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Guerilla Checkers
A game for 2 players by Brian Train


"History may not repeat itself but it does rhyme, and every gloss by a deconstructionist need not be a loss, pushing us further into an abyss of skepticism and indeterminacy."
- Joseph Anthony Wittreich in Feminist Milton (1987)


There was a point in my gaming life where I was obsessed with Go, and I played virtually nothing else. Despite having never risen above the level of patzer¹, I've always loved the game and the thinking patterns and skills required to play that game well have translated well into other games.

A game I never really got into was Checkers. While I readily took to Chess as a kid, I had an aunt who was a serious competition level amateur Checkers player who revelled not only in crushing me, but in rubbing it in, which had the net effect of me giving up on it altogether. Some good came out of it though, which is that I learned at an early age not to be a sore winner.

So what happens when you take the key concepts of two classic well known and beloved abstract games, apply some of the academic principles around counterinsurgency warfare to it, and make a game?

You get Guerrilla Checkers.

The application of military thinking to an abstract game is nothing new. The Japanese used Go as a tool for thinking about how to invade and conquer the Pacific in World War II for instance, shown on the right².

Brain Train is well known as a designer of asymmetric warfare, especially his games on counterinsurgencies. Brian has introduced this game at professional conferences with great success, and you can read more about it at his blog, Ludic Futurism

The game is a relatively simple affair with an 8x8 square board (any Chess board would do), 6 pieces to represent the counterinsurgent forces that are placed on the squares as in Checkers, and 66 insurgent markers, which are always placed on the intersections of the squares as in Go.


The initial board set up has six counterinsurgent (COIN) units and no guerrillas. The guerrillas move first by placing two units down on the intersections of the squares. The first one may be placed anywhere, and the second must be placed orthogonally adjacent to the first one.

Players then alternate turns. The COIN player moves their pieces like a checker king piece, diagonally into another square. The guerrilla player then places two pieces, starting adjacent to an existing unit on the board, and the second must again be placed orthogonally adjacent.

The COIN player may, but is not required to, capture guerrilla pieces by jumping over them, checkers style, and must continue capturing - so they cannot choose to capture just one piece, they must continue going.

The guerrilla player can capture a COIN piece by surrounding it on all sides, similar in concept to Go of capturing a stone. This is made easier for on the sides, for all the edge intersections are considered virtual guerrillas for the purposes of capture, meaning that you need but a single guerrilla to capture a COIN piece in the corner, and could capture a COIN piece with two along the edge.


The strategy for the game is pleasantly complex and challenging. The guerrilla player wants to avoid making obvious chains of capture, but is nicely constrained by the placement rules. The COIN player has the unenviable task of trying to ward off capture of their pieces, and furthermore has to decide if capturing is worth it, especially if the chain would force them to the side or worse, the corner!

Brain Train schooling me.

Victory is simple. If you've cleared the board of your opponent's pieces, you win. If the guerrilla player runs out of stones (they start the game with 66 of them), the COIN player wins.

When Brian taught me this game, we used his variant of alternating sides and seeing how well we fared. We matched up well with the COIN player winning both games with three COIN units left on the board.

Brian said that 66 guerrilla units felt right - fewer and it was too easy for the COIN player, more and the guerrillas could always win. I'm sure someone of a mathematical bent could do some kind of regression analysis to determine the ideal number, but the game works well as offered.

I'm very fond of abstract games, despite my lack of rigour in playing them. There's a reason I prefer games with a little bit of chance or aspects that allow me to make decisions based on instinct rather than thorough analysis. That's not to say that I don't enjoy games like Chess and Go, quite the contrary, but rather that I recognize why I'm not as strong in those games as I could be, and I've long ago made my choices with regard to the reward for effort equation we all make along the way in our hobby.

Guerrilla Checkers is a nice entry in the abstract game category as it successfully does two highly admirable things.

d10-1 First, it is immediately familiar by using elements from classic abstract games that we are all familiar with. Both Go and Checkers are classics for a reason, and using these elements makes a lot of sense.

It reminds me strongly of Richard Sivel's use of playing cards and the classic suits for both Friedrich and Maria, which allowed players to get on to the business of learning what strategies to try and pursue without the added burden of having to learn some newfangled iconography.

d10-2 Second, this hybridization of two classic abstracts with the overlay of a thematic idea results in a game that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is the kind of game that once you play it you simultaneously say "wow, this is really nifty" and think "why didn't I think of that!"

Guerrilla Checkers is a game I can highly recommend for fans of abstract games. It highly appeals to my inner Go player and successfully lets me forget about my early bad experiences with Checkers. The latter alone is a remarkable achievement.

¹ patzer is technically a Chess term, but its applicability to my skill level in Go is most apt.

² The image is a reproduction of an article from the May 18, 1942 edition of Life magazine, as shown in the Go Player's Almanac.



Thank you for reading this latest installment of Roger's Reviews. I've been an avid board gamer all my life and a wargamer for over thirty years. I have a strong preference for well designed games that allow players to focus on trying to make good decisions.

Among my favourites I include Twilight Struggle, the Combat Commander Series, the Musket & Pike Battle Series, Julius Caesar, Maria, EastFront, Here I Stand, Napoleon's Triumph, Unhappy King Charles!

You can subscribe to my reviews at this geeklist: [Roger's Reviews] The Complete Collection and I also encourage you to purchase this very stylish microbadge: mb

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Miguel (working on TENNISmind...)
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My latest game: Big*Bang, a simple abstract about the first minutes of the Universe
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Thanks for the review!

From reading the rules the game looked original, simple enough and intriguing. Your comments enhance this positive first impression! And the nestorgames edition looks great, and functional.

Concerning the number of guerrilla tokens, besides finding the 'ideal' balanced value, maybe it could be used as a parameter to handicap the game, with an easier or harder mode for the COIN?
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Russ Williams
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Or if players think the game is unbalanced, they could bid for number of guerrilla tokens during setup! (I.e. whoever would willingly play the Guerilla side with fewer tokens will play the Guerrillas with that many tokens. In case of equal bid, randomly choose sides.)
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Robert
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Any chess board may do (and I will likely try Guerrilla Checkers that way) but I love the look of the nestorgames version.

Great review! Maybe a review of Ukrainian Crisis & The Little War in the future?
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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BankofDracula wrote:
Any chess board may do (and I will likely try Guerrilla Checkers that way) but I love the look of the nestorgames version.

Great review! Maybe a review of Ukrainian Crisis & The Little War in the future?

It's on my list!
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Brian Train
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Thanks roger! You are very kind. I was glad to teach you the game (even if I am not very good at playing it myself ).
When I first developed the game I tested it with an infinite number of guerrillas.
They always won at about 84 or more, so I cut it back to 66 which gave about an even chance.
Of course you can adjust as much as you want by allowing recycling of guerilla pieces.

Brian

Ps a friend made a simple version of this game for Android devices.
No AI but it looks nice.
Email me for the .apk file if you want to try it.
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