Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Space Checkers

People play variations of draughts all over the world. Here in the U.S. of A., we play English draughts, more commonly called checkers. It's a simple, and sometimes fun, game. I played it with my dad and brothers growing up. The rules around the world are essentially the same, sometimes with a larger board, sometimes without "kings". It's a very abstract game, limiting everything to a small grid, and generally this grid is thought to represent some medieval battlefield. As a kid, I enjoyed this, but my attention span has waned. I can't find someone to play against without getting distracted. So, that, combined with my younger brother's continued interest in making his own "space game," led me to ask myself the profoundly inane question;

What if the checkers were in space?

I thought about this question for a while, and decided only a few things needed to change. First of all, if you move a piece in a turn, it's going to move next turn, too. And the turn after that. And the turn after that. Until you use a turn to stop it, or change its direction. The next three rules just deal with the consequences of the first. Second new rule: if a piece will move during a turn, you may use your turn changing its direction, except to the direction it came from. To "reverse course," you have to spend one turn stopping, then spend the next turn starting back in the other direction. Third rule; all captures are taken, & you may change course during a capture. Finally, a fourth rule is that you have to do something about the board edges. For using an American checkerboard, I recommend the following rule; a piece which leaves the board during a turn spends the next two turns out of play, and in the third turn after leaving the board, returns to play at rest on the last space it occupied. If an opponents piece is in this position, the piece off the board is captured. Checkers, summarized from Wikipedia (you probably can skip this):
  • Pieces – Pieces are typically flat and cylindrical. They are invariably split into one darker and one lighter colour. There are two classes of pieces: men and kings. Kings are differentiated as consisting of two normal pieces of the same colour, stacked one on top of the other. Often indentations are added to the pieces to aid stacking.
  • Starting position – Each player starts with twelve pieces on the dark spaces of the three rows closest to that person's own side (as shown in the diagram). The row closest to each player is called the crownhead or kings row. The player with the darker coloured pieces moves first.
  • How to move – There are two ways to move a piece:
    • A simple move involves sliding a piece one space diagonally forwards to an adjacent unoccupied dark square.
    • A jump is a move from a square diagonally adjacent to one of the opponent's pieces to an empty square immediately and directly on the opposite side of the opponent's square, thus jumping directly over the square containing the opponent's piece. An uncrowned piece may only jump diagonally forwards, kings may also jump diagonally backwards. A piece that is jumped is captured and removed from the board.
    • Multiple-jump moves are possible if when the jumping piece lands, there is another immediate piece that can be jumped; even if the jump is in a different direction. Jumping is mandatory – whenever a player has the option to jump, that person must jump (even if it's to the jumping player's disadvantage; for example, a player can choose to allow one of his men to get captured to set up capturing two or more of his/her opponent's men). When multiple-option jumping moves are available, whether with the one piece in different directions or multiple pieces that can make various jumping moves, the player may choose which piece to jump with and which jumping option or sequence of jumps to make. The jumping sequence chosen does not necessarily have to be the one that would have resulted in the most captures; however, one must make all available captures in the chosen sequence. Any piece, whether it is a king or not, can jump a king.
  • Kings – If a player's piece moves into the kings row on the opposing player's side of the board, that piece is said to be crowned (or often kinged in the U.S.), becoming a king and gaining the ability to move both forwards and backwards. If a player's piece jumps into the kings row, the current move terminates; having just been crowned, the piece cannot continue on by jumping back out (as in a multiple jump), until the next move. A piece is normally crowned by placing a second piece on top of it; some sets have pieces with a crown molded, engraved or painted on one side, allowing the player to simply turn the piece over or to place the crown-side up on the crowned piece, further differentiating Kings from ordinary pieces.
  • How the game ends – A player wins by capturing all of the opposing player's pieces or by leaving the opposing player with no legal moves. The game ends in a draw, if neither side can force a win, or by agreement if a player offers a draw and the opponent accepts.
And our additions:
  1. A piece in motion stays in motion, unless acted on during a turn.
  2. You may use your turn to start a piece in motion, stop a piece in motion, or change a piece's direction.
  3. All captures are taken, & you may change course during a capture to make multiple-piece captures as in the original rules.
  4. Do something about board edges!
  5. Also, kings?
For #4, you could:
  • Have an unrestricted board size
  • Make a fancy rule for dealing with the edge of a small board like "A piece which leaves the board during a turn spends the next two turns out of play, and in the third turn after leaving the board, returns to play at rest on the last space it occupied. If an opponents piece is in this position, the piece which was off the board is captured."
  • Call pieces which move off the board captured
And #5 is similarly resolved in many ways:
  • no kings, the piece simply immediately reverses course
  • the piece gets "kinged" in the normal sense, with similar movement bonuses
  • in the spirit of the above, your piece and your opponents nearest piece are simultaneously captured, but you get another piece on your king's row
Having played a number of wargames and obscure board games, I'm favourable to odd rules. It's just a part of building a system that turns something abstract and mathematical into something alive and human. But sometimes, simpler rules are better, and most people will probably just keep playing checkers. Or Halo. PS: This is cool. They built checkers into HTML: White Dude ⛀ &#9920 White King ⛁ &#9920 Black Dude ⛂ &#9922 Black King ⛃ &#9923 I think they actually did chess, too, but that would require way more typing. Find it yourself.