My life these days doesn’t allow for much playtesting, but game ideas still pop into my head. I sometimes post them without testing. Below are two.
In most N-in-a-row games, each player tries to be the first to construct a row of stones of some specified length. Such games are mostly tactical, not so strategic. My favorite is Connect6, which is pure, simple, and balanced.
The idea behind the two games I present below is to let the players compete to construct the longest row before the board is full, without specifying any particular length as a win condition. So maybe my opponent has achieved 6 in a row, but if I can achieve 7 in a row, then I take back the lead, and so on.
Except there’s a problem.
The difficulty of building a row increases non-linearly with its length (for example, a row of 6 is somewhat harder to build than a row of 5, but a row of 7 is *much* harder to build than a row of 6). As a result, both players will realize that neither player will ever build a row of length X, so each will aim to be the first to build a row of X-1 (or perhaps X-2). At that point, the game will be similar to a normal N-in-a-row game except that a stubborn trailing player can force it to continue pointlessly until the board is full. Not good.
The two games below are both designed to avoid this issue.
Both are played on an initially-empty square grid with black and white stones, and are for two players. In each, one player plays the white stones, and the other plays the black. Rows can be built orthogonally or diagonally in both games. Only playtesting can reveal the best board-size for these games, so please experiment.
Game #1: Hedgerow
- The players take turns. On your turn, you must place a stone on any empty space.
- When you form a row of at least 2 stones in your color which is longer than any row formed by your opponent until that point, you remove the stones in that row from the board, and you become the leader.
- The game ends when the board is full, and the player in the lead at that time wins. The game may also end when one player resigns.
The solution here is to impose a cost on taking the lead. When you take the lead, you lose stones, which gives your opponent a material advantage and a bunch of new empty cells to exploit with that advantage (this is inspired by the game Yinsh, where players lose rows when they form them. There are two key differences in Hedgerow: only the leader incurs the penalty, and the penalty varies in size). The longer the row, the greater the penalty, so the penalty varies in proportion with the strength of the lead.
There will be instances where players avoid forming rows and taking the lead in order to avoid invoking the penalty. The game is similar to the game Yavalathin that there’s an incentive to build short rows before connecting them, and in fact Yavalath was an inspiration for Hedgerow.
But it’s possible that Hedgerow will stink. So, to hedge my bets, I offer an alternative game that might solve the problem in a different way
Game #2: Morro
- To start, white places a single stone on any empty space.
- From then on, starting with Black, the players take turns. On your turn, you must place a number of stones equal to the length of the longest row on the board. For example, if you the longest row on the board is 5 stones, you place 5 stones on your turn.
- When you create a row longer than any row created by your opponent up until that point, you become the leader.
- The game ends when the board is full, and the leading player at that time wins. The game may also end when one player resigns.
The idea here is to create a system where, the harder it is to retake the lead, the more power you have on your turn to make it happen.
This game might be nice in that it crescendos as it goes on. At the start, the board changes in small increments, but by the end, the board changes dramatically on each turn.
Beyond the possibility of greater strategic scope, these games may also address another issue with N-in-a-row games: they tend to be stuck between a rock and a hard place, in that either there’s a strong advantage for one player (If N is small), or the game is fundamentally drawn (if N is larger). Connect6, for example, is probably drawn. In both Hedgerow and Morro, draws are impossible, yet there are negative feedback mechanisms in both which may neutralize the first-mover advantage. Or so I hope. Only playtesting will reveal if this thinking is correct.
So there you have it. If you can see fatal flaws I’ve missed, or if you try these games, please let me know.