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Subject: interesting ideas but a fundamentally flawed game rss

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Lowell Kempf
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While I was at a clearance sale at a game shop, I came upon a Dao set. The game looked interesting, the components looked nice, and it was on sale so I picked Dao up without ever having heard of the game before.

Dao is a fairly simple abstract strategy game. In some respects, it reminds me of Nine Man Morris, although there are many differences between the two games.

Although I have seen pictures of some fairly elaborate Dao boards, the set I have consists of a four by four grid of Yin Yang symbols on what is blatantly a mouse pad and two sets of colored glass stones. The stones have a good heft to them and are too large to choke on them unless you really try hard.

Dao is played on a four by four grid. Each player has four pieces which are set up on opposing diagonals so that the starting positions of the game form an X. On a player’s turn, they may move any one of their pieces in any direction, including diagonal. However, the piece must move in that direction until it either hits the edge of the board or another piece. You cannot end a piece’s movement if it hasn’t hit anything.

You cannot capture your opponent’s pieces. Nor can you jump a piece or occupy the same space as another piece. So, all eight pieces are going to remain on the board for the entire game. Instead of trying to eliminate your opponent’s pieces, you are trying to form your pieces into one of three specific patterns. If you can make a straight line that isn’t diagonal, occupy all four corners of the board, or form a two by two square, you win Dao. However, if you completely block one of your opponent’s pieces from moving, you automatically lose.

That is Dao in a nutshell.

There are a number of things I like about Dao. It’s a very portable game and it’s also one that you can teach in less than five minutes. It is a game that I find relaxing. However, I also think there are a number of flaws to the game.

The first and most obvious problem is indefinite stalemate. Two players of equal ability are going to be able to prevent each other from winning indefinitely. The game will only end when someone makes a mistake and the other player is able to take advantage of it. In and of itself, this isn’t a fatal flaw. The same can be said of the L Game and I like the L Game. Still, a theoretically never-ending game is not a good thing in my book.

However, that problem is compounded by what I found to be another problem with Dao. I found that there weren’t a lot of real choices in the game. Often, there is only one viable move to make sure that the other player won’t win on their next turn. More than that, that move is usually pretty easy to see. In short, I found that the practical decision tree of Dao was actually much smaller than it appeared to be. I enjoy games like Go or Chess where there are many possible and viable decisions. I find Dao, in comparison, to be confining.

Finally, and this is the biggest problem I have with Dao, the rules that came with the game had some of the most egregious errors I have ever seen in a game. My copy of the rules stated that jumping other pieces and occupying the same space as another piece were allowed. If that was actually the case, not only would there be no way to block, the first player would also win on their fourth turn by forming a straight line. As written, the game was completely unplayable. I had to look around the internet for a while to find the error, mostly because I couldn’t believe the game could be played as written.

The rules also failed to cover if a piece has to move or if you could claim to move in a blocked direction so that the piece never actually moves. Common sense says that you can’t do that. Otherwise, the stalemate conditions of the game would be far worse than they already are. However, I know rules wigglers who would try to pull that argument off.

In general, Dao isn’t a a truly awful game. Many of its flaws are intrinsic to abstract strategy games. They are just more obvious, given Dao’s simplicity. However, there are many much better abstract strategy games out there and I would include commonly bashed games like Checkers and Connect Four among them. The errors in the rules are also so severe that they are a serious mark against the game. While I don’t mind playing Dao, it is not a game that I would actively seek out.
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Jared Hayter

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The multiple victory conditions in such a simple game certainly suggest that the game is prone to a draw result and so the designers attempted to create enough victory conditions that it would be difficult to keep track of them all. I like the idea of this game in its simpler form as it is very reminiscent of mill games and other traditional abstract strategy games but it sounds like the game as originally intended always played to a draw so they added more and more victory states until wins started happening, then called the game finished.

I wouldn't buy this game; there's just not enough being sold here that I can't make myself, but I would try playing a few games of it because it's always nice to have a simple and fast playing abstract strategy game on hand.
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Ryan McGuire
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I see what you mean about fundamentally flawed. Mensa Select, my butt.

I'm such a cheapskate that I often make my own version of games like this. I'm glad I did, so that I found out how broken the game is before I bought it.

The only way I've found to win is this:
1) play the "don't let the other guy win" moves for 50 or 60 turns.
2) Just as they're about to doze off, play a move that leaves an opening for them as well as you.
3) When they play the same old mechanical move, you can finally go for the win.

The other option is to make sure you haven't had a lot to drink before the game and play with the house rule that whoever gets up to go to the bathroom first loses.

If you've already bought Dao, go over to artscow.com and make up a deck of Fortac cards. Also, I'm sure there's something on the list of games played on a 4x4 grid that you could use your Dao set for.
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Karl B
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Honestly, I get the impression the indefinate draw premise of this "game" is precisely what it is going for. I don't think it's meant to be a game as much as it is a focus exercise. In other words, sit down and chat with a friend while moving these pieces around. The first person who's mind drifts away ends up losing simply by missing an obvious move.
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Herb
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infusco wrote:
Honestly, I get the impression the indefinate draw premise of this "game" is precisely what it is going for.


I agree about premise of game. Dao has been mathematically analyzed and is a draw with perfect play. In other words, if you lose,then it because you made a mistake. see:
Item for Geeklist "Games which have a published mathematical analysis" .

infusco wrote:
I don't think it's meant to be a game as much as it is a focus exercise. In other words, sit down and chat with a friend while moving these pieces around. The first person who's mind drifts away ends up losing simply by missing an obvious move.


I disagree with this. It is/was being sold. So it was definitely mean to be a game not just some mathematical diversion. How good of a game is a matter of opinion.

The other wrinkle is that small games like this often give one player or the other a distinct advantage. So typically there is the "pie rule". Player 1 moves, then player 2 decides which color he wants to play. With the game being a draw with perfect play, there is no need for the pie rule.
 
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