One of the motivations of starting this game project is to make a really compelling multiplayer version of the game of Go. There have been quite a few attempts at this already: but it is pretty difficult to do.
This post covers the rules we’ve come up with for our attempt – later in the week hopefully we’ll have a downloadable play-test version to try!
The first thing to note is that we have two motivations:
- Make a base game that is a functional, compelling multiplayer version of Go.
- Extend that to make it more accessible to people to play on a causal basis.
This rule description mixes both things, but we’ll try to make some game variations which separate the two things (probably a “Pro” version which removes the randomness).
Instead of going to war, ancient tribes chose to settle their differences by playing a mythical game. One in which the victor triumphed by surrounding their enemy on the battlefield. In this game:
The game takes place on varying sizes of map and is based on a combination Oriental game of Go with some new ideas that take it into new directions.
Items not marked with a “*” are part of the core game which is closer to multiplayer Go. Items marked with a “*” are part of what makes the game more accessible to non-specialist players.
The game comprises the following:
- Several sets of colored Go stones / plastic tokens or other markers (called stones in this description). A separate color for every player or faction. There are typically 80-100 stones of each color.
- A territory board depicting a map to be played upon that is made up of a grid of intersecting lines such as those found on a Go board.
- A pair of dice. [*]
- A deck of game cards. [*]
To set the game up:
- Place the game board map on the table and identify the chosen start points (highlighted intersections on the map) for the number of players (typically 2-5 players, but it could be more). The start points should be as far apart as possible for the number of players who plan to play.
- Each player chooses a color to play.
- Each player rolls both dice: the players choose their start points on the board in descending order of scores on their dice. In the case of equal values on the dice the dice are roled again between these two players. [*]
- The deck of cards is shuffled and placed face down on the table. [*]
- The players then seat themselves at the location best suited for their start point.
- If handicaps are used, set the handicaps.
Object of the Game
The object of the game is to control more territory than any of your opponents. At the end of the game, the player who controls the most territory wins the game.
Game Board / Maps
The game takes place on a grid of intersecting lines. However, this does not need to be a 19×19 grid as used in the game of Go. In theory any board of sufficient size would work. There will be more on game boards in a future post, but to try it out a 19×19 go game board works well for a 4 player game.
The game of Go provides a system of handicaps that enable weaker players to gain an initial positional advantage over stronger players. In this multiplayer version, handicaps are determined as follows:
- A player that has never played the game receives a handicap of 0.
- A player that has played the game at least once receives a handicap of -1 for every game they have played and and additional -1 for every game they have won, up to a maximum of -5.
For every point of difference in the handicap between players the players with a higher handicap may play a starter move (in order and following normal game rules) on the board until all handicap points are cancelled out. They may move a maximum distance of 3 from their start point and any previously placed stone on each move.
Example: If Sarah has played and won the game twice already, Sam has played twice and Erin has never played. Then this results in a set of handicaps of -4, -2 and 0 for the three players respectively. Sam also rolled the highest score on the initial dice throw.
To place their handicap stones: Erin goes first and plays a stone (3 steps away from her start point), since no one has a handicap of -3 she also plays a second stone, 3 steps away from her first. Now Sam plays her first handicap stone, 3 steps away from her start point (+). Erin then plays her third stone, Sam her second and Erin her fourth. Sarah plays no handicap stones.
(+ if Erin had rolled a higher score she would have played a third stone unopposed also)
Game setup is now complete.
The rules of playing and play are almost identical to playing in the game of Go except for a few exceptions.
- One stone is played per player per turn in sequence.
- A stone may be played in any location on the board within the permitted playing distance from any other stone the player has placed (or from the origin point of the player). This distance must be counted using a traceable path of intersections on the map (i.e. it cannot jump gaps in the board).
- A stone placement must comply with the standard rules of Go such that:
- It is on an intersection of lines on the map.
- The stone played or its group must have at least 1 liberty (i.e. the move may not be suicide according to Go rules).
- Discontinuities on the map count as edges and have the same effect as board edges in Go.
Life and Death of stones
Stones on the board once placed are never moved unless they are captured or a special move card is used. When placed on the board, a stone will have at least one “liberty” which is the name for an empty intersection on the board in its immediate neighborhood. Figure 1 below shows a stone with 4 liberties and 1 liberty etc.
Figure 1: Liberties. The first stone has 4 liberties, the second has 1 liberty (All Images made with AllAboutGo).
Two stones that are adjacent horizontally or vertically (but not diagonally) form a Group.
All stones in a group share the same number of liberties. As show in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Stones next to each other share Liberties. This group has 6 liberties.
If a stone or group loses its last liberty it is captured and removed from the board by the opposing player playing the last stone removing a liberty (see multiplayer rules below). If a group loses its last liberty, the whole group is captured.
Captured stones are removed from the board and count towards the points total of the capturing player at the end of the game.
No stone may be played such that it or the group it joins has no liberties.
Figure 3: Suicide moves are not permitted.
The board may never be returned to its previous state. Hence in certain situations some moves are prohibited as illustrated in Figure 4.
Figure 4: Ko prevents the same board configuration recurring.
The first player to play is the one who rolled the highest number combination on the initial dice roll. Play moves clockwise from then on.
Upon every turn, each player may either play exactly one stone, or pass. If the player elects not to pass they perform the following:
- They roll the two game dice.
- The higher of the two numbers determines the maximum distance from the current stones the player has placed that the new move can be.
- Further, if the player rolls a pair of numbers they may also draw a game card at the end of their turn.
Whether drawing a card or not, the player may then make a move by either:
- Placing a stone on the board in a permitted location.
- OR Playing one of the cards in their possession (including any drawn in this round).
If at the end of the round, the player has more than 3 cards, they must discard one card.
If the player elects to PASS for the round, they may not place a stone or play a card. They do not throw the dice. However, they may draw a card from the stack. If they have more than 3 cards at the end of the round, they must return one to the stack.
If all players pass, the game is declared finished and scoring begins.
Scoring and Winning
Scoring the game is carried out in a similar way to Go:
- After agreement that the game has ended, each player removes any opposing dead stones from his territory as is, and adds them to its prisoners.
- Prisoners are then filled into the corresponding opponent’s territory until that territory is full. Any stones which cannot be placed in the opponent’s territory are counted and added to the capturing player’s game total.
- Any points provided by game cards are added to the players total.
- The points of territory, game cards and additional prisoners are counted and compared. The player with more territory wins. If two or more players have the same amount the game is a draw, which is called a “jigo.”
Resignation is not permitted, however a tribe may pass at every turn.
The stone and group capture rule described above functions in 2 player versions of the game just as it does in Go. In the multi-player version however, there are potentially many more players involved, hence a stone or group may be surrounded by stones of 2 or more opposing factions.
In this case, to calculate the split of the spoils:
- The number of stones in the group is divided by the number of players occupying at least one liberty of the group.
- Each of the players receives an even split of the number of stones from the group no matter how many liberties they occupy.
- Should a remainder of stones be left due to an odd number, the player placing the killing stone receives the balance.
In certain situations in games of more than 2 players, a player may be suffering heavy losses and accept a surrender to another player. Surrender may be temporary or permanent.
- A player may only surrender to the player that has the most stones in contact with its own stones.
- Surrender requires one move on the part of the surrendering faction and indication of who is being surrendered to.
- Surrender may be accepted or rejected by the other faction, but takes zero moves (the occupying faction may still move on the same turn) from that player.
Once surrender is accepted:
- Both players continue playing and their stones are not competitive or threatening to the player the capitulated to (similar to an alliance) and vice versa.
- The stones of allied players count as a single group when next to each other and do not remove each other’s liberties.
- At the end of the game territory and prisoners of the occupied faction count towards the score of the occupying factions.
- A player may only be occupied by / surrender to one other player.
- A player may however occupy multiple other factions.
Ways out of occupation. At any time, the occupied faction may:
- Surrender to ANOTHER faction (different from the current one) If and only If the other player has more stones in contact with their stones than the current occupier. This move does NOT require the approval of the current occupier.
- Declare independence: This can be carried out at any time and costs one move. This makes the player completely independent once again. This move does NOT require the approval of the occupier.
In both cases, no new evaluations of liveness of stones or groups is carried out. In other words, although the numbers of liberties of certain stones has now changed, no stones will be removed from the board. This will only be carried out if new moves are played which affect a stone or group or in the end-game when counting occurs.
Certain game cards and situation allow multiple stone moves to be made in the same turn by one tribe. In this case:
- Stones placed must be at least 5 steps apart on the board.
- Stones may not be part of the same group structure.
This is true unless the card directs otherwise.
The game includes special move cards which can be deployed at certain times during the game. This allows players to significantly alter the flow of the game at times. The cards are defined as follows:
- No Move (x6): not useful for anything.
- Extra Move (x16): take an extra move (i.e. 2 moves in a turn).
- Reject (x4): reject another player’s move in the same round.
- Reject and Replace (x2): reject another player’s move made in the same round and replace with one of your own stones.
- Move Anywhere (x4): make a move anywhere on the board.
- Pair Place (x4): instead of playing a single stone, play a pair of stones that are connected as a group.
- Replace Any (x2): replace any stone on the board with one of your own. [REMOVED in New Version of the game -> too powerful and disrupts Go groups.]
- Move Two (x2): instead of placing a new stone, move two existing stones already on the board.
- Move Three (x1): the same as move two stones, but for 3.
- 3 Game Points (x3): add 3 additional points/prisoners at the end of the game.
- 5 Game Points (x1): add 5 additional points/prisoners at the end of the game.
- Trade Prisoners 1-2 (x4): trade 1 prisoner for 2 from any other player.
- Trade Prisoners 2-5 (x2): trade 2 prisoners for 5 from any other player.
- Trade Prisoners 3-8 (x1): trade 3 prisoners for 8 from any other players.
- Player: individual playing the game.
- Faction: an army in the game represented by a single color of stones. A faction may be played by a single player or multiple players
- Stone: a single playing piece played by a Faction.
- Group: two or more stones placed on the field of the same color which are adjacent horizontally or vertically (not diagonally).
- Liberty: A free space horizontally or vertically next to a stone or group is a liberty for that stone or group.
Common Go Terms
- Aji: the latent ability of a group of dead stones to still influence interesting play.
- Atari: where a stone or chain of stones has only one liberty, and may be captured on the next move if not given one or more additional liberties.
- Dame: unfilled neutral points that will not benefit either side
- Eyes: Eyes are internal liberties of a group of stones that, like external liberties, prevent the group’s capture, but unlike external liberties are much harder for an opponent to fill. The presence or absence of eyes in a group determine life or death of that group. A group with no eyes, or only one eye, will die unless its owner can develop them. Conversely, a group with two eyes or more will live. There is nothing an opponent can do to capture such a group, because it is impossible to remove all liberties of the group by playing one stone, thus any such play is suicide. Eyes are counted as occupied territory of the group that fully contains the eye. There are cases where a group may share one or more eyes with one of the opposing player’s groups. These eyes do not count as territory for either player; sometimes these eyes are reduced to dame as the board changes in other areas to give one or both groups additional eyes, allowing one or both players to fill these shared eyes, but sometimes they cannot resolve.
- Sente: a move indicating an overwhelming follow on move that the opponent would typically need to respond to.
- Gote: a situation where a player is having to respond to initiative taken by an opponent.
- Tenuki: ignoring the opponent (normally in Sente).
Extensions and Variations
There are plenty of extension and variations of the game. The most obvious are:
- Variations in game board shape
- Variations in dice rules or other effects on where moves can be played (including removal of dice in play to remove randomness).
- Variations on special move cards (including removing them to remove randomness).
- Variations in counting rules.
- Variations in alliance/surrender rules.
We’ve played with some – but lots still to think about.
The rules are relatively simple. With the key insights being:
- Making group capture collaborative with a sharing of the spoils
- Allowing surrender to temporarily work together – this keeps the board from being littered with dead players army remains.
- Using dice and cards to add randomness.
The dice element can be replaced by a maximum range restriction on moves if randomness is not desired. It could also be removed completely. The maximum range or dice restriction does have the effect of reducing search complexity in the game (in Go one can move anywhere) however, it also makes the game a little closer to a military engagement.
A play-test kit hopefully coming by the end of this week!
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