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For as long as he’s been able to create, Leo has loved creating games. Early on he loved mazes, and still creates mazes, but now he creates games with elaborate rules and levels, and often elaborate math.

Here’s a recent one. I don’t even recall the rules exactly — it’s a little like a circular cross between bingo, tic-tac-toe, and prime number theory.

Playing with Leo is like playing Calvin Ball; the rules keep changing, and usually toward his winning! (This is true even of games that he didn’t invent; he’ll reinvent the rules of games like Mousetrap on the fly so that he’ll win!)

Anyway, so this past weekend we accidentally did something rather neat that I thought worth a post.

A while back we got the game Blokus, and played a few times, but Leo got bored with it. To follow the real rules takes rather more strategic skill. But he loves the physicality of Blokus — it’s a nice clean design with fun colorful pieces.

Okay, hold that thought.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to get him interested in chess by creating micro-chess games with interesting “capture-the-castle” (hereafter CtC) story lines. He’s not really interested in chess per se, but likes the CtC aspect; and as always, he makes up new rules as he goes along, Calvin Ball style.

So, this past weekend we ended up at a house in the Sierras, and they happened to have Blockus, so we started to play, but….

And here’s where this starts to get interesting!

…as usual Leo got bored and started making up rules. But this time he started combining the Blockus rules with rules from the CtC-chess games we’d been playing, and, after some rule-evolution, we ended up with what seems like a really cool game!

This is a too brief description of the game, mostly because we only invented it the other day, and to try to give the exact rules would (a) be impossible because they kept changing, but, more interestingly, (b) what was actually more fun than playing the game, was trying to figure out what a good rule set would be!

The core idea is that, like any Capture the Castle game (CtC), the opponents each have a castle which is (usually) immobile. (Castles in chess actually move, of course!) We let the 2×2 square pieces be the castles. Each player chooses a one of those 4 blocks and places it in the center of his or her edge of the board. (Conveniently, the Blockus board has as even number of rows (and cols), so you can put a 2×2 piece right in the middle.)

The goal of the game is to get your armies (represented by red game pieces) to touch the opponent’s castle. The color of your castle is irrelevant; it might as well be a fifth color — grey, for example — so as not to be confused with the other pieces. The color of the other pieces, which we called “resources” mean specific things: As mentioned above, Red are armies, Green are forests, Blue are lakes, and Yellow are walls.

Here’s where the rule-making gets interesting … and complex!

I’m giving here some slightly mixed up version of the rules sort-of as we ended up with them, but there were various infelicities in these particular rules, and part of the point of writing this blog post is to send it to some board-gamer friends of mine for feedback. So take these with huge piles of salt.

Players take turns. Okay, so far so good! 🙂 On your turn you select any one piece from the resource pile (i.e., from among those not already placed on the board), and place it anywhere you like. Lakes (blue) cannot touch other lakes; there must be at least enough space between lakes for an army to “march” through. Armies, on the other hand must touch in order to form a continuous “supply line” from your castle. The idea is to build out an army line (supply line) from your castle to the opponent’s castle(s) and defeat them. When armies touch armies, or touch an opponent’s castle, a battle takes place and the army (red) block with the most component squares wins, and the loser’s block is removed. If both blocks have the same number of component squares, you roll dice or flip for it, or something. (We actually did rock-paper-scissors.) If a part of an army gets cut off from its supply line (usually because an opponent defeated a component piece of your supply line), then no further armies can be extended from that “orphan”, and such an orphan always loses any battle. We call armies that have a contiguous resupply line “live”, and others “dead” or “orphaned”.

That’s offense…oh, I should clarify that by “touch” I mean that one or more component squares from a piece share a face; diagonal doesn’t count as touching (except that the rule about lakes not touching includes not touching diagonally).

Defense involves lakes (blue), walls (yellow), and forests (green). Anyone can place any of these, but armies can also take them out, it just takes effort. This is there the rules start to get somewhat random. The general idea is that any live army (one with a resupply line) can attack and destroy a wall, drain a lake, or burn down a forest, but it’ll cost you. First off, it’ll cost you the army that does the attacking (which must be touching the target). So, it’s a little like the army-v-army battle, but the army that attacks the wall (etc) is also destroyed, and moreover, the different objects have different strengths. The way we were playing, blowing up a wall cost one army, burning down a forest cost 2 armies, and draining a lake cost 3 armies (meaning that you discarded the terminal three composite red playing pieces, along with the wall, lake, or forest into the resource pile). Destroying something (wall, forest, or lake) makes a hole through which you can run your armies in subsequent turns. Of course, you can also always just build your army/supply line around the obstacles.

One thing that we didn’t get quite straight, but which gets into one of the neatest things about using the Blokus set, is how to avoid a simple loop where a defender builds, say, a wall, the attacker blows it up, and then defender just puts it right back in place because it was “blown” into the resources pile. One idea is that what you actually do is to blow a hole in it, which you would need a specially-shaped new wall pieces to fill. This opens a whole new way of thinking about the game, which involves not just the limitations of resources, but also the limitations in terms of available shapes, and takes planning to a whole new level which we only barely explored.

In our one day — maybe two hours — of play, we never did really settle on a good set of rules, but you wouldn’t expect to in that short period. It’ll have to be test played, probably many time (and I will definitely go out and ask my board game friends for guidance!)  But playing the game was only a part of the fun; actually making up new rules, and trying to think through their implications was actually more fun than playing the game!

CALVIN BALL!