Keith Markus' Urban Sprawl

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 The Study of Games
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    Long ago, in a time before computer games and video games, people who had not devoted their lives to watching television would simulate games by hand.  This was done by physically moving three-dimensional icons on a pattern-enhanced board.  (These pieces and boards were constructed from various materials from plastic and cardboard to ivory and wood.)  Appropriately enough, these were called "board games."  One of the best known of these is Chess, the direct ancestor of the game of the same name currently played on computers and electronic Chess sets.  Chess is played on an eight-by-eight checkerboard (Checkers is another board game) using 32 colored pieces.  What follows are alternative games that can be played using a manual Chess set.
    These are games that I invented during cold Buffalo New York winters while in high school.  Two of them became popular among my friends at the time.  These two are Colonization and Cornerport.  If they attract interest, additional games may be added at a later time.  Some of the common elements of these games were inspired in part by a short story appearing in Omni Magazine during the early 80's.  The story began with a purchase at an unusual pet shop, and ended with the services of an alien exterminator.  If anyone can identify the story, I will add the reference to this page.  (I half suspect that it may have been titled Sandkings.)
    The text of this page is Copyright (1999) Keith A. Markus, but I encourage anyone interested to print it out and disseminate it freely.


    Description:  Colonization is a game for several players.  The game works best with at least four players, but I have yet to discover the upper limit.  It is not unusual for a game to last twelve to fifteen hours, but shorter games are certainly feasible.  The game is typically ended by an arbitrary time limit.  Each player begins with a single square, and grows outward competing for limited board space.  Players may compete and cooperate in various combinations.  Verbal communication during the course of a game to facilitate the forging of alliances, treaties and other agreements is strongly encouraged. A game of Colonization is a social activity.  It is only fair to warn prospective players, however, that a long day of colonization commonly leads to a condition known as "colonization burnout" the next morning.
    Historical note:  Colonization was invented during the end of the Cold War, during which time the dynamics of a balance of power between societies with the power to reduce one another to rubble was a prominent part of the popular consciousness.  These dynamics form an integral part of the game.  Perhaps today we can enjoy them with greater detachment.

    Rules:  Colonization is played by many players, each with a single set of sixteen Chess pieces on a contiguous surface comprising one or more Chess boards.  Each player is represented on the board by a society expanding into the space of the playing surface.  Players take turns making one of a variety of simple moves.  Complex strategies grow out of combinations of simple moves.

    Objective:  There are three ways to win Colonization:  (1) Placing all sixteen pieces on the board, (2) being the only surviving society on the board, or (3) having the most pieces on the board when the pre-determined time limit is reached.

    Pieces:  The two Bishops represent home planets.  The eight Pawns represent space colonies.  The two Rooks represent agricultural space stations.  The two Knights represent industrial space stations.  The one King and one Queen (they are equivalent) represent stations containing what is referred to simply as "The Weapon."

    Preparation:  The game begins best if all players can be present at the start of the game, but this is by no means necessary.  A player arriving after play has commenced should take his or her turn directly following the player at the end of the turn rotation.  It is imperative that the time limit be set and agreed upon before the start of play.  Each player requires a set of sixteen Chess pieces (as described above).  The size of the board is determined at the start of play.  Multiple boards may be placed side by side to expand the playing surface.  It generally works best if there are approximately sixteen squares per player, but experimentation is encouraged.  The rules place no constraints on the size of the playing surface beyond requiring one square per player.

    Beginning play:  Play begins with no pieces on the board.  The turns proceed in a clockwise direction following the seating of the players at the table.  Each player places a single home planet on the board on their choice of the empty squares.  The remainder of the game continues in this clockwise direction.

    Play:  Each player is allowed a single move per turn.  Any player may abstain from moving on any turn.  In addition to abstaining, there are four types of moves:
    (1) Any piece may be moved to any of the eight squares directly or diagonally adjoining the square occupied by the piece so long as the square is not occupied.  Within each society, all pieces other than home planets must remain connected to a home planet by being on an adjoining square to either a home planet or a piece connected to a home planet through a chain of pieces.  Adjoining squares include diagonally adjoining squares.  Any piece severed from a home planet is immediately removed from the board as part of the move that severs it.  The phrase within each society indicates that the connections must be made by pieces belonging to that society only, but a society with two home planets can separate into two clusters each with a single home planet.
    (2) A home planet may move onto a square occupied by a piece belonging to another society, thus removing the piece from the board.
    (3) Rather than moving a piece, a player may choose to produce additional pieces.  If a player has fewer than eight colonies on the board, an additional colony can be added to any open square adjoining one of the player's home planets.  If the player has eight colonies on the board and fewer than two agricultural stations, the colonies may be removed as replaced with an agricultural station on any square adjoining one of the player's home planets.  Eight colonies can also be replaced with a second home planet.  If the player has eight colonies, two agricultural stations, and fewer than two industrial stations on the board, the colonies and agricultural stations may be replaced by an industrial station, again adjacent to a home planet.  A similar replacement rule applies to replacing a full complement of colonies, agricultural stations and industrial stations with The Weapon.
    (4) A player possessing a weapon may choose to activate it.  Upon activation, The Weapon removes all pieces other than the players own pieces and other player's home planets from the board.  The Weapon is also removed from the board upon completion of the turn in which it is activated.

    Rejoining the game:  If a player is eliminated from the game, the player may rejoin the game in keeping with the rules for late arrivals.  At the other player's discretion, the player rejoining the game may keep his or her place in the rotation to avoid a change in seating.  The re-entry of an eliminated player does not prevent another player from winning the game by means of eliminating the second last remaining player.  For this purpose, a player does not count as being back in the game until the player rejoining the game has produced a second home planet.

    End of play:  If a player places the last of his or her sixteen pieces on the board by producing the final colony, the game terminates at the end of that player's turn without completing the rotation of turns.  The player has won the game.  If, at the completion of his or her turn, a player is the only player with pieces on the board exclusive of the above provision for rejoining the game, then play terminates and the player has won the game.  If the time limit is reached, then play continues through the last player in the turn rotation.  When the last player has completed his or her turn, play terminates and the player with the most pieces on the board is the winner.  The Weapon cannot be used after the time limit has been reached.  For this reason, it is a good idea to use a timer or digital clock to pinpoint the exact passing of the time limit.

    Strategy:  The following strategy hints are not part of the rules, but are simply drawn from experience with actual games.

    It is usually a good idea to select an initial space as distant as possible from other home planets.  Corners are valuable for their defensibility, but alternative starting points offer more room for expansion.

    While the threat of hostilities is an integral part of the game, players typically benefit from avoiding the outbreak of actual hostilities in play.  The game rapidly deteriorates to its initial state as a result of overt hostilities.  Aggression against two neighbors in the absence of allies can quickly lead to annihilation. Two allied home planets working together can move twice as fast as a pair of home planets from the same society.  Allies generally benefit from cooperation to fend off a hostile neighbor.

    Often, limited hostilities are required to prevent a player from winning by placing all of his or her pieces on the board.  Both sides in such hostilities generally benefit from not escalating the attack into an all out war between the two societies.  Winning is better than being close to winning, but being close is better than being reduced to your initial state.

    The early production of a second home planet makes good strategy.  It greatly strengthens the defensibility of a society.  It also reduces vulnerability to attack and creates more surface area for colonies and stations.

    Distant colonies and stations are vulnerable to attack from lone home planets traveling apart from their societies.  At the same time, they prevent other societies from occupying the spaces they occupy without an attack from a home planet.  A balance can be sought between the advantage of blocking other colonies and the risk of attack.  Agricultural stations make useful fences because they are more stable than colonies but less costly than industrial stations.

    Colonies and stations connected to a home planet by more than one chain are less vulnerable.  Loops are useful shapes because each piece is connected to a home planet in two ways and a defensible space is created inside the loop.  Placing home planets diagonally adjacent to one another provides an alternative structure with other advantages.  Keeping home planets together wards off lethal attacks at the risk of inviting limited attacks at the periphery.  Placing two home planets on a diagonal just outside a corner provides a highly defensible area in the corner to protect valuable stations.

    The process of producing new colonies and stations creates a breathing rhythm as societies expand and contract.  Adjacent societies can use this to their mutual advantage by agreeing to share space, one expanding as the other contracts.

    Alliances tend to break down at the end of a game.  Allies can agree to a tie by agreeing to time out with equal numbers of pieces on the board.  Nonetheless, I have never seen that happen.

    The most common way for a game to terminate is by timing out.  The greater the number of players, the greater the difficulty of winning by eliminating the other players (unless the group chooses to disallow re-entry into the game).

    The game tends to work best with an even number of players, but this becomes less significant as the number of players increases.

    Note:  The original rule sheet for Colonization went missing.  The above is a reconstruction and may occasionally be updated with corrections or minor modifications.  The contents of this Web page constitute the official rules to Colonization at any given time.  Individual groups of players are, of course, free to experiment with variations on the rules.



    Description:  Cornerport is a game for two players.  The Chess board represents a body of water with ports in each corner.  The Chess pieces represent various types of ships.  Players vie for control of the ports.  A game of corner port typically takes less time than a game of Chess.

    Rules: Players exchange turns, each moving one piece each turn.

    Preparation:  Each player requires eight Pawns, two Bishops, and two Rooks.  No other pieces are used in this game.  The Paws represent patrol boats, the Bishops represent battle ships, and the Pawns represent freighters.  The generic term "ship" is understood to include all three.

    Objective:  The goal is to gain control of the water by eliminating your opponent's ships.

    Beginning Play:  At the start of the game, each player has one freighter in one corner of the same color as his or her pieces.

    Play:  Each turn, a player moves one of his or her pieces.  The pieces move as follows:
    Freighters move one square in any direction including diagonally, and may move onto any square not occupied by another piece.  If a freighter successfully travels from one port of its own color to the other, and the opposite port is unoccupied, the player may place any piece not currently on the board onto the opposite port.  This may only occur on the turn in which the freighter enters the port.  The opponent may block the new piece by occupying the opposite port, but this does not block the freighter from moving into an unoccupied port.  A player may have no more than eight patrol boats, two battle ships, and two freighters.
    Patrol boats are slow but maneuverable.  They move like freighters with two differences.  First, patrol boats can move onto a square occupied by an opponent's ship, thus sinking the ship.  When a ship is sunk, the corresponding piece is removed from the board.  The four-by-four block of sixteen squares at the center of the board represent deep water.  The remaining squares represent coastal water.  Patrol boats cannot move onto a deep water square unless it is occupied by an opponent's ship.
    Battle ships are fast but less maneuverable.  They may move one or two squares in a single move, but cannot move diagonally.  If a battle ship sinks another ship, it terminates its move on the square formerly occupied by that ship.  Like freighters, battle ships may freely move into deep water.

    Termination of play:  The game terminates in a win when one player's pieces are all removed from the board.  The game terminates in a draw if a player having only patrol boats eliminates all of his or her opponent's ships from coastal waters and the opponent cannot move out of deep water without moving onto a square that is (1) within single-move striking distance of an enemy ship and (2) not within single-move striking distance of another of his or her own ships.

    Strategy:  Losing one's only freighter eliminates one's ability to produce new ships.  As such, a second freighter is a valuable acquisition.  The fastest route from port to port is the diagonal through the center of the board.  As a result, control of the center of the board is important.  A game can turn on the speed which which a player can amass a fleet.  If you have a significantly larger fleet, it may be worth leaving a port undefended in order to occupy an opponent's port.


    Note:  I got out a chess set while compiling this page, and did not have much luck in getting the original version of this game to work (see variations below).  I include it largely because of the novel part-whole relationships involved in the use of the pieces.  The game works better when a set of the rule variations are implemented.  Players are encouraged to experiment with the balance between defensive and offensive capabilities.

    Description:  Sandkings is a game for two to four players.  Each player's collection of pieces represents a fluid scorpion-like creature.  The game consists of a battle between the creatures.

    Rules:  Each player requires a Rook representing the body of the creature, a Bishop representing the stinger, and four Pawns representing vertebrae.

    Preparation:  Each player begins in a corner of the board.  The body goes in the square diagonal to the corner square.  The stinger goes in the corner square.  The four vertebrae go on the four squares next to (not diagonal to) the body.  Each player should use pieces of a distinct character.  Color suffices for two players.  Multiple Chess sets may be employed for more players.

    Object:  The object of the game is to attack the other players with your stinger while protecting yourself from attack.  Creatures can be killed in two ways.  The first is to sting the body.  The second is to suffocate the body by surrounding on two sides.

    Play:  Each player has as many moves per turn as his or her creature has remaining body parts.  As such, all players begin with six moves per turn.  All pieces move one square at a time to any empty adjacent square, including diagonal movement.  On each move (not merely each turn) all a players pieces must remain connected to the body through a chain of adjacent pieces belonging to that player.  This includes diagonal connections.
    The stinger may move onto a square occupied by an opponent's piece, removing the piece.  The exception to this is that if a vertebra is adjacent to it's body it blocks the stinger.  When a stinger moves onto an occupied square, the piece being stung is removed from play.  A stinger may sting more than one piece in a singe turn.  If a sting separates other pieces from their body, they too are removed from play.

    End of play:  The game terminates when one player has eliminated the remaining players.  If a player's body is stung, all the player's pieces are removed from play.  If a player is able to connect to adjacent sides of the board using no diagonal connections while another player is inside the corner formed by these sides of the board, then the trapped player said to be suffocated and is removed from play.  Suffocation must be accomplished by pieces belonging to a single player.

    Variations:  These variations are not part of the original rules.  (1) Vertebrae do not block a stinger if they are only diagonally connected to their body.  (2) Stingers adjacent to their body have the power to sting even vertebrae adjacent to their body.  (3) Allow diagonal connections for suffocation of an opponent.  (4) Increase moves per turn to double the number of body parts.
    Instituting all four of these rule changes transforms the pace of the game into something akin to sumo wrestling.  One option is to play up to seven matches until one player wins four with the loser of the previous match always moving first in the next match.

    Strategy:  The trick is to move into striking distance without making yourself vulnerable.  It is important not to leave yourself vulnerable to a counterattack upon stinging an opponent.  One way to ward off suffocation is to move toward the center of one side of the board.  One way to move efficiently is to arrange the pieces in horizontal, vertical, or diagonal rows.  These can then be moved side by side, beginning with the row furthest back, to avoid loss of connection during motion.  Finally, make use of the fact that parts of the same creature can weave diagonally between one another without losing their connection to one another.


A Note of the Study of Games

    Although I was largely ignorant of these matters when I invented the above games, the study of games -- including but not limited to the field of Game Theory -- plays an important role in the social sciences.  Psychology in particular, benefits from the ability to construct games that allow for the manipulation of specific features of the interaction while controlling others in a very simple but nonetheless meaningful interaction between players.  The Prisoner's Dilemma game receives particular attention from psychologists for this reason.  Alan Turing proposed his well known Turing Test in the form of a parlor game in which players attempted to distinguish a human interlocutor from a computer.  This remains an important topic in the study of artificial intelligence.  Nonetheless, the study of human social behavior through games has certain limitations.  One important limitation is that games stipulate a set of rules and objectives and assume that everyone involved understands these in the same way.  There is renewed interest within psychology in studying social interaction as it is understood by the people who are interacting, rather than from the psychologist's point of view (this is nothing new to other social sciences).  The study of games has proven somewhat less illuminating for this kind of research.


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