Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Thoughts on abstracts you can get in while adulting

I wanted to write about abstracts that I like since being an adult doesn’t give me the time to pursue Go. (To be fair, having hobbies other than Go also didn’t give me time to pursue Go) Games that I think would click with folks who don’t normally play abstracts. But when the list hit the double digits, I realized I was never going to come to an end.

I did notice two things about the games I was choosing. They had short playing times, really under a half an hour as a rule. Second, each move tended to be dynamic and really change the board.

As a comparison, take Checkers. Someone much smarter than me once said that a game of Checkers is slowly working your way to making one big move. I think Checkers is a brilliant game and there’s a reason it has stuck around for centuries. But I don’t enjoy it. Even more so than Chess or Go which I can break down into individual pieces, Checkers is one big picture with lots of tiny pieces that I can’t hold together in my head.

Is Checkers a good game and one with a surprising amount of depth? Yes, particularly when you actually use the the rule that if you can capture, you must capture. But it is not a game I really like or have time to understand. If I had that time, I’d spend it on Go.

In contrast, I’ll use Pentago as a counter example. As a Tic Tac Toe variant, it’s one of the simpler abstracts I enjoy and it takes probably five minutes to play. Place a stone and turn one of the quadrants. Have five stones in a row at the end of your turn and you win.

In Pentago, every move has a dramatic effect on the board, particularly seeing as how you are actually moving the board itself. The board is small enough that the patterns you form aren’t overwhelming. At the same time, there are enough options that the game isn’t a simple formula like actual Tic Tac Toe. It does make your brain work.

Pentago isn’t my favorite abstract (although I’d always be willing to play) but it is one that feels like a classic abstract while still having modern innovation. It exemplifies what I’ve found I’m looking for in an abstract. And it’s one I can get other folks to play.

I know that pure abstracts aren’t for everyone. But I think that there are games out there that are accessible and fun for a large audience. And I love Go but I don’t have the time for it. But there are abstract games that I do have time for. And there are games where those two things come together.

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