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Subject: Random Thoughts on the Asymmetries of Symbol rss

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Ben Stanley
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Lots of people when introduced to Symbol have commented on its shared features with Shogi (adding in new forces during the game, even a variant that allows using captured pieces from your opponent) and Navia Dratp (customizable starting forces, unique movements and powers).

But following a conversation with a Symbol player recently, I was thinking a lot about the game's similarities to a family of abstract strategy games that isn't immediately apparent: Hnefatafl.

Tafl games fascinate me because they are asymmetric. Symbol has a symmetric board and would seem more like Chess than Hnefatafl to almost any observer, but in subtle and not so subtle ways, the mechanics of the game demand that the two players adopt very different philosophies. So even though their ultimate goal is the same, their play will be very different.

The forces are brought in as the game is played, so the board will develop asymmetrically, and one of the first things a player discovers about the game is that trying to mirror as the second player, or playing equally as aggressively as the first player, is going to get you killed incredibly quickly. You simply cannot play mirror strategies in Symbol.

In fact, sometimes people think the green units are the weakest units, or that spending time getting your leader mobile by adding or moving a piece to the same location as the leader is a waste of tempo.

The truth is, green units aren't the best for the player who has adopted the initial aggressive posture (typically the first player), but they are indispensable for the responding player, and likewise with leader mobility. The responding player against an aggressive assault has to think defensively for a few rounds, weather the storm of initial attacks, and come back on top because of the strength of his or her early strategy choices.

The game unfolds in an asymmetric way every time, despite the symmetry of the board. And though the second player's position seems slightly more fragile in the first few plays, the balance is undeniable after more experience with the game.

So, as a word of warning to new players: always take the time to analyze whether your position is going to get you destroyed before your third or fourth move, and take some precautions before it is too late! If you are the second player, you very well may be better served staying on the back rank of your territory with your leader, getting mobile, and deploying every land unit you have available before worrying too much about the formation of your broader attack.

In my experience with the game, first and second player have equal chances, but they play very different styles and rely on different pieces for their core strategies, and the winner is the player who is careful and creative with the game changing pieces (the red and black ones) that break symmetry even more.

Good luck and have fun!
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