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Pretty sneaky, sis

There is an old commercial for the boardgame “Connect 4” where the sister wins over her brother by the brother just plain not noticing an otherwise plain-as-day and straight-forward, direct victory attempt.

To the consternation of boardgame snobs everywhere, who never want to win via just a blunder, who not only want to capture the king but actually create a checkmate position where no matter what the other player tries to do, it’s over. (“No, you can’t move your knight there, your king is in check”.)

We’ve seen this in the eurogame scene, where some game groups have a culture of allowing infinite takebacks and even giving advice. “We want to play against you at your best”, they say, “that’s why we have this culture.”

But in this era of AI and bots, where a game like Arimaa that was specifically designed to beat the bots barely made it a decade before getting defeated, and even the multi-millenia stalwart Baduk got defeated, that culture feels like it’s missing some of the just plain fun in boardgames.

I played a couple of rounds of 19×19 tonight against a friend and I managed to win through complete wack blunders like leaving huge groups in atari just because I could keep my pokerface when noticing my own mistakes after making him, whereas my pal was groaning and facepalming even after making minor mistakes, like “OMG what did I just do!” and I could profit off that. I made even bigger mistakes but he didn’t notice them and couldn’t capitalize on them. That’s the kind of stuff that can only happen at the kyu level, pros would never. But that’s why I love the game at our amateur level. It feels like the board is an open ocean and every game is wildly different. It’s just wild creative fun, pictionary in an icon size monochrome pixel grid, a conversation with our hands.

The “I don’t wanna win against just a blunder” crowd, what’s the next step? Using checkmate as the analogy, they could make matemate chess where “no, you can’t make that move, that would lead to checkmate the next turn”, where the goal is to create a forced-mate-in-two situation because you could otherwise “blunder” into a checkmate. And then even that version of the game wouldn’t be enough, you’d have to make a matematemate version where you have to create a forced-mate-in-three to win, and so on. Why don’t you just put the whole world in a bottle?

Blunders are part of the human side of board games. I love ‘em.


A friend wrote in to point out that super leniency, takebacks, time rewinds, card editing, giving out resources etc can be pretty clutch when designing and playtesting new games. If a game doesn’t sing on five doshes a turn, maybe it’ll be more fun with ten or twenty, or with one or two. Taking a sharpie to the cards in the middle of the game to change them to work better, tutoring or mulliganing for specific cards etc you wanna try out and so on.

Courtly Tak and Street Tak

The Tak rulebook weighs in:

But there in a cultural divide in the game that I rarely see discussed. Two different types of play, which I think of as courtly Tak, and street Tak.

Courtly Tak is typically played for intellectual and social gains. Games are slower. Tactics and strategy are valued. Gentility and courtesy are essential. Player allow each other to take back moves or may give advice in order to feel that they are competing against each other in peak form.

Street Tak is played primarily for a physical gain or bragging rights. Games tend to be faster. Surprise and cunning are valued. Manners are more brash, and it is not uncommon for players to be bullied or insulted. Let me stress that these different types of play have little to do with the setting. I have seen brutal, angry games played in opulent sitting rooms. I have also seen civility and grace play out across an ale soaked tavern table.

The purpose of street Tak is winning. The purpose of courtly Tak is showing that you are the better player.

I don’t want people to be bullied or browbeat. Please play politely.

But this part:

Player allow each other to take back moves or may give advice in order to feel that they are competing against each other in peak form.

That is the one thing from “Courtly” play that I don’t feel a strong desire for, the whole “let’s give each other advice and find the perfect play” when in a world of robots and data, it’s sloppy, imperfect play that’s a breath of fresh air.