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 Post subject: Adapting Go for the board game enthusiast (l-o-n-g text)
Post #1 Posted: Tue Dec 26, 2023 8:53 am 
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AGAIN WITH THE EDITS: Over on the FB, Brian Whitt recently posted everyone's favorite quote from Lasker. Got me thinking. An interesting narrative for a sci-fi go theme might be the version of go played by an extraterrestrial civilization, encountered during the human diaspora. Yeah, I'll work on that.

EDITORIAL COMMENT: I've been watching "top board games of 2023" video clips produced by avid board game addicts. The common aspects of the best games appear to be: very cool playing equipment, very cool graphics, simple rules that might lead to insanely complex matches, and, in many cases, a pages-long narrative to rationalize the whole thing. That's go in a nutshell.

EDIT: Changed the Towers to objects resembling Space Needles that are equipped with LIBRETs.

Introduction:
For many years, I have wondered if it would be possible to develop a themed version of go. If published by a board game company and released to game shops, this product could possibly engage new players, some of whom might become curious and progress to the real game. So I'm offering up what I call "Mars Towers v1.0," a proof of concept, a thought exercise, a place to start. Sure, the science fiction-ish backstory is full of holes and you're welcome to find and deride each of them; go ahead, make fun! My skin is thick! This rough sci-fi concept could easily be adapted to many popular board game themes such as a deserted island, medieval castle, airport, electrical grid, trains, theme park, zoo, desert warfare, orcs and dwarves, kitties, robots. Just takes some creativity.

I've paraphrased a basic rule set for go, cheerfully pilfered from Masters of Games: https://www.mastersofgames.com/rules/go-rules.htm


MARS TOWERS: Cooperation and life and death on the Elysium Planita

BACKSTORY
As humans set in motion their plans to colonize Mars, the Earth was in terrible turmoil. Climate change, pandemics, and nuclear conflict over diminishing fresh water and arable land led to dozens of countries and political factions to expend vast economic and material resources to launch 170 spacecraft into space for the long, one-way journey to Mars. Equipped with only what the ships’ sponsors could affod to spare, it quickly became clear during the journey that no single colonization effort could possibly survive on its own since none of them had sufficient essentials their crews would require. Survival and longer term success would therefore require strategic cooperation and tactical creativity.

After months of careful negotiations among the spacefarers, two separate factions eventually formed: the Reds and the Blues. Engineering staff on the colonization ships agreed to convert their spacecraft into a standardized survival unit called a Tower. Towers would be dropped to the surface and link up with their neighbors to form a viable colony. Only by cooperation and efficiently surrounding empty space on the surface would a colony have any hope of surviving the harsh Martian environment.

Game Equipment
MARS TOWERS gaming pieces are red and blue objects, round discs atop stubby pyramids called Towers. The MARS TOWERS game board is a simple 13 x 13 grid of lines. The grid is superimposed upon a photograph of a sector of Elysium Planitia. Orbiting surveyors long ago determined this vast open plain has plentiful reserves of frozen water and other crucial minerals, conveniently located just under the surface where they can be mined and processed into life-preserving resources.

Basic Game Mechanics
Launched in haste and assembled in Earth orbit by dozens of different countries, each of the almost two hundred spacecraft was different from all the others. But each of the members of the two coalitions that formed during transit was able to agree upon a basic Tower unit, engineered to be built from avaialble parts and optimized for colonization. The basic design consists of a reentry system, mining apparatus, and compatible couplers (called LIBRETs, slight protrusions at the compass points, Lander Inter-Base Resource Exchange Transfer)that allow adjacent Towers to link up and exchange processed resources. Among the standardized parts of the mining system are: a downward pointing tube that is thrust into the surface dust upon impact and intake and coupling valves (LIBRETs) located at the compass points around the perimeter. During the first few hours after impact, these valves draw in Martian atmosphere so the Tower can "breathe" for a short period of time. The Towers drop onto the grid from orbit and land at the intersections of the lines. Recall that materials were scarce and building the Towers in transit consumed almost everything. During reentry, rocket burns and deployment of parachutes nearly exhaust precious onboard resources. Due to the extended mining tube that penetrates the surface on impact, Towers cannot be equipped with traction or mobility systems; once a Tower is placed onto the grid, it does not move.

Game Goals
MARS TOWERS is a game of efficiency, construction, expansion, territorial control, and sometimes conflicts arise that result in capture of opposing facilities. The primary objective is to encircle as much empty space with as few Towers as possible. In doing so, opposing Towers may sometimes be captured.

Empty intersections on the grid each count as one point. Captured opponent’s towers are each worth one point and subtracted from the opposing player’s score at the end of the game. The winner is the player with the greatest number of territorial points and captured towers, although, it must be stated early, capturing enemy towers is not the primary objective of MARS TOWERS.

Basic Definitions
The most essential terms to understand are “group" and "liberty".

Groups
A group of towers is any set of towers of the same color that are connected orthogonally, horizontally or vertically. Towers that are in diagonal formations are not directly connected. So three towers in a row along a line forms a group because every tower sits orthogonally next to at least one other stone. However, two towers next to each other diagonally are not connected in any way and can be thought of as two groups of one tower each. If a third tower were to be added to the two diagonal towers so that it sat next to both of them, a group of three towers would be formed. Groups can become large and convoluted but the principle remains the same: a tower that sits on an intersection orthogonally next to another tower then both towers are part of the same group.

Liberties
Towers are stationary and they remain alive by breathing. That is, they pull in external resources that feed into them from the intake valves located around the perimeter and along the lines of the grid. Each line that is orthogonally adjacent to a tower or group of towers is a “liberty" of that group. A single tower by itself in the middle of the board therefore has four liberties: one in each of the four directions. A group of three towers by itself in a line on the edge of the board has five liberties: one at either end and three towards the middle of the board. A single tower in the corner of the board has just two liberties. And a group of eight towers set in a square has thirteen liberties: twelve around the outside and one in the middle.

Each tower the opponent next to a group reduces the number of liberties by one. So a single tower with opposing towers North, South and East of it has only one remaining liberty.

The Rules of MARS TOWERS
MARS TOWERS is a variation of the ancient game of go. It is not only pleasing to the eye, the game itself is also beautiful in its simplicity. In essence there are really only 3 rules to the game:

Starting with red, each player takes turns to place a single tower on the board.

When a tower is played so that it causes an opponent’s group of opposing tower to have adjacent open liberties, that group can no longer breathe and it perishes. The captured towers are removed from the board and retained by the attacking player.

A player cannot place a tower into a location such that a previous position is repeated. (See “ko” below)


So a single tower is captured if the opponent places four stones on the four orthogonal intersections surrounding it. And a group of two towers on the edge of the board is captured by four enemy towers if they occupy all of the liberties.

Eyes - the key to MARS TOWERS
An important point to understand is that a group of eight towers set in a square is difficult to capture because if the opponent places a tower in the middle of the group, under most circumstances, that tower is immediately considered to be dead and captured by the surrounding group since it has no liberties and cannot breathe. Consequently, no player would ever normally make place tower into the center of this eight tower group..

The unoccupied point in the middle of the group is an example of an "eye". An eye is any empty point that is surrounded orthogonally by towers of the same color and it supplies life-giving breath to the entire group. However, eyes are not impossible to occupy. The group of eight towers in this example can be captured by the opponent if all of the surrounding liberties are first occupied, cutting the group of eight off from external sources of breath. This operation requires occupying the 12 outside, or external liberties, completely surrounding the group of eight enemy towers. After this, the group of eight towers becomes vulnerable. Ff the player who owns the group plays to the middle of the group, the group of nine stones would be immediately captured because it has no remaining liberties. This is the only situation where it is legal for the opponent to warp a tower into the middle since, in doing so, the last remaining liberty of the group is eliminated and the towers are all killed and captured. The tower just played would be left surrounded by 4 liberties.

Derived from this is the key factor in MARS TOWERS defence: any group containing two disconnected eyes is safe and can never be captured. This should be easy to understand after a moment’s thought. In order to capture a group, all liberties must be eliminated and so both eyes would need to be occupied. But since a tower played in to either eye would immediately be captured, it is impossible for both eyes to be occupied.

In conclusion, MARS TOWERS moves that place towers strategically in patterns that form two disconnected eyes are useful. A group with two eyes is unconditionally alive and therefore invulnerable.

Other terms: Ko, Seki, Sente, Dame, and Komi,
The game of go, which is the basis for TOWERS, uses several terms of Japanese origin to precisely define situations and procedures. Here are few of those words:
"Ko" is a local situation in which a position can be repeated indefinitely. Normally, this is a simple situation where one player can take a tower and the other player can then play a tower back to where his tower has just been captured and take the first player's tower back again. Note that due to the third rule above, a player cannot immediately play a tower to put a position back to how it was. At least one tower must be played elsewhere before a player can reverse a Ko situation. Otherwise a previous overall position of the board would be repeated. Playing Ko is an advanced tactical situation requiring towers being warped-in that create threats that must be a answered by the opponent. Answering the Ko threat creates a new board position so the Ko can be retaken. It is then up to the other player to make a Ko threat. When all threats are exhausted, or on e player decides that losing the threat is of lesser value that the Ko itself, the Ko is filled and the situation is resolved.

"Seki" is another local situation. This term applies to an area into which neither player can play because to do so would cause the opponent to capture territory or towers. Seki is rare.

To have "Sente" is to be in a position to make a move that will force the opponent to take a counter-action. If a player with sente makes the play in question and the opponent, instead of responding in the predicted way, makes a different play with an even greater threat, the opponent is said to have "assumed Sente”. 

Any group of towers that is under threat of imminent capture, that is, having only one liberty left is said to be in “Atari". Pointing out an Atari condition to the other player’s attention is considered proper etiquette when learning how to play MARS TOWERS. After a dozen or so matches, both players should be able to anticipate and recognize Atari situations and make the appropriate responses. It should be noted that every Atari does not need to be answered. 

A "Dame" point is an empty point between opposing territorial boundaries. When there is a dame point there is no benefit to either player. Dame points are left alone until the end of the game and then ignored in scoring. To make it easier to count territories, dame points are filled in after both players pass. That is, both players agree there are no more points to be scored by either and the game ends.

Starting the Game
MARS TOWERS employs a simple and effective handicapping scheme. The weaker player always plays blue but also places a number of towers onto the board before the start of the game. The grid has nine marked intersections called “Hoshi” or star points.

The opening phase of MARS TOWERS, known as “Fuseki,” is both critical and difficult to accomplish well. Players try to place towers far enough apart so that they efficiently form the beginnings of territorial encirclements, or frameworks, known as “moyo.” However, towers must be close enough to each other so they can be linked up into groups should they come under attack.

Because two walls are required to surround and control the four corners of the Elysium Planitia, the first towers tend to be placed near the corners. After initial towers land near the corners and attempt to claim them, experienced players will begin expanding their colonies by extending along the edges. Edges require three walls to surround open space or to form two eyes. Then play tends to extend into the center in order to link up colonies that have no eyes and to possibly claim a few points. By positioning towers seemingly at random across the board but in reality they are staking their claims to particular areas. After this initial period, local skirmishes and larger battles occur as areas are contested, invaded, and possibly laid to waste. Players need to be able to comprehend and deal with all the isolated smaller conflicts while never getting distracted from the overall picture of the larger war.

Finishing the Game
Eventually, the players agree that no more towers can be played since all territory is claimed and all local battles have been resolved. Play continues until both players agree to this. One player passes and the opponent may place another tower or also pass. When both players pass, the game is over and moves to the scoring phase.

This is done in summary by comparing the sum of number of points of territory plus the number of prisoners captured. The totals are unimportant - it is the difference between them that is measured and it is customary to work this out in by following the following process which makes the counting much easier:

First, any Dame points are filled – players continue to take turns playing their stones into these neutral areas until they are all filled. These are usually considered to be the final moves of the game - the game is only finished once all Dame points are filled.

Any dead towers, those trapped within an opponent’s territory, are treated as prisoners and they are now removed from the board and placed onto the pile of towers captured by each player.

To simplify counting, next each blue prisoner is placed back on the board inside blue territory and red prisoners are placed back within red territory. The logic is simple – each prisoner costs its player one point. By placing it back on the board the opponent loses a point of territory.

To further facilitate the counting process, the towers on the board are now carefully moved around so that the territories form neat and possibly rectangular patterns. Forming territories that are multiples of five or ten points makes counting easier. In doing this, players must take care not to move the boundaries. This is a process that requires a bit of trust.

Once the board and prisoners have been consolidated, the winner can be determined by a count of the simplified territories.


After thousands of years of playing go, it is well known that blue has a slight advantage by going first. There are two ways of dealing with this imbalance of power. Non-handicapped matches between players of equal skill are often decided as a series of at least two games with players alternating taking blue and moving first. The margins of victory are added after all games have been completed to determine the winner.

An alternative method of dealing with this imbalance of power has developed in modern times. The red player is awarded 6.5 extra points in each game. This is known as “Komi."


Last edited by bogiesan02 on Sun Jan 07, 2024 6:41 am, edited 3 times in total.
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 Post subject: Re: Adapting Go for the board game enthusiast (l-o-n-g text)
Post #2 Posted: Tue Dec 26, 2023 5:23 pm 
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I haven't really read the full texts, hardly read any of it to be honest. Still, it is not that bad of an idea. Something similar has been done with Shogi more than once. There was Let's catch the Lion!. That is usually a mini-shogi variant but I have seen photos of a regular shogi set in the same animal theme. I never found any information that the regular shogi was for sale anywhere, so it might have been a concept or some one of thing. If you check the link then you can find other takes on mini-shogi in image section. There was a take with robots.

I'd suggest that some good graphic design could be more important than the backstory.

Then again Go has a great backstory.

There is actually some sub-tournament-grade Go equipment in the market. I don't know much about where it is from but the local boardgame shop stocks them and they do sell. They have three or four types. They come in big boxes, which is great if someone wants to outdo everyone else with the biggest birthday or Christmas gift.

Btw if you want to make the Mars Towers concept into reality then one suggestion is to solve a problem that many parents of small children have with regular Go equipment, which is that the stones really could be bigger to avoid a choking hazard. The thing is that while it might not be an issue for the child the set was meant for but the youngest child in the family might still eat the stones.

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 Post subject: Re: Adapting Go for the board game enthusiast (l-o-n-g text)
Post #3 Posted: Wed Dec 27, 2023 1:52 am 
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The Shogi variant is "Dōbutsu shōgi" and is commercially available (maybe also in your region) - more in Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C5%8Dbutsu_sh%C5%8Dgi

For the Go variant I think that 9×9 and bigger stones is better for the kids.

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 Post subject: Re: Adapting Go for the board game enthusiast (l-o-n-g text)
Post #4 Posted: Wed Dec 27, 2023 9:02 am 
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kvasir wrote:
I haven't really read the full texts, hardly read any of it to be honest. Still, it is not that bad of an idea.


It's a freakin' fabulous idea.

kvasir wrote:
I'd suggest that some good graphic design could be more important than the backstory. Then again Go has a great backstory.


The publisher, who understands marketing, would use the skills of graphic designers who understand shelf appeal. Not my problem but thanks. The murky history story about real go/weiqi/baduk is off-putting and tedious. That's the whole point: come up with something that appeals to (or even tricks the unwary) typical board gamer. Any gaming enthusiast who ends up being interested in real go will research the topic independently. The Mars Towers instruction book would include some background information, engaging photos of real equipment, ad a list of useful websites.

kvasir wrote:
There is actually some sub-tournament-grade Go equipment in the market. I don't know much about where it is from but the local boardgame shop stocks them and they do sell. They have three or four types. They come in big boxes, which is great if someone wants to outdo everyone else with the biggest birthday or Christmas gift.


Mine is bigger than yours? Saints deliver us from such childishness. I have owned two floor-style traditional go bans. While I enjoyed them, both were terrible purchase decisions and I was happy to sell them to fellow enthusiasts.

kvasir wrote:
Btw if you want to make the Mars Towers concept into reality then one suggestion is to solve a problem that many parents of small children have with regular Go equipment, which is that the stones really could be bigger to avoid a choking hazard.


Playing piece design would be the concern of the manufacturer and publisher but I take your point, thanks. However, observing the huge variety of games and associated equipment on display and in use at our local shop's family board gaming events, it is obvious that zero attention is paid to reducing or eliminating choking hazards.

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 Post subject: Re: Adapting Go for the board game enthusiast (l-o-n-g text)
Post #5 Posted: Wed Dec 27, 2023 9:20 am 
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karlsgo wrote:
The Shogi variant is "Dōbutsu shōgi" and is commercially available (maybe also in your region) - more in Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C5%8Dbutsu_sh%C5%8Dgi


Interesting approach for attracting new shogi players, thanks. There are literally hundreds of themed chess sets in the western tradition from comic book characters and sci-fi scenarios to famous battles. For chess players, of course, nothing more ornate than Staunton pieces is necessary to play their game. Chess collectors have different goals.

karlsgo wrote:
For the Go variant I think that 9×9 and bigger stones is better for the kids.


I'm not talking about toys here, My target audience is not children. That's a completely different market with weird (possibly pseudo-) psychological and safety requirements. Someone else's problems! No, I wish to attract and engage the experienced board game buyer, someone with money and who might enjoy playing a version of go deliberately designed to appeal to their peculiar way of thinking about board games.

Because the 13x13 ruleset is the same as the rules of real go, a sophisticated board game enthusiast might, after a few dozen rounds, perceive go's depth and advance to the real game.

Thanks for your contribution.

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Post #6 Posted: Mon Jan 01, 2024 8:25 am 
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New information: Lee Sedol has created a series of three board games that loosely adapt some ideas from go/weiqi/baduk to the games' play mechanics. I'm not interested in adapting or dumbimg down go's fundamental ruleset but I admire the man's creativity in his post-baduk career and hope he makes millions.

As I watched his promotional video clips, it became clear that square playing pieces, as I envisioned for the Towers, are in fact terribly inelegant. So I have revised the comcept of the playing pieces from square Towers to a circular disk atop a square pedestal, with slight protrusions at the compass points. These protrusions are the standardized mechanical interlock devices, known as LIBERTs (Lander Inter-Base Resource Exchange Transfer).

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 Post subject: Re: Adapting Go for the board game enthusiast (l-o-n-g text)
Post #7 Posted: Tue Jan 02, 2024 10:28 am 
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bogiesan02 wrote:
New information: Lee Sedol has created a series of three board games that loosely adapt some ideas from go/weiqi/baduk to the games' play mechanics. I'm not interested in adapting or dumbimg down go's fundamental ruleset but I admire the man's creativity in his post-baduk career and hope he makes millions.


I heard about that game. Even saw some articles about it. This is the boardgame geek entry for Great Kingdom with photos, links and translated rules.

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