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Subject: Checkers: it is better than you think... it has to be. rss

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Bill Anonymous
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This is my first review...

I have a young son (3 1/2) who is starting to get interested in games so I have been looking at games that he will be ready to play very soon. As a result, I came to BGG to look up some of the games. I tend to like abstract strategy games, so I started looking at those. Almost by chance, I came upon checkers and was shocked by how low its rating was.

Then I remembered my own personal experiences of the game. Long, slow games against my brothers where we carefully waited for the other person to leave one of their checkers vulnerable and then we would jump... unless of course one of our checkers was vulnerable and then we would defend it. Games lasted a long time and I remember we often got bored with a game before resolution. At the same time I knew that checkers has been around a long time and was played by many, many people (at least it use to be). So I decided to see if there was more to this game.

First Discover: Mandatory Jumps
I am not sure if I knew, when I was a child, that jumps were mandatory. But as I reviewed the rules, I know they are now. It changes the nature of the game considerably. Instead of a long drawn out process waiting until your opponent has no choice but to make a bad move, I have found that there are often lots of jumps in checkers, speeding up game play considerably.

Second Discovery: Strategy
While I am hardly an expert at checkers or its strategy, I am starting to gain an appreciation for the fact that there is a lot of strategy there. A lot of the tactics of checkers evolve over a number of moves (nothing like watching someone jump all the way across the board in three jumps and be kinged). I am not going to claim the strategy is the equal of Chess or Go... but it is deep enough to spend years learning and still have more to live.

Third Discovery: Fun
Having played a number of games in the last few weeks, I can only say that when played by the proper rules checkes is fun. The game can be played relatively quickly (if one desires) or it can be considered carefully over time.

Now I will list some advantages and disadvantages as I see them.

Advantages

1. Simple Rules an simple set up. Very few games have rules as simple as checkers; even Go is complicated in comparison. Meanwhile it only takes a minute to get the board ready.

2. The game can be played quickly. This makes it an ideal game to play when you are waiting on others to show up or finish their game during game nights.

3. Its skill based, but at least at my skill level, the momentum of the game can swing fairly rapidly if someone makes a big jump.

4. There is a fair bit of strategic depth to the game meaning that you can outthink your opponent if you set your mind to it.

Disadvantages

1. It is not chess... Yes many people are going to look down on it because it is not their favorite abstract whether that be Go, chess or one of the modern abstracts. Or because of its rural image.

2. Its hard to find a good checkers set. Why are the dark squares and the dark checkers in most checkers sets the same color?

Answers to objections
Now some users, in the comments section on the game, have voiced some objections I would like to address.

1. Its solved. Given enough time, every strategy game will be solved. I expect that given 20 years, even Go will be solved. The game tree for Checkers is still beyond the ability of any man to memorize.

2. Its boring. Ultimately I think this complaint is based on tossing out the mandatory jump rule. It might also be based on the number of times the game has been played. I expect that few gamers on BGG play most their games quite as much as they played checkers when they were kids. I also think their experience with growing bored with it as a kid color their perceptions of the game now.

3. It is too simple. Often these complaints seem to be accompanied by complaints about always loosing; maybe the game isn't as simple as you think it is?

In any case, if you haven't tried checkers in a number of years, maybe give it another try, with fresh eyes.

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Bill
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Pete K
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MarylandBill wrote:


In any case, if you haven't tried checkers in a number of years, maybe give it another try, with fresh eyes.

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Bill


Make me!

... and that's my only checkers joke.

Actually, nice review. I was thinking of writing one myself, but I haven't been able to get the kids interested in checkers lately.

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K Septyn
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While I haven't played Checkers in about a gajillion years, I remember it the same way you do. I wonder if the play is more interesting not only with the mandatory capture rule (which I remember not liking as a kid), but also on a larger board like 10x10 or 12x12.
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Claudio
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Weird. I remember playing without mandatory jumping as well. I played recently with, and I too was amazed by how much play there is.
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Jonathan Harrison
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MarylandBill wrote:
I expect that given 20 years, even Go will be solved.

Agree with everything but this. I expect that Go will not be solved, ever.

Good job reviewing!
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Florent Becker
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Septyn wrote:
While I haven't played Checkers in about a gajillion years, I remember it the same way you do. I wonder if the play is more interesting not only with the mandatory capture rule (which I remember not liking as a kid), but also on a larger board like 10x10 or 12x12.


International Checkers is indeed an even nicer game, try it if you have the chance. Not only is capture mandatory, but it has to be the biggest capture. Allows some nice trick to control your opponent's moves.
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p55carroll
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HuginnGreiling wrote:
MarylandBill wrote:
I expect that given 20 years, even Go will be solved.

Agree with everything but this. I expect that Go will not be solved, ever.

Why? It's just another damned puzzle like all other games, isn't it? Just bigger than most. You think there's something so mystical about it that it defies mathematics?
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K Septyn
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Re Go: part of it must be the board size. 19x19 with each intersection in one of three states, that's 3^361, or something like 1.4x10^172 different boars (including rotations and reflections). You have to find a way to abstract the game into one of subgames or groups, then deal with the way those subgroups interact. Also, the game tree can go up and down thanks to the removal of groups (opening space for new plays), unlike chess or checkers where you move toward a decreasing level of complexity.

Also, there's a difference betwen "solved" and "create an algorithm to win against humans". Despite Chinook and its massive endgame book, Checkers isn't "solved"--there isn't anything that says optimum play will lead to a first or second player win or draw. Chinook will win or draw most of the time because it's been programmed to play optimally once it gets into its endgame book, but the opening and middle game require more logic than "if x then y".

Finally, games can wind up being NP-complete, which means they can take impractical amounts of time to solve the larger they get. Minesweeper has been shown to be NP-complete, of all things.

I don't disagree that it's "another damned puzzle", but it has some programming challenges to it.
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Florent Becker
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Septyn wrote:

Finally, games can wind up being NP-complete, which means they can take impractical amounts of time to solve the larger they get. Minesweeper has been shown to be NP-complete, of all things.


Not to nitpick, but while (good) puzzles tend to be NP-complete, games with non-trivial interactivity tend to be EXPTIME-complete, which is even harder. (Generalized) Checkers, go and chess are all EXPTIME-complete.
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K Septyn
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galbolle wrote:
Septyn wrote:

Finally, games can wind up being NP-complete, which means they can take impractical amounts of time to solve the larger they get. Minesweeper has been shown to be NP-complete, of all things.


Not to nitpick, but while (good) puzzles tend to be NP-complete, games with non-trivial interactivity tend to be EXPTIME-complete, which is even harder. (Generalized) Checkers, go and chess are all EXPTIME-complete.


Good to know! I'll have to look into that later.

Apologies for review derailment, by the way. Go Checkers!
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Russ Williams
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Septyn wrote:
Also, there's a difference betwen "solved" and "create an algorithm to win against humans". Despite Chinook and its massive endgame book, Checkers isn't "solved"--there isn't anything that says optimum play will lead to a first or second player win or draw.

Then you have not heard that Checkers has been solved (by the people who developed Chinook, in fact), and it is a draw with perfect play.

wikipedia article wrote:
This 8×8 variant of draughts was weakly solved on April 29, 2007 by the team of Jonathan Schaeffer, known for Chinook, the "World Man-Machine Checkers Champion". From the standard starting position, both players can guarantee a draw with perfect play. Checkers is the largest game that has been solved to date, with a search space of 5×1020.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solved_game


That said, I wondered if Patrick was being ironic about Go and all other games being solvable. Merely because a solution theoretically exists doesn't mean we can compute it in a practical amount of time. (Much of modern cryptography depends on that, for example.)

But who knows; maybe quantum computing or some other wild breakthrough will enable solving these sorts of problems which are not realistically solvable by existing conventional computing techniques.
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russ wrote:
I wondered if Patrick was being ironic about Go and all other games being solvable. Merely because a solution theoretically exists doesn't mean we can compute it in a practical amount of time. (Much of modern cryptography depends on that, for example.)

But who knows; maybe quantum computing or some other wild breakthrough will enable solving these sorts of problems which are not realistically solvable by existing conventional computing techniques.

Yeah, well, that's kinda what I meant. People, for various reasons, make a big deal out of this "solved" business, and it seems to me there are various levels of consideration:

1. Is the game solved in the sense that two skilled human players can play perfectly? (Example: Tic-Tac-Toe.) If so, the game is probably trivial and not worth playing anymore.

2. Is the game solved in the sense that a computer can be programmed to play perfectly? (Examples: Four-in-a-Row, Nine Men's Morris, Checkers.) If so, the game is still worthwhile for human-vs-human play or for human-vs-computer play (though the computer might have to be dumbed down).

3. Is the game solvable in the sense that knowledgeable computer scientists would expect a solution to be found in the foreseeable future? (Example: Chess, perhaps.) If so, it's something for computer geeks to work on; and for human players of course it's still worth playing.

4. Is the game solvable only in a theoretical sense--e.g., mathematically possible but impractical given existing computer technology? (Example: Go, perhaps.) If so, it's something for computer geeks and sci-fi fans to dream about. Meanwhile, it's still a fine game for humans.

5. Is the game unsolvable--i.e., would mathematicians deny that it could ever possibly be solved under any circumstances whatsoever? (This is what one comment above seems to say is the case with Go.) I wish this were true of all games, but I suspect that if such a game existed, many people would question whether it was truly a game at all. I'd probably deny it myself.

It's disappointing to me that every game is "just a damned puzzle." But at bottom, that's evidently what games are.

 
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Bill Anonymous
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HuginnGreiling wrote:
MarylandBill wrote:
I expect that given 20 years, even Go will be solved.

Agree with everything but this. I expect that Go will not be solved, ever.

Good job reviewing!


Maybe not totally solved, but when one considers how quickly computing power has developed in the last 20 years. Until 1990, the fastest supercomputer in the world (The Cray 2) could only do 1.9 Gflops. Now its almost impossible to find a laptop or even a smartphone that is not more powerful than that. In another 20 years, how much power and memory are computers going to have at their command?

Thanks for the compliment .

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Russ Williams
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
5. Is the game unsolvable--i.e., would mathematicians deny that it could ever possibly be solved under any circumstances whatsoever?

Interesting... perhaps in principle there could be such games, since there exist incomputable yet well-defined mathematical functions (as we know, thanks to Kurt Gödel). E.g. perhaps a game could be created somehow based on the Halting problem or Busy Beaver function or some other such provably incomputable function. E.g. players compete to create Turing machines which will perform various tasks. Not sure if an "interesting fun" game could be made based on such functions or not, but it seems like some kind of game could be made... must ponder further...
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Bill Anonymous
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Septyn wrote:
While I haven't played Checkers in about a gajillion years, I remember it the same way you do. I wonder if the play is more interesting not only with the mandatory capture rule (which I remember not liking as a kid), but also on a larger board like 10x10 or 12x12.


I hadn't thought about it, but I don't see why not; certainly it will add more time and space for plans to develop.. and for you to miss details of your opponent plans. Still, I think just straight checkers will take a while for most players to become good enough to worry about larger boards.

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Bill Anonymous
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galbolle wrote:


International Checkers is indeed an even nicer game, try it if you have the chance. Not only is capture mandatory, but it has to be the biggest capture. Allows some nice trick to control your opponent's moves.


I have only dabbled in International Checkers (and the similar Pool Checkers which is played on a normal checkers board), but from what I can tell it is a very different game. In addition to the different capture rule, it also includes backwards captures for men and flying kings. A move that might be brilliant in straight checkers might be disastrous in a game that allows backwards captures. I do want to learn it better though; though I think I will not introduce my kids to it until they are a bit older.

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MarylandBill wrote:
Still, I think just straight checkers will take a while for most players to become good enough to worry about larger boards.

That's a polite understatement!

There are many versions of Checkers around, and some of them are no doubt more interesting or challenging than English/American Draughts/Checkers (the 8x8 game). Some like to explore the various options; others like to pick a game, stick with it, and try to master it (or at least get pretty good at it).

I'm convinced that 8x8 Checkers can easily be a lifetime pursuit for almost anyone who likes it enough to stick with it.

Btw, be sure to take a look at Checker Maven if you're interested in Checkers. Great Web site.
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Russ Williams
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There are so many cool interesting games in the Checkers family to explore. In January my wife and I played about 10 different checkers variants, playing some game of checkers each day. It was quite a fun experience to see the various rules differences and learn about different national and historical versions of the game.
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russ wrote:
wikipedia article wrote:
This 8×8 variant of draughts was weakly solved on April 29, 2007 by the team of Jonathan Schaeffer, known for Chinook, the "World Man-Machine Checkers Champion". From the standard starting position, both players can guarantee a draw with perfect play. Checkers is the largest game that has been solved to date, with a search space of 5×1020.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solved_game


Nope, I hadn't heard that. I'm wondering about their caveat "weakly solved".

Ah!
wikipedia article wrote:
Weak
More typically, solving a game means providing an algorithm that secures a win for one player, or a draw for either, against any possible moves by the opponent, from the beginning of the game. That is, producing at least one complete ideal game (all moves start to end), with proof that each move is optimal for the player making it.


Chinook's website goes into a little more detail. Their news hasn't been updated since 2007, but it looks like they solved the game for at least one opening move by Black (draw), and for White's response to any opening move by Black (also draw).
 
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Quote:
It's disappointing to me that every game is "just a damned puzzle." But at bottom, that's evidently what games are.


I agree in all cases, with the possible exception of negotiation games, about which I'm still undecided.

Negotiation effectively turns the other players' brains into game elements to be manipulated. But brains are so mysterious and dynamic that I'm not sure what definition of "puzzle-solving" would apply in that case.
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milomilo122 wrote:
Quote:
It's disappointing to me that every game is "just a damned puzzle." But at bottom, that's evidently what games are.


I agree in all cases, with the possible exception of negotiation games, about which I'm still undecided.

Negotiation effectively turns the other players' brains into game elements to be manipulated. But brains are so mysterious and dynamic that I'm not sure what definition of "puzzle-solving" would apply in that case.

Right. And that's also disappointing to me, because negotiation games are the kind I've never been able to stand.

For me, that basically means I can never fully enjoy games at all. I have to turn a blind eye to some being essentially just puzzles and others involving psychological interaction. As long as I don't notice those aspects of games, I can have fun playing them. But I have to be careful not to notice.
 
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