2008 02 12
How working at a game store combines with grad school angst

Posted by in: Academia, Games, Philosophy

Last night, I had a dream about Bertrand Russell.

I was still at my Canadian university. He was visiting, trying to get an offer there so he could go negotiate with his home university (not intending to come to Canada, just making everyone spend a bunch of money and time so he could get a raise). He was stalking magisterially about the common room, and someone introduced him to me and it became my job to entertain him for a little while. He sat down and asked, “So, do you have any puzzles?” – meaning logic puzzles or philosophical puzzles that he could work on.

Guilt and horror. Oh crap, I haven’t been thinking about this stuff well enough to have anything good to say to him… yet more evidence that I shouldn’t be in philosophy. Is he giving me a look of withering disapproval? I can’t bear to look. Scanning the bookshelf in hopes of finding inspiration.

Then it came to me: we could play a strategically interesting boardgame. He would be entertained and I would be off the hook. What board game best suits the situation? It should be short, a perfect information game, and a game where I have a chance.

I took down Hey That’s My Fish (in which penguins compete to eat the most fish – it is actually a very short strategic game, very fun) and started to set it up. Then the dream ended, so we’ll never know whether I beat Bertrand Russell in Hey that’s my Fish.

Howls of outrage (4)

2005 11 02

Posted by in: Games

The game of Go is ancient and may be the best game ever. (How’s that for an opener? Did I mention that since the beginning of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun?)

Go is easy to learn, beautiful and viscerally satisfying in the way Tetris is. It offers endless complexity as you get better, but has a unique handicapping system which allows masters to play with novices on a close-to-equal footing. Computers can’t beat us at it. In short, you should learn to play Go.

If you have someone to play with, you can make a paper board and paper stones, and just give it a try. I would recommend making a 7×7 board, and playing your first several games as “the Capture Game”: first player to capture any stones wins. Then play a few games with the victory condition that the first player to capture three stones wins.

As you play these quick games, you will start to see some of the situations that arise in regular Go. Then the additional rules (like ko) will start to make sense. (If you can, I would recommend doing this before doing the online tutorial, but of course, the tutorial is very good even if you don’t.) The beauty of Go is that even among the best players, it doesn’t involve memorized sequences of opening moves, like chess can; it’s easy to discover the basic strategies just by playing it yourself a few times. Once you’ve played three-stone capture a few times, then play real Go on a 7×7 or 9×9 board.

Here’s the best online interactive (Java) tutorial.

A good next stop is the American Go Association’s page of computer Go programs. They also have links pages, a page where you can connect with other people wanting to play over the internets, and a short printable introductory book.

And here’s the cool thing that made me want to post all this stuff: a home-made goban (Go board) that resembles the Giant’s Causeway. It was made from 400 individual pieces of wood. The picture shows the goban in action, during a game of “VertiGo”; stones are dropped onto the varied topography of the board from a height, first player to capture any stones wins. This hits all the angles for me: ancient beautiful strategy game, plus geologic eye candy, plus absurdly dedicated and clever craftsmanship, plus goofy-ass new game.

Howls of outrage (5)