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Subject: An interesting tactical problem rss

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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
1. Introduction

Although I may perhaps be unusual in viewing all games as characterized virtually entirely by the strategic/tactical problem(s) posed to the players, this view would seem perhaps the only meaningful way to look at abstracts. The game under review, Alapo, is what I would term a positional game similar in that sense to Camelot or any of the tafl games from the vantage-point of the defending player; namely, the object of play is to get a piece-- in this case no piece in particular-- to the opposite end of the board, subject only to the condition that the piece cannot be immediately captured. This is in contrast to targeted games in which the object is to capture a particular piece, such as Chess or tafl from the vantage point of the attacking player. These are of course only two of a nearly endless list of classes of abstract games, Go being one which is neither and which is usually termed an area control or area enclosure game.

One of the properties of positional games is that on the whole they tend to be shorter in terms of the time of game-play than targeted games. This can create the false impression these games are less strategically deep than targeted games. Although I can see the argument that this would be the case, I think it flawed because the about of tactical options lost by not being able to move the position of the target of an opponent's play is well compensated by the choice of specific target spaces which is the object of play both for one's self and one's opponent. Actual positional tactical abstracts (not roll and move or variations on it like Backgammon) with a single space as the goal are virtually if not completely unknown.

For those who are put off by abstracts' lack of theme, this type of game has then two advantages. As mentioned above, this type of game-- and this one in particular as well-- tends to be relatively quick. The other advantage is that this type of game has a natural analogy in many of the most popular sports-- football and American football not the least. If presented as something akin to "first goal/touchdown wins so long as you can't tag the piece out immediately" this game becomes one many a sport fanatic could easily become engrossed in. Yet for those like myself who like abstracts qua abstracts, this game poses an interestingly deep problem-- made that much more interesting by one's opponent's take on the play of it.

2. Components?

Since I play this game with components from other games and I am unaware of a commercially available set specific to the game, there aren't nearly components to discuss. Admittedly, some will be put off by this, but I find that this like most other things depends much on the manner of presentation. I tend to use pieces of the appropriate shapes [See below] from other games on a chess-board, ignoring the outermost ring of spaces on all sides. Curiosity evoked by presenting familiar objects differently can work wonders in interesting a prospective opponent in the game.

3. Rules

Alapo is played of a 6x6 grid of spaces. BGG's representational image of this game here shows an altered initial position which some players prefer but the more standard rules and initial position can be found here.
Unfortunately, I do not have an image of the standard opening to insert nor the means of making and uploading one myself.
All pieces are basic geometric shapes-- squares, triangles or circles-- and either large or small; each player has two pieces of any given size and shape. Each of the two player's pieces initially occupy the row rows nearest that player. The back row nearest the player has the large pieces, the second row the small. For this standard opening, the order of pieces is then identical in both rows: square, circle and then triangle to the center with the remaining pieces set up in reverse order to make the initial position symmetric about the central line of the board.

The only difference in movement between a large piece and a small is that a small piece moves only one space whereas a large piece moves any number of unobstructed spaces. Squares move either horizontally or vertically, but not diagonally-- like rooks in chess in the case of the large squares. Triangles move diagonally in any direction but not horizontally or vertically-- like bishops in chess, again in the case of large triangles. Finally, circles move in any directions in a straight line-- thus like queens and kings in chess respectively for the large and small.

Pieces capture as they move, the captured piece being removed from the board and hence from play. Commonly the pieces are white and black with white moving first as in chess but this is not necessarily standard.
For the rules lawyers, play alternates in turns and each player must move apiece on his turn. I've never encountered a situation where this is not possible.
The first player to move one of his pieces to the back row, i.e., the row nearest the opponent, such that it is not immediately captured wins. A player must capture such a piece if able.

4. Game-play

This game may be considered a light brain-burner. If in this disturbing analogy chess were a game to thoroughly toast the brain, this game only gives the beginnings of a nice golden-brown color. In the sports analogy, this is a sudden-death (tie-breaker?) scrimmage. The game can be addictive but this is not so bad a thing since several doses can be taken in quick succession.
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