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Subject: Internet Abstract Games Decathlon - Planning and Proposal Thread rss

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David Lame
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I came up with an idea for a project, and I would like to solicit input and find potential players.

I would like to hold a competition that involves playing board games,specifically abstracts, on the internet. There are some great sites out there hosting free games, and while playing on one of them (boardspace.net) an idea hit me, What I wanted to do was have a competition that spanned several games and a few web sites, which would prompt me to learn a few new games.

So, I gave it some thought and came up with the following proposal.

The Internet Abstract Games Decathlon

The plan is to select 10 games playable on various internet sites that meet the following criteria.

1. Abstract Strategy Games
2. Free
3. Live play (i.e. no PBEM or turn based)
4. Rated.

Players would play each of the 10 games over a set period of a few months, and try to get the highest rating possible. At the end of the set period, the ratings of the players would be used to compute a score and assign a number of points. The highest rating achieved would be worth 100 points. Other players would receive fractions of 100 based on how their rating compares to the max rating.

Note that the score is based entirely on ratings, so there's no need to schedule a lot of games against each other. Sometimes internet tournaments run into problems because one player is matched against another, and that player isn't showing up to play. Has he dropped out, or just busy this week? Since all that matters is the rating, that won't hold up the tournament play. In theory, the competition could run for months with no one in the Decathlon playing against each other directly.

So, the next question was what games to play? This is where it gets tricky. I looked around for appropriate sites, and found a few that were quite good, I especially liked Playok.com, Boardspace.net, and IGGameCenter.com. There were other sites that were excellent, but specialized in only one game. (e.g. Chess.com and clubxiangqi.com for those two games.)

At this point, I decided to throw the question open to potential players. If this sounds like fun to you, what games would you like to play? To get the conversation started, I picked some of the most popular games played at the sites I liked. Based on that, here's a list. This list is just a starting point. Please, feel free to suggest games you would prefer, or say that you absolutely hate one or more of the games below.

Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) http://playok.com
Shogi (Japanese Chess) http://playok.com
Hive http://boardspace.net
Zertz http://boardspace.net
Palago http://boardspace.net
Fanorona http://boardspace.net
Hex http://iggamecenter.com
Crosslet http://iggamecenter.com
Havannah http://iggamecenter.com
Connect4 http://iggamecenter.com

Again, I emphasize this is NOT the list we will play. It's a starting point for discussion, based on what games are popular at these sites. I want suggestions from potential players. For my part, I would throw out Connect4, and possibly a couple of others I am not familiar with, and add in Chess and/or another Chess variation. (Grand Chess, anyone?) However, that's my preference. I want to hear from others who like this idea.

To administer all this, I'm working on adding a page to my web site (http://gamesinmichigan.com) where players can sign up, and another one for reporting and tracking scores as the competition goes on. The web site will be up by October 1. For what it's worth, the only private information I'll collect is an email address, and I don't share private information with anyone for any reason. My web site is pure hobby, and the only advertising on it is free, limited to game sites, event announcements, that sort of thing.

I don't need hordes of people to participate in order to make this work. A handful of interested players would be just fine. If you are interested, drop me a line in my private mailbox here at BGG, or email me (dave at gamesinmichigan.com).

Meanwhile, I've prepared a web page that puts more flesh on this idea. You can find it at http://gamesinmichigan.com/decathlon .

So, please make suggestions for tournament suggestions or games you would like to play. Reply to this thread, drop me a private message, or send an email. I hope to see some kindred spirits in some internet gaming rooms within a month or so.



 
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David Molnar
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Ratings don't work. The graphs of who plays who on these sites are far too sparse (and disconnected).
 
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David Lame
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molnar wrote:
Ratings don't work. The graphs of who plays who on these sites are far too sparse (and disconnected).


I think that there are more options to describe ratings than “work” or “don’t work”. For the purposes of this tournament/competition/activity, I think the answer is that they “work well enough”.

If the purpose of the competition were to award a large prize, or to crown a definitive “World Champion” of abstract strategy games, I would say that ratings were a bad way to do it. As it turns out, there are no prizes, and no fame and glory attached to this event beyond a mention on some rather obscure web pages. This event has more to do with community building than it has to do with intense competition, and for the most part, it's just something fun to do. Victory and defeat are incidental consequences. For those purposes, ratings will work just fine.

Are you, or anyone else reading this thread, thinking, “Hmmm….this event sounds like fun, but I’m concerned about using ratings as the scoring mechanism. I might play if he changed that?” If that’s the case, then I’ll gladly explain why I came up with the method I did and the advantages of ratings, or I would listen to alternative recommendations. Otherwise, rest assured I’ve thought this through, and I’m certain the mechanics of running the event will work just fine. I can’t guarantee that many people will be interested enough to play, but I can guarantee that, for those who do play, the system will “work”.
 
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Clark D. Rodeffer
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Dave, why did you decide to only use live play? Just wondering. And how would you handle players who already have established ratings at the various sites? Would they need to start a new account or something to have fresh ratings?
 
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David Lame
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CDRodeffer wrote:
Dave, why did you decide to only use live play? Just wondering. And how would you handle players who already have established ratings at the various sites? Would they need to start a new account or something to have fresh ratings?


Two reasons.

1. It's what I like. I played in some turn based online tourneys, like the Cannon tournament we played in, and enjoyed them immensely. The problem was that I enjoyed it too immensely. I was tempted to check game status several times a day. Not good for me.

2. It makes the time frame of the competition much, much, shorter. It might not be possible to finish a turn-based Shogi game in three months at the pace of one move per day.

After I get the signin page set up, if someone wants to use it for a PBEM or turn based similar tournament, I could probably accommodate that, but, for me, I won't play.

As for using established ratings, the players would just start with a "head start". If that seems unfair, I worked it out in my head why it really wasn't....much. It's an imperfection in the system, but not a huge one. I can elaborate more later, but right now lunchtime's about over. Back to work.
 
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Clark D. Rodeffer
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OK. As long as the sites are free, I'll try to play. I can't promise I'll be able to find time to play in all the different events, though. Do you have a list of the sites that offer free real time play, or at least those you're considering so far? It would be great to know this so I can check out the lists of games to see what I'd be most interested in playing. Generally, I prefer the lesser known abstracts rather than the biggies.
 
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Dave Dyer
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It doesn't make any sense to compare "ratings" from different
rating systems, and based on playing games with players outside
the tournament.

Alternative: build your own rating web page, have players
enter the results rated games among the participants. This
gets you both ratings that mean something and a running tally
on the progress of the tournament.
 
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Arty Sandler
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ddyer wrote:
It doesn't make any sense to compare "ratings" from different
rating systems, and based on playing games with players outside
the tournament.

Alternative: build your own rating web page, have players
enter the results rated games among the participants. This
gets you both ratings that mean something and a running tally
on the progress of the tournament.

Agreed.

Actually, you don't need any rating system for the tournament but games results only (i.e. 2:0, 0:2 or 1:1).
 
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David Lame
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ddyer wrote:
It doesn't make any sense to compare "ratings" from different
rating systems,


That's why they are normalized to 100. Does it make sense to compare scores in the high jump with scores in the javelin throw? Somehow, track and field decathletes manage.

Quote:
and based on playing games with players outside
the tournament.


Actually, that is precisely the point of an ELO rating system, to allow people to compare abilities even if they never play each other It works very well if you have a large pool of players, as in Chess ratings. Of course, we don't, so there will be some compromise in the system. If they don't work, why do you post them on the site?

As fate would have it, I've been organizing competitions of one sort or another for many years, using lots of different scoring systems. Every system has pluses and minuses. This system isn't perfect, but it's good enough. You have to keep in mind the goals of the tournament. If the goal is making sure that the "right" player wins, some systems work better than others, and this one would be weak. If that isn't your primary goal, there are better systems, and this one is good.

Quote:

Alternative: build your own rating web page.
have players enter the results rated games among the participants.


Are you willing to do that amount of work? Neither am I and neither are they. In the thread on that other site, you talked about how this tournament would be way too much work. That's because it would be impossible to get people to arrange play times to meet
each other at 10 different games on at least three different sites and coordinate all that effort. I agree. That's why I invented a system where that wasn't necessary.


I'll repeat. I can't guarantee that anyone will want to play, but I can guarantee that the system will "work". Really. Players, sign up. The system will function just fine.
 
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David Lame
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I;ve added a rather lengthy (several paragraph) discussion of the motivation and justification of Elo ratings as the basis for the scoring of this event.

Short answer: There is no way to guarantee that people will get to the same place and time in order to play a more conventional tournament, and the mathematics of the Elo rating can make a meaningful judgement between two players even if they never play each other.

I will consider some sort of mandatory "playoff" at the end of the tournament if the outcome is in doubt based on the Elo ratings, but I haven't decided the appropriate rules for that just yet.
 
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Dave Dyer
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Well, whatever the weaknesses of rankings comparisons done
this way, I will concede that all the players will have the
same opportunity to exploit them.
 
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David Molnar
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Meadmaker wrote:

ddyer wrote:

Alternative: build your own rating web page.
have players enter the results rated games among the participants.


Are you willing to do that amount of work? Neither am I and neither are they.


I'm going to suggest that it wouldn't be all that much work, if you were willing to abandon ELO. Put a spreadsheet up at Google Docs. Anybody in the "decathlon" can edit the document, but they have to "register" at your site first to get a password or you have to add them to a group or whatever. All that is tracked on the spreadsheet is who beat who; each game just has a big-ass matrix. Periodically, grab the spreadsheet, and for each game find the right eigenvector of the big-ass matrix with eigenvalue 1. This eigenvector is unique as long as the who-played-who graph is connected. The entries in the eigenvector give you the relative strengths of the different players. (Maybe you have to normalize the columns first.) Winner has the responsibility to enter their games; if you cheat you're out.

 
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David Lame
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molnar wrote:

I'm going to suggest that it wouldn't be all that much work, if you were willing to abandon ELO. Put a spreadsheet up at Google Docs.


I never thought about an editable document like that. It is a good idea, and would certainly lower the administrative burden compared to what I was thinking, I might incorporate it and work in an incentive for extra points if you play games against tournament opponents.

I still like Elo for a different reason that Dave Dyer touched on. The weaknesses of the Elo system allow all players to exploit them equally, and the best methods of exploitation involve playing more games against more people. That's a good thing. Remember that determining a winner is only one aspect of a competition.

There are other ways to exploit that system. One is creating phony players who can deliberately lose to your "official" player at a site. That's cheating and is not allowed. And how will I prevent cheating? The honor system.
 
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David Molnar
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Do you want to do a trial run? Just a month or two? Test the setup?
 
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David Lame
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molnar wrote:
Do you want to do a trial run? Just a month or two? Test the setup?


If I stick with the original plan, the tournament itself is basically a trial run.

I'm having a hard time trying to come up with a method to blend the more traditional idea of "tournament" with my idea of the ratings based method. The original thought process that led to my idea was to have a competition that spanned several different games, and "decathlon" is just one of those words everyone is familiar with, so I thought about an internet based decathlon.

But then I got to thinking mechanics. If I wanted a round robin in each game, and only 5 players competed, each player would have to play 40 different games. That requires each player to seek out and find other players on 40 different occasions, and to to record the scores 40 different times. That's a heck of a lot of work. If more than 5 competed, it becomes totally impossible to do a round robin, so there has to be some form of elimination style tournament, where there are rounds and people advance from round to round, but how do you do that with 10 different competitions? Moreover, it means some players waiting around for the rounds to finish, which becomes a very difficult scheduling problem, and you have to deal with inevitable dropouts by players.

The ratings based tournament fixed a whole lot of those problems. I'm having trouble trying to figure out a way to blend in the more traditional concept that a tournament has to include, or be limited to, head to head play among tournament participants without creating a logistical nightmare.

I could drop the requirement that every player has to compete in every game.

Well, at this point I'll solicit input. Let's imagine that 10 people compete in the event. A round robin would require 90 games per player, for a total of 900 games. That's too much. What other scheme would reduce that to a manageable level?

ETA: Actually, 450 games, but still too much.
 
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I've been thinking about this problem and how to make it work. I agree that trying to push up your rating doesn't seem quite as "tournament-like" as actually playing games against specific opponents. On the other hand, my previous post explains why doing a traditional tournament is just too much work for an event with 10 games.

Even with 1 game, I see a problem, and I wonder how other people have solved it in the past. The problem comes when people drop out with some, but not all, of their games played. Suppose you are doing a round robin tournament played via the internet. Now, player A plays against player B, and wins. 1 point for player A.

For one reason or another, player B and player C somehow never get together to play a game. Now what? If C is clearly in the tournament, and B is not, then you can say that B forfeits, and 1 point for C. That gives C an advantage, effectively having a "bye" for his game against B, which A had to actually play. If A had lost, instead, there's an obvious problem.

You could say that all unplayed games are draws. 1/2 point for C. Now C is at a disadvantage, because A got one point against B, but C could get no more than 1/2 point.

You could eliminate all points from games involving players who don't finish the tournament, but what if each player insists he wanted to play the other, but the other was at fault for never showing up to play? Besides, you've created an administrative burden, and a lot of hard feelings among players whose victories were just nullified.

Thoughts like this lead me back to a ratings based tournament, but I am toying with a few alternatives. They all work on the same theme. Each player plays a certain number of games against every other. If those games are actually played, then the results are recorded and points awarded as normal. However, if the games are not played, it's back to ratings. ELO ratings are used to predict the probability of a game's outcome before the game is played. For all unplayed games, the ELO rating is used to determine the probability of a win, and fractional points are awarded.

For example, a 200 point spread in Elo ratings means that the higher rated player has approximately a 75% chance of winning. (Actual numbers may vary. It depends on the Elo scheme used.) Suppose three people play a round robin tournament. A defeats B. B defeats C. A and C do not play. The final ratings of A, B, and C, are 1000, 900, and 800 respectively. B played two games. He won one and lost one. 1 point for B. A won one game, but didn't play against C. His Elo rating predicts he would in with a .75 probability. His final score is 1.75. C's final score is 0.25.

I'm still suspicious of it, because it still might create an advantage for someone based on playing or not playing, but I think that advantage can be minimized by a few tricks of the rules setup.

Feedback would be appreciated.
 
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Dave Dyer
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How about this; don't call it a tournament, call it a club.
The club maintains an internal list of champions (and possibly
runners up) in each of the games. Members of the club can
challenge for positions in the winners list in particular games.
Your "overall champion" would then be the one with the most
points accumulated from individual game championships.

-- Lots of advantages of something like this. Players can come
and go, and games can be added or removed, without damaging the
overall structure.

Your only real problem is what happens when players sit on their
titles and not accept challenges. My solution is a hierarchy
with one player at the top, 2 below him, 4 below them and so on.

To move up, you challenge someone at the same level - winner moves
up. Loser stays the same, and the least active player of the layer
above is pulled down. Consequently, inactive players move steadily
down and out. A side benefit is that there will be continuous
churning among the positions of the top players.

I've thought about this as an alternative (or supplement)
to the ELO-like rankings at Boardspace.
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David Lame
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ddyer wrote:
How about this; don't call it a tournament, call it a club.
The club maintains an internal list of champions (and possibly
runners up) in each of the games.


I want something with a fixed beginning and end date.



Here's a tourney format that might work well for internet game tournaments. It comes from the SCA and we call it a William Marshal tournament. There are several variations, but the basics are the same. I'll describe how one variation works in the real world (if you can call the SCA the real world), and the adaptation to internet play should be straightforward.

All fighters are given 10 coints. Then, they all take the field at the same time. A fighter can then challenge any other fighter. They fight a bout. The loser gives the winner a coin. The tournament is scheduled to last a fixed time. At the end of the day, the fighter with the most coins wins.

This works best when there's a big enough field that everyone can fight on at the same time, and when the tournament is more for fun than for a prestigious victory. The advantage is that people can fight as much or as little as they like without messing up the tournament. No one has to be on time.

Adapting this to internet games would be trivial in some cases, but probably not for the Decathlon. The problem is that the games are distributed over a long enough period that a player might show up on a web site and not have a Decathlon opponent available. That's really why I came up with using ratings. If someone goes to the site, and no Decathlete is available to play, they can still play someone else, or in the worst case, a bot, and still make progress toward winning.
 
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David Lame
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if the tournament were held today, this would be the lineup;

Xiangqi - Playok.com
Shogi - Playok.com
Hive - Boardspace.net
Fanorona - Boardspace.net
Lines of Action - Boardspace.net
Zertz - Boardspace.net
Qyshinsu - Boardspace.net
Hex - IGGameCenter.com
Emergo - IGGameCenter.com
Jeson Mor - IGGameCenter.com


Don't see one of your favorites? Suggest it. This will be a smallish event. A few voices, possibly even one voice, suggesting a game might be enough to change the lineup.

Some things that are pretty much set in stone about how this event will be run.

Signup will begin October 1, and the game lineup will be fixed at that time.
There will be ten games at no more than 3 web sites.
Ratings will play a role in determining the winner.

I am seriously considering replacing the ratings-only method of placement with the following alternative scheme.

In each of the 10 games, players will play an N round robin competition. In an N round robin, each player playes every other player N times. For games that are actually played, the outcome of the game will be used to award points (1 point win, 0.5 draw, 0 loss). For games that are not played, final ratings will be used to predict the winners, and points will be awarded that way. The winner will be responsible for recording the play of the game at a web page I prepare at gamesinmichigan.com.
 
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Arty Sandler
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I would replace Jeson Mor with some other game. From my experience Jeson Mor is not the best choice.

Some of my suggestions that can be played on igGameCenter: Camelot, Amazons, Linkage, Stlts, Ordo, Breakthrough.
 
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This reminds me of the Vielseitigkeitsliga (diversity league) on BrettSpielWelt. You can easily adapt their system to an abstract games decathlon:

Make a list of 11 (or 9) abstract games. (Yeah, ok, so it's not really a decathlon.) Each players now plays a best of 11 match against each other player. Create an application that makes playlists for each match, indicating the (random) order in which the games must be played (this is to make sure all games are played).

The advantage of this system is that each player has to make only N-1 appointments to play games (because they play all games in one match at the same time), and not (N-1) * 10 (that is, for each game separately). Besides, because they're all best-of-11 matches, some matches may be concluded after only 6 or 7 matches, which reduces the total time investment.

More info on the Vielseitigkeitsliga is at http://www.brettspielwelt.de/Forum/index.php/topic,61890.0.h....

And, by the way, there are some abstract games you may want to consider on BSW: Dvonn, Yinsh, Go, PenguinHey! That's My Fish!, Bohnduell (a Mancala game). Unfortunately they're all hidden away in the game archive, but they're still there.
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For the most part I agree with Clark's point of view that lesser-known games are preferable. I really don't see the point of including, for example, Hive - it's not at all difficult to find opponents for Hive, there already has been at least one tournament on boardspace for Hive, and an inexperienced player is unlikely to be competitive against an experienced one. However, at the other end of the spectrum, some of the games Arty mentioned, there's just so little information about them on the geek (as in, one comment, by the designer) that we don't really know whether they're good games. Also, I think it's quite important that whatever games are chosen are certain to end in a decision. And I'd be wary of asymmetric games such as Linkage in this format; you'd have to play at least twice as many games of those.

OK, so what do I like? Damn, Arty, you've been busy...
I'd love to try out one of nestor's games, either Hippos & Crocodiles or Adaptoid.
I'm a big fan of Atoll; to me it is clearly superior to Hex, but doesn't seem to have gotten a lot of attention. Gonnect and Unlur are also good alternatives that I'd choose before Hex, again largely because it is just easier to find opponents for Hex.
Likewise, I think Penguin/Hey, That's My Fish! is similar to, but just a better game than Amazons. It can be played live at yucata. (I do understand your preference to keep the number of sites down.)
Other games at iggamecenter that I've been wanting to play and haven't are Arimaa and Laska. And I've got a soft spot for Clobber.
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Arty Sandler
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Hippos & Crocodiles and Clobber are indeed good games (they both are in my "favorites" list). Unlur is asymmetric so it would pose the same problems as Linkage. Arimaa is a good choice but as you mentioned for Hive:
Quote:
an inexperienced player is unlikely to be competitive against an experienced one


I would replace Laska with Bashni but it's my personal preference. People who are not used to Russian Checkers may find it Bashni more confusing than Laska. But, as for my experience, Laska is less interesting game: it is less dynamic and more forced (i.e. it is not a rare case when you get into a long sequence of moves, which are all forced for each side).

I would also add some Mancala games. Toguz Kumalak (the recent addition) is a great game. I also like Kauri

I like Aoll too. I would like to suggest Pex as another good replacement (or addition) to Hex.

Harzdame is a new game that is rather interesting Checkers variant.
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Benedikt Rosenau
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artyomch wrote:

I would replace Laska with Bashni but it's my personal preference. People who are not used to Russian Checkers may find it Bashni more confusing than Laska. But, as for my experience, Laska is less interesting game: it is less dynamic and more forced (i.e. it is not a rare case when you get into a long sequence of moves, which are all forced for each side).

I second that. For one, Bashni is the original game, and Laska is the copy. For another, Laska as a game is practically broken. The cramped board, the littles choices for moves in general and forced moves in particular make the game a target for opening book attacks based on brute force. There is software on the net doing exactly that. Any player who does not use this software is lost. And the game fizzles out quickly in the few lines that are not forced losses. I will give examples in a forthcoming review.

artyomch wrote:

Harzdame is a new game that is rather interesting Checkers variant.

Well, thank you, less draws than International Checkers.
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So many choices.....

My own tastes run to traditional games and chess variants, but I will definitely follow the mob rule and go with what's popular.

I did want a mixture of old and new, and a mixture of very popular versus somewhat obscure. I'm strongly inclined toward a game like Hex, because although it is very popular as abstracts go, it's still a pretty obscure game. I, for example, have never played it. One of the purposes of the tournament is to give people an excuse to play a game they've always thought might be cool, but never got around to playing. For me, Hex fits that mold. The "alternatives" to Hex don't. I'm not worried about the fact that experienced players have an advantage. I think that's a good thing, actually, but if someone really wants to make a run for victory, and has never played the game, they do have a month of practice between the October 1 signup start and the official game play start. The list of games will be written in stone by October 1.

I will probably post a new "if it were held today" list in the middle of this week. Of the games on the list right now, here's my thoughts on how likely they are to survive, based on these discussions.

Xiangqi - Playok.com
Shogi - Playok.com

At least one of the above will survive. I want both of them, but would bow to mob rule if no one writes to me in their support. So I guess I'm making a personal plea. Write in and save these games! But at least one will survive, just on the "tournament director's choice" rule.


Hive - Boardspace.net - Strongly inclined to keep..
Fanorona - Boardspace.net - Strongly inclined to keep, but would bow to pressure if there is more support for other games.

Lines of Action - Boardspace.net - Could be displaced.
Zertz - Boardspace.net - I am very strongly inclined to have one of the Gipf series in the decathlon, and this is the most popular.

Qyshinsu - Boardspace.net Could be displaced.

Hex - IGGameCenter.com - Recent discussion has suggested alternatives, but I'm inclined toward keeping.


Emergo - IGGameCenter.com - Very strongly inclined to have at least one Checkers variant. Could be replaced by Bashni or International Checkers.


Jeson Mor - IGGameCenter.com - Almost certainly going to go away.


Possible replacements: Camelot, Toguz Kumalak (because I like the idea of a Mancala game, but frankly I don't like most that I've ever played. I'll go check it out and if I like it, and it gets more support from other players, it could go in), Amazons, Hippos and Crocodiles. Of course, a sudden surge in popularity (i.e. if two people write me emails or PMs) could add any other game to this list.

 
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