Blooms is a territory game for 2 players, played with stones on a hexagonal board. I recommend new players start on this board (PDF); then try larger boards as you gain experience (make printable boards here – players familiar with Go should probably start on a board with 5 spaces on each side). Each player owns stones of two different colors, so there are 4 colors in all.
- Bloom: a bloom is an entire group of connected stones on the board of the same color. A single stone (unconnected to others of the same color) is also a bloom.
- Fenced: a bloom is fenced when there are no empty spaces adjacent to any of the bloom’s stones.
- Territory: a lone empty space or entire connected group of empty spaces is said to belong to a player’s territory if all stones adjacent to all empty spaces in that group belong to that player.
- To start, Player 1 places a stone of either of her colors on any empty space.
- From then on, starting with Player 2, the players take turns.
- On your turn, you must place 1 stone of either of your colors, or 1 stone of each of your colors. Alternatively, you may pass your turn.
- You can place your stones onto any empty spaces, with one restriction: you must place them such that, at the end of your turn (after you’ve captured enemy blooms – see below), none of your blooms is fenced.
- After placing your stones, capture all fenced enemy blooms. Return the captured stones to your opponent.
- The game ends when one player resigns or when both players pass consecutively. In the latter case, your score is the number of stones you have on the board plus the number of spaces in your territory. The player with the highest score wins. In the event of a tie, the player who passed first in the game wins.
Note: when players have experience, most games will end in resignation, as it will be easy to see what the final scores will be well before the game actually ends.
There’s a story behind this design, but I have to save the telling for another day.
In addition, I doubt Ko rules are needed. As far as I can tell, Blooms is soft-finite on boards large enough so that at least one living Bloom is inevitable. A soft-finite game is one where cyclical positions are possible but will only happen if neither player is trying to win.
Below is a slowed-down version of the gif at the top of the page, in case you want to scrutinize the example game more. In that game, one player plays grey-black, the other red-yellow. Grey-black wins narrowly (close games are rare on small boards, so far – it’s more common for one player to collapse entirely).
As you can see, you can have a significant material advantage and still lose.
One thing you can’t see is that the mix of colors at the end varies from game to game. Games played side-by-side can look pretty. I like that.
There’s a nice discussion of Blooms on BoardGameGeek, here.
Try Blooms for yourself
You can play Blooms against a weakish AI, using Stephen Tavener’s AiAi system (download here). To run it, you’ll need Java and you may need to change your security preferences. You’ll get a bunch of zipped files in the download. The file to run is “ai ai.jar”. Once opened, load Blooms by going to: File –> Choose Game, then select Blooms.mgl. You can change the AI settings from the AI menu.
There’s a chance I’ll make a boxed version of Blooms through Kickstarter. Sign up here to be alerted if it happens. The more people sign up, the more likely I am to do it.