N-in-a-row games present a stiff design challenge because they’ve been done to death. They’re especially challenging for me because I don’t like them. Though I respect them for their simplicity and intuitiveness (they really do possess an exemplary degree of both), they’re too tactical for me. They feel robotic and shallow. I want strategic scope. Though I’ve worked out half a dozen designs on paper, all aimed at increasing strategic scope, I’ve not tested/developed any till now.
Recently I got a breather from my nasty workload, and tried out what I thought might be my best idea on a whim. It worked! ish! So now I’m going to talk about it.
So my goal was to create a more strategic N-in-a-row game, but it must also:
- preserve the primary qualities of simplicity and intuitiveness.
- preserve the spirit of N-in-a-row games, whatever that means. It’s gotta possess a certain N-in-a-row-iness
- be novel.
It’s hard to satisfy #1 and #3 together because most of the really simple N-in-a-row variations are already covered.
It’s also hard to make the game more strategic while satisfying #2, because a shift in the balance between tactics and strategy can transform a game’s spirit.
That said, the new game is called Kink. The idea is simple: it’s a basic N-in-a-row game where the row is allowed to have a single bend in it. Put another way, the row can change direction once, anywhere along it’s length. The angle of the bend formed can be right or obtuse (but not acute).
The introduction of a Kink has two effects which I believe will make the game richer and more strategic (consistent with my experience of the first few plays):
- The number of degrees of freedom in the winning pattern is higher for Kink than for the equivalent standard N-in-a-row game.
- The number of stones in a row required for winning must be larger. This both allows games to be a little bit longer, and allows for the possible inclusion of a nice tiebreak mechanism which in turns allows for even longer games.
To write the rule set, I modified the rules to Connect 6, which is to my mind the most canonical (and one of the best) N-in-a-row games. Here you go:
Rules of Kink
Kink is a game for 2 players, played with a Go set.
- The board begins empty. One player owns the black stones and the other owns the white.
- To begin, Black places a single stone on any empty space.
- From then on, starting with White, each player places 2 stones per turn.
- The first player to form 9-in-a-row wins. The row may have up to one Kink in it, which may form a right or obtuse angle (but not acute). Rows may run both orthogonally and diagonally.
- If the board fills without either player forming a 9-in-a-row, the first player to have formed an 8-in-a-row wins. If neither player did so, the first player to have formed 7-in-a-row wins, and so on. (keep track of which players achieve each length during play)
Note: I don’t yet know if 9 is the right number. The right number really depends on the size of the board. The ideal number ensures that games are neither too long nor too short, and maybe also ensures the best players reach that number on a certain % of their plays, with the rest going to tiebreak (to ensure the right amount of variety).