Jun 6, 2011

On Natural & Artificial Games

Can we use the terms natural/artificial for games, in general?

One way to look at this is to relate naturalness to simplicity. Simple games like Hex, Tic Tac Toe or, perhaps, Go, seem almost like discoveries, rather than inventions. But the fact that Hex was only "discovered" in the 1940s does give us pause to ponder. Simplicity is culturally dependent, just as are more obvious or trivial things - e.g. the positional numerical system, or the moral statement "slavery is wrong" -- which were not so in the past.

Another way to look at this is using History. Games, or game concepts, that seem to be invented independently are, at least, cognitively attractive to humans. Perhaps they are cognitively attractive to conscious beings in general, and so, they may even exist in alien cultures. Some examples of those are race games, or Tic Tac Toe/Gomoku variants. Possibly, seed games, Mancalas, also belong here. So, a natural game would be an instance of one of these archetypal game concepts. Of course, as usual, the frontier is blurred. Bao is a very complicated Mancala game. Overly baroque variants can hardly be seen as natural. Shall we include Checkers/Alquerque or Chess games? And how many add-ons can a game include and still be considered a natural one?

A third way to try to make sense of this separation between natural and artificial, is to look into the game's history.

Games like Chess, Go, Mancala and Checkers have evolved through centuries, absorbing gaming experience into their progressive adaptable rules. As in biological natural selection, these games are more like species, with their life trees,
their historical compromises, their multiple branches (cultural instead of biological). So, in this case, every game started in one or more human minds, in some raw artificial state, and was tested in a social environment. Like most species, most games must have become extinct quite quickly. But a few were able to adapt to the cultural intricacies of the memetic landscape of its inventors. And then, when society changed, games also changed, like any adaptable, flexible population of organisms. Of course, the analogy only goes so far. Unlike fossils, if they are rediscovered, games can be brought back and enjoy a new life eventually under new clothes. (The Game of Ur, and Senet, with their reconstructed rules, are famous examples).

Just as for the concept of species, we might differ our final judgement about our recent games. Perhaps Hex will have a biography (it already has thriving children, like Y). Game inventors, nowadays, have an immense set of game ideas and, like alchemists, they try to mix them, mould them into new games. Most of those, as in the past, will become extinct and never get beyond being artificial concepts. Others, because they say something to generations of players, will be carried along with our evolving society and will start to have a biography. They will, slowly and in unexpected ways, become natural concepts.

[also posted in rec.games.combinatorial]

Jun 1, 2011

Two Games for Three Players

Here are a couple of games to be played with three players:

Triad by Cameron Browne

Rules can be checked here.

An older game is Atride by Gauthier Fourcade:

More info can be read here (in French).