Blooms is a reimagining of the classical game Go. It’s shorter, faster, and doesn’t need Ko or Komi rules, making it simple and approachable. Nonetheless it has its own rich universe of tactics and strategies.
Blooms is played on a hex board instead of a square board like in Go. This helps make Blooms approachable too. Why? On Go’s square board, pieces can be adjacent in 2 ways – orthogonally or diagonally. But only orthogonal adjacencies count in Go, which can cause confusion and perceptual difficulty for new players. In contrast, there’s only one kind of adjacency on Bloom’s hex board, which makes it easier for new players to see if a group is alive/dead/threatened.
Blooms is for 2 players and it’s played with stones of 4 colors (each player owns 2 colors). Each play results in different interacting patterned color combinations that can look striking.
I recommend new players start on a board with 5 cells per side, as pictured above. The easiest way to try the game is through the AiAi program (see the bottom of this post for instructions).
- 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 those spaces 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 on any empty spaces, with 1 restriction: you must place them such that, at the end of your turn (after you’ve captured all fenced 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.
- The key design insight is that giving each player two colors fixes the main problem of territory games played on hex boards: each space is adjacent to too many other spaces to allow for interesting tactics, because capturing becomes too hard. If you add more colors, the colors crowd each other and reduce the the effective connectivity for each, thus making all groups easier to capture.
- Though Blooms is Go-like, Komi isn’t required in Blooms because there’s no persistent stone advantage for the first player, as there is in Go.
- I also 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.
- Note the branch factor (the number of distinct ways you can take your turn) is very large. Even on small boards (by Go standards), there are typically thousands of ways to take each turn.
- One thing I love about it: the mix of colors at the end varies from game to game. Games played side-by-side can look quite beautiful.
- Here’s an essay about how the concept of “life” works in Blooms, compared to how it works in Go.
- There’s a nice discussion of Blooms on BoardGameGeek, here.
Try Blooms for yourself
You can play Blooms against a weak AI, or against yourself, 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 some 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. By default the AI is set to think for 1 second, which leads it to play randomly. Raise the think-time to at least 30 seconds to make it slightly interesting.
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. I have an idea about how to make an unusually beautiful physical set.