Monday, October 5, 2009

Algorithms and Game Rules

Most of my posts have had the underlying theme of writing algorithms to play games well, but coming up with the rules for games is also a good exercise in algorithms.

In fourth and seventh grades we were asked to create board games for school. A big difference between the two assignments was that in seventh grade we were asked to actually write out the rules. Although this was for a social studies class, our teacher made it plain that we needed to be very clear with these rules; don't assume the players automatically know how to do everything. She also stressed making it clear that the rules should repeat: after one person's turn, the game should move on to the next player.

Combinatorial games are beautiful in part for the simplicity of the unifying design. To describe a new game, it is enough to describe what the left and right children of any state are. Moving to the next person's turn and when the game ends are all built into the overriding definition. For generic board games, however, enough is going on during one turn that algorithmically describing the steps is more worthwhile.

Roll the dice,
move your piece clockwise around the board that many spaces,
if you land on unowned property, you may buy it
otherwise, if you land on owned property, you must pay that player the appropriate amount
otherwise, if you land on...

If I ever get teach a freshman seminar on board games, I will definitely integrate creating our own board games. Creating rules and the prototype has a lot to do with software design, and that process would be very useful!

Thank you, Mrs. Pasco. Your social studies course gave me the best computer science lesson of that school year!

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