November 14th, 2004

color cycle (slow)

Inventing a game: Möbiatus

So while in my usual Shrine of Ideas- y'know, sitting on the john- I thought up this idea for a cool pencil-and-paper game. Playing it against myself shows that, as I feared, the start of the game is far too slow to hold intrest, because the board is too large for the piece movement and starting position- both need to be fixed. I'd like ideas.

The game is called "Möbiatus", named after the unusual topology of the board. It can be simulated with two parallel boards on a flat sheet of paper, but it's more visually interesting this way.

This is a pencil-and-paper sort of Checkers from outer space. The topology of the board, which starts out confusing, gets weirder as the game progresses. The goal is to capture or immobilize all opponent pieces. The game must conclude within 70 move-pairs.

To set up the game, you'll need uniformly double-sided graph paper (cutting along the lines on one side cuts along the lines on the other- most good graph paper is like this), a pair of scissors to cut it, tape to join the board, and a differently-colored pen for each player.

Firstly, construct the board. Cut a 5x31 grid-square strip of the graph paper, then twist it into a Möbius strip (and tape it that way), carefully lining up the squares. Allow a one-square overlap- if you prefer to tape it without the overlap, cut it 5x30. (I want a smaller board, but anything less than a 6:1 ratio can't easily be twisted into a Möbius strip.)
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It's sort of like Checkers, but written as only an alien ever could. What sorts of strategies could possibly emerge by such a bizarre set of rules- with captures that only occur at a distance (thirty spaces away), each move changing the topology of the game board in two places (two singularities- remember to make the one on the flip side!), and the potential for ridiculous multiple captures, I don't know how it will play out.

I do know the game needs a lot of work. The opening to the game is far too slow; knight moves aren't good enough. I like the way the Möbius strip works, and the way singularities work. (The origin of the "singularity on the flip side" rule, by the way, was so there wouldn't be a safe space on the board opposite to a previously occupied location. It also invalidates two spaces a move, forcing the game to an earlier conclusion). The physical difficulties of playing on a Mobius strip aren't actually too terrible- but it's possible to play it on two sides of a flat sheet of paper, as long as one remembers to do a left-right flip when moving over the edge, or even on two parallel boards. It might be easier to see that way, but it's more fun on a Möbius strip.

It needs work, and I'd love suggestions. Especially playtesting, because my only opponent so far is myself.


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