



Sixth game: The Communist Party overran the Students and caught them in a trap

So over to the critical question: Is Tiananmen solid or can it be solved? It's certainly too deep to give an answer directly. My initial feeling was that Black was always one step ahead thanks to always placing one more stone than White. Whenever White tried to break through, Black would soon be able to close all exits. Then I got concerned by the fact that Black has to spend more stones to accomplish her objective than White. If we assume that an average enclosure goes along the dots, it would cost Black 48 stones whereas White could reach the edge with as few as 8 stones. In addition, whereas Black must spend turns to spread all over the board to complete the enclosure, White only needs a breakthrough in one part of the board and can spend her initial turns to save stones for an endgame rush. However, Black soon learned to anticipate the rushes and preemptively block all potential exits and so the struggle continued. (So I'm sorry, Gord!, I still can't tell whether Black or White has an advantage.)



Seventh game: While the Communist Party tried to seal the Square, the Students broke through and reached the Monument (S=Stones from Reserve)

No matter if Black or White is strongest in the long run, the road to find out is very interesting and I expect that even players typically not interested in abstract games will find the continuous actions and counter actions of Tiananmen immersive. A new player will enter the game with a presumption that one side is definitely stronger than the other and then engage in an addictive process to prove or disprove this. Tiananmen may very well turn into a modern classic and if I hadn't known better, I would have guessed that the game Tiananmen is at least as old as the Forbidden City adjacent to the real Tiananmen Square.



Tenth game: The Students feinted an Eastern rush, turned and made it to the Western edge (S=Stones from Reserve)

Edit: The game has been corrected since errors were detected by user JGR314.

This review was also published at The Quest for the Perfect Game - Reviews by Gamers for Gamers.
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Joshua Greene
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Thanks for the sample games, they are helpful for understanding the rules. While simple, I seem to have some mental block inhibiting my understanding.

For other clueless folks, it looks like missing stone numbers were banked. In these sample games, it looks like white was the only player to take that option. Maybe slightly surprising since the freedom for black to play reserves anywhere feels pretty powerful.

One move question in the tenth game, I don't understand how stones 85 and 100 were legal plays? They are each "knight moves" away from the prior stones.
 
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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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JGR314 wrote:
Thanks for the sample games, they are helpful for understanding the rules. While simple, I seem to have some mental block inhibiting my understanding.

For other clueless folks, it looks like missing stone numbers were banked. In these sample games, it looks like white was the only player to take that option. Maybe slightly surprising since the freedom for black to play reserves anywhere feels pretty powerful.

One move question in the tenth game, I don't understand how stones 85 and 100 were legal plays? They are each "knight moves" away from the prior stones.


You're absolutely right, I guess we were tired at the tenth game. We replayed the game from the erratic move and updated the image. You're also right that missing stones were banked.

Why didn't Black bank any stones? Well, we thought it was better to quickly enclose the monument but I agree that it's a powerful option and something to try in future games.
 
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Kevin Thatcher
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Is move 125 in Game 7 legal? If so, why?
 
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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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I think it's legal. The rule says "Every new stone is added on the first free space North, East, West or South of the last stone played."

Stone 125 is placed on the first free space West of stone 124. The spaces immediately to the West are occupied by stones 115-118.)
 
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Kevin Thatcher
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Ah, now I get how the moves work. Thank you.

Based on this, it appears as if moves 102 and 103 in game 10 would need to be switched in order for move 104 to be legal, correct?

Kevin
 
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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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Ah, that is absolutely correct. It is updated now, thank you for noticing!
 
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Ien C.
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Thanks for this review -- and the play records! Definitely gets me curious about the game.

Question: how is move 13 in games six, seven, and ten legal? It's not orthogonal from move 12.
 
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Ien C.
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Rules question about the saved stones. They all must be used on a single turn and that turn much be game ending? Also when you use them, they are in addition to the normal 4/3/2/1 stones from that turn?
 
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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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ghopper21 wrote:
Thanks for this review -- and the play records! Definitely gets me curious about the game.

Question: how is move 13 in games six, seven, and ten legal? It's not orthogonal from move 12.


Hm, it was a long time ago but it looks like you're right. But if 13 had been placed to the left of 11 instead of above 11, it should be legal. If so, I'll see if I still have the diagrams so that I can update the games.
 
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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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ghopper21 wrote:
Rules question about the saved stones. They all must be used on a single turn and that turn much be game ending? Also when you use them, they are in addition to the normal 4/3/2/1 stones from that turn?


This rule is described on page 11 in the PDF. They cannot be placed in addition to the normal stones but instead of the 4 stones (for the Party) or the 3 stones (for the students). They cannot be placed instead of the 2 stones or the 1 stone.
 
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