Friday, March 21, 2014

Game Description: Yavalath

Last semester, I stumbled on the game Yavalath while browsing reddit.  This game is especially exciting because the rules are very similar to tic-tac-toe type games... except for an excellent twist!

Yavalath is played on a hexagonal board.  Each turn a player paints an empty hexagon their color.  So far, no twist.

If you get four hexagons in a contiguous line, you win.  No more moves are played.  Still no twist.

However, you are not allowed to play in such a way that you get exactly three hexagons in a row.  More than three is fine (and you win) but exactly three is not allowed.  Twist! :)

One problem keeps this from being strictly combinatorial: the board can fill up so that neither player wins.  In this case, you could just announce that the last player is the winner since no more moves exist.  The site gives an example of such a case:

Notice that this position would probably be the result of a sum, as there are an even number of white and black pieces.  Cool!

This is a game Cameron Browne generated with the program Ludi.  I know nothing about automatically generating rulesets, except that it seems to have worked out here.  Yavalath is very fun to play.  I challenged many of my students to quick games before class, and also over lunch.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

TRUe Games Workshop: May 2014

An annoucement from Paul Ottaway:

This is the second official announcement for the TRUe Games Workshop taking place at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC from May 6-9, 2014.  Registration is open and even if you've let me know that you'll be attending, we would appreciate a quick email to Marcy at if you haven't already done so.  The details regarding the conference are available at

I would also like to point out for those making arrangements for accommodations that the Residence and Conference Centre has now released half of our room block but the other half will continue to be held until April 5th.
I wish I could go, but my travel budget is exhausted for this academic year.  This sounds like exactly the sort of awesome workshop that happened at BIRS in 2011.  Paul mentions there will probably be some focus on scoring games, and potentially position games as well.

Friday, March 7, 2014

SIGCSE 2014: Board games in CS2

I'm at SIGCSE for the first time and just saw a cool paper talk about including board games as part of CS2.  The group wound up using Quoridor, a combinatorial game. 

In fact, most (if not all) of the options they considered were combinatorial games.  This makes a lot of sense when you realize they were looking for the following properties:
  • well-established, but obscure (strategies are known and discussed online, but the students probably didn't already know the game)
  • simple rules
  • non-violent
  • race/gender/culture neutral
  • discrete
Students were put into two types of groups:
  • "Engine" groups: Implemented the ruleset
  • "Player" groups: implemented a strategy
The player groups still had to keep track of much of the board state themselves.  Instead of getting the entire game state for each turn, they were just given the most recent change.

It was a great talk and very interesting.  One of the main takeaways from the group is that they would remove the engine group next time and just have all the players working on implementing players.

Here are the paper and the project's website.  There are resources for using their materials, with support for other games aside from Quoridor!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Which Abstract Games are Fun?

I recently read a great post from Nick Bentley, a connoisseur of abstract board games.  In it, he argues about concretely defining the properties that make a ruleset fun.

Unlike standard board games, abstract games are usually lacking in a tie-together theme.  This can be a barrier to enjoyment for some because players are not immersing themselves the role of a megalomaniac field general or a real-estate cartel in Atlantic City.

What, then, is so attractive about abstract games?  Nick references an article by J. Mark Thompson about what properties of good abstract games.  Nick then adds his own property, speciousness, a False Clarity about good strategies.  From Nick's post:
The greatest games pull this trick over and over – just when you think you’ve learned everything, the scales fall from your eyes yet again, and yet again you realize the game isn’t quite what you thought it was. And then, even after you know better, you’re sometimes tempted to make suboptimal moves because they just feel so right.
This goes beyond a standard of computational hardness and connects with a more psychological aspect. 

My inclination is that speciousness is more common with partisan games than impartial.  Hmmm.  Go enjoy Nick's full explanation to see some examples and follow his thoughts.

Monday, July 15, 2013

New Ruleset Table

I spent a bunch of time last semester starting a new web table for ruleset properties.

Here is the result: Ruleset Properties

I'm still missing lots of rulesets.  You can help me by suggesting some.  If you do some snooping around the page source, you'll see how I'm generating the table from some JS objects.

I would also like to get a glossary up of CGT terms.  That's not coming any time soon, though, sorry.

Integers 2013 Site

The Integers 2013 website is up.  It's been up for a little while, sorry about the delay!

The conference takes place at the University of West Georgia Oct 24-27.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Moving to Colby College

Today I finished teaching my final class at Wittenberg University.  Starting in the fall, I will be teaching Computer Science at Colby College, where I graduated from 10 years ago.

What's going to happen to this blog?

Nothing bad.  I plan to keep up with it.  Although I'll have new courses to learn, I'll have slightly less courses each semester.  With any luck I'll be able to update more regularly.  (I can't believe that I was doing this three times a week when I started here!)

When are you going to teach CGT next?

My course this semester went really well.  I don't know when I will get the chance to teach this again, but I would really like to make that happen.  I came up with lots of good ideas this semester and would like a fresh chance to try them out.  Colby's CS department is separate from the Math department, so that may make it a little less likely, but who knows what the future holds? :)

I have a few more things I'd like to post about before the year ends, but there's lots of finals and grading left to do.