One move per day............or how I broke into the TOP 10 at Little Golem
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This list discuss the combinatorial games that I play at the turn based server Little Golem.
I've thrown some commentaries, but the list is mostly to show my enjoyment in reaching a goal that I had set out for myself, so if you don't like bragging... you are advised

If you are unscathed ... I hope that you can share any insight on these fantastic abstract games and how to get better at them.
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1. Board Game: Golem [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:10872]
Maurizio De Leo
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The Battlefield


Little Golem
is a "play by mail" type of server where you can asynchronously challenge many players in a variety of games. Typical game pace is about a move a day, but having 30 to 80 games ongoing at the same time can guarantee enough "meat" for even the most dedicated player.
The site was born for playing GO (you had guessed from the name) but has evolved and now has an interesting mix of games, mostly abstract strategy ones (meaning "combinatorial")
 
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2. Board Game: DaVinci's Challenge [Average Rating:5.56 Overall Rank:13949] [Average Rating:5.56 Unranked]
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The Challenge

While Little Golem has rankings for each game, there is no overall rank.
One of the strongest players had developed a webpage with "Monster ratings", to identify the best "all around" and encourage people to play different games.

In my case it worked, as I have played games that I would have otherwise ignored. My personal challenge was to arrive "on the first page" i.e. among the top 50 players of the site.

EDIT(2017)
The "Monster Rating" page is still up, but it has not been updated to reflect the new games added in the meantime. I took it upon myself to improve the situation and I created a replica of the website with the new games. It is at

http://www.golemrating.com/

The original website is at golem.tasuki.org
 
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3. Board Game: ¥€$ [Average Rating:4.44 Overall Rank:16981]
Maurizio De Leo
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The result

Aug 19,2018
After a hiatus of a couple of years, I went back to the site. Thanks to the addition of a couple of games which I can play reasonably well, I finally cracked the Top 10 in the "no-luck no-word games" variant.



2015
Almost an year later (Jan 28,2015) I made it to the first page of the general ranking. I'm very happy of the achievement, as I never play non-combinatorial games, and I didn't think I could go that high in the general rankings.

2014
Today (Feb 8, 2014) I checked my variation of the rankings (no luck and no word games) and I'm in at number 40.
The ranking constantly change as new games finish, but with this margin I'm quite confident that I should be able to stay in the top 50.
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4. Board Game: Go [Average Rating:7.64 Overall Rank:138]
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Go is one of the first games I played "seriously", meaning that I went regularly to a club and participated in some tournaments.

I basically never read strategy or theory books (although I like to collect them) so I am on the lowest end of the tournaments players, around 8kyu (now after years of hiatus probably even less)

However, I was able to hold my own in the 9x9 (I find 19x19 unplayable by mail) and have a rating of 1805
 
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5. Board Game: Othello [Average Rating:6.07 Overall Rank:2572]
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Not much to say about Othello.

I like the game and I played hundreds of games, but mostly online blitz or against my girlfriend/sister etc.

I participated in a couple of tournaments, with mixed results.
The tournament scene in Italy is quite small, and I know most of the players, having even one time played against a former world champion.
The problem is a lack of low-middle level players like me, which makes most games either an easy win against total beginners or (much more often) a super-easy loss against real tournament players.

On Little Golem there are some strong players. However luckily the opening is counter-intuitive for beginners, and I win a lot of games just by keeping better mobility.

My current ratings are around 1800 (a bit less for 10x10) and I think there is still a bit of room for growth.



 
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6. Board Game: Chess [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:427] [Average Rating:7.10 Unranked]
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I tough the "games of kings" was going to be one of the toughest ones, as I play only for fun and have no knowledge of the theory.

However, it seems that its popularity attracts many newbie players, so the competition is less intense than in other more "niche" games (like Twixt) where the tournaments are populated only by experts.

In the end I managed a rating of 1779, which is among my highest.
 
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7. Board Game: Breakthrough [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:9397]
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On this one I'm quite ambivalent.

I like the "all or nothing" nature of the endgame, where it doesn't matter how many pieces you sacrifice, as long as one of them reaches the target. In this respect Breakthrough reminds me of Cannon, one of my favorite abstracts.

I also like the tactical nature, also mostly in the endgame, which has allowed me to snatch many victories from the jaws of defeat. It is a nice feeling, which I used to have also in Go when I participated in tournaments (I'm bad at joseki and passable at tsumego )

However I don't like the opening phase, which seems to me too "drawn out" and almost "not linked" to the final result. I know the stronger players will complain, saying that actually the opening phase is the decisive part of the game, and the rest is just mindless tactics to "officialize" the result.
However , for my level of play, there seem to be no clear "strategic" principles in the opening which can substitute the impossibility to read tactical sequences at such an early stage.

I heard that the game was modified from a 7x7 board to an 8x8 in order to take part in a contest for designers. I would be glad to try the original variant, to see if it addresses this concern, by expediting the entrance in the middle game.

In the end, I'm doing quite reasonably, hovering around 1750.
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8. Board Game: Connect Four [Average Rating:4.85 Overall Rank:17345]
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This had the risk of falling in the same "specialist" trap of Hex and Twixt, with the online opponents falling only into two categories: complete newbies and super-experts.

However, Connect Four (or "Captain Mistress" as I like to call it) escapes the trap for a couple of reasons.

First is very popular and sold all around the world in commercial editions. With so many people playing, there is more possibilities for development of "average players" like me; people who have played an informal tournament at school or in a holiday camp and were left with the desire to improve and play more, without however going so far as to study the theory behind it.

The second factor is that I think there is less scope for high level play than in Twixt or Hex. Once you know the parity rules, a couple of tricks and are willing to study the openings, there is not much left. I'm not at that level, but I notice that in many games between strong players the first player wins...

For the moment I am hovering around 1762 and I doubt I can go much higher than that.
 
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9. Board Game: Amazons [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:3607]
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Another old favorite, which I used to play on other servers many years ago.

I think it is very suitable for e-mail play, as the position and the last opponent move tell you everything that you need to know, without having to remember previous tactical sequences.
Yes, I know, this is true of all combinatorial games in theory
The current position should always tell you everything and having a coherent game plan is a "human illusion".
However in practice , in games like othello I often play slightly suboptimal moves with an idea in mind (setting a trap, ensure I have a way out if I miss a tactic, etc). Then, after a week, I totally forget the idea. I wonder how I could have played so badly, and go on to play another weak move to try to save the game :-D

At the moment I'm keeping a rating of 1696. I think that the experience in Go helps, as Amazons at his core is about territories and what in Go we call "Moyo"
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10. Board Game: Let's Catch the Lion! [Average Rating:6.67 Overall Rank:3278]
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Let's Catch the Lion! is a wonderful introduction to the world of Shogi and I suggest it as a first step for everyone which wants to learn the Japanese form of chess.

In my particular case I discovered Dobutsu (how i like to call it)much later than Shogi itself; it quickly became one of my favorite for its very tactical nature and for the incredible depth compressed in such a small package.

For a period I played kind of "seriously" on Little Golem, analyzing the games with the "zillions of games" interface (of course without the help of the computer player :-D ).

My rating went upward of 1750, but now it came down significantly (below 1700) due to both my absence from the game and playing by "intuition" only, without moving the pieces on the board.
 
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11. Board Game: ConHex [Average Rating:6.88 Overall Rank:3890]
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ConHex is only slightly more complex than Hex, introducing a "voting" or "area majority" system and a topology which de-emphasizes the center.

I don't think I'm particularly good at it, but I'm having a discrete success at 1683 elo. Perhaps it is because the strongest connection game players consider the standard board to small, and on Little Golem there is no options for a bigger board.
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12. Board Game: Connect6 [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:7160]
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This is one of my favorite "N in a row" games.
For sure it is the most "natural" N-in-a-row without starting player bias. There is an interesting discussion about "Natural" and "Quintessential" games going on in this thread, but I digress.

The object is simple, get 6 pieces in a row, but playing two pieces per turn (!). The starting player advantage is balanced by restricting the first move of the game to a single placement (!!).

I find it delightful, very tactical and less scripted than go-moku. The simple thing that to win you have to produce at least "three" threats creates a lot of tension in the game.
And the elegance and simplicity of the rules is such that I'm surprised it was invented only in this millennium.

Anyway, I'm keeping around 1680 rating at LittleGolem, and I hope to improve as much as possible.
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13. Board Game: International Checkers [Average Rating:6.52 Overall Rank:5746]
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Checkers (of all variants) is another one of my "lifestyle" games.
It is probably the first that I started to play "seriously" joining a club in my late teenage years.

I started with Italian Checkers, dabbling in International Checkers and lately also in English Checkers (a friend of mine is the world champion) and Singaporean Checkers. I play also Brazilian, Spanish, Russian, etc.

The only variants I have not really started playing yet (although I know the rules) are Turkish and Frisian.

On Little Golem this is a relatively new game, and most of the players are at a beginner / intermediate level.
For the moment I won all my games, but I'm sure this will stop once I start meeting the strongest players.

For the moment my rating is around 1650 and in strong growth.
 
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14. Board Game: Blokus Duo [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:863]
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This game is available on Little Golem, but it is called "Polymino" and it has very slightly different rules.
I guess it is because of copyright, like "othello" and reversi.

I went into this without any particular objective, having played only normal Blokus before and not expecting to be any good.

It turned out instead that this was one of my "strongest" games and I won many games, including against Ray Garrison. I eventually reached 1750 and I even arrived sixth in the championship.

When I left little golem, however, I did not unsubscribe from the championship and I lost 8 games with 0 moves, dropping back below 1600.

I am now trying to regain my lost elo, but it seems that I'm quite rusty and I may never get there. Currently around 1650

 
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15. Board Game: Lines of Action [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:2782]
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I find Lines of Action one of the least "intuitive" abstracts.To use Mark Thompson definitions, it lacks "clarity" on what moves will be possible after a few turns.
This favors my style of play, which is very "tactical" and I won quite a few games on the back of this, usually reversing an unfavorable position by sequences of forcing or mostly forcing moves.

However, now that I'm playing in the Championship 1, my style is hindering me. All the players at this level will see most of the tactics. Even if there is a complicated one that they may miss "live", I guess most people analyze on the online board.
Don't misunderstand me, I have nothing against this practice and I do it myself . I'm of the opinion that in postal games you are allowed to "move pieces".
However this means that I have to win through "strategy" instead of "tactics" and I really do not know where to begin. My main ideas for now are to keep an high mobility, try to clump the center and move as quick as possible, i.e. use the most crowded lines.

All summed, I sit around 1650, and I doubt that I can go much higher than that unless I get some "epiphany" on this game essence
 
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16. Board Game: Catchup [Average Rating:7.68 Overall Rank:4990]
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This was one of the new games that I found on the site when I came back this year (2017) after a couple of years of hiatus.

I had heard of it, as it is invented by one of the most active members of the abstract games community and of BGG. I also had an idea of the rules, but I had never "actually" played.

So I was not "thrown off" by a change in rules, which I discovered only "a posteriori". In my biased opinion, the current rules are better than the previous ones.

The game is surely the "coldest" I have played yet and probably the best named abstract.

Regarding my results, I guess that I took advantage of the relatively scarcity of players and of being a "latecomer" and snatched a couple of unexpected wins. You can find me bragging in this thread.
Now that the "cat is out of the bag", however, I expect the established players to threat me more seriously and thus my rating will go down.
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17. Board Game: Havannah [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:4482]
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I took a break from updating the Geeklist, and actually also from playing at Little Golem. Early this year (2014) I finished all my vacation days and started losing games on time, so I opted out of most tournaments.
However for some strange reason I'm still in the top40, so i guess I should continue the list

Havannah is a game that I own and which I had somehow played long time ago. It was part of the group of connection games that I started to explore after discovering the marvel of Hex and buying Connection Games by
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My first plays of The Game of Y, *Star, Gonnect and Havannah are all from that period (2005/2006). However I lacked good opponents for all of these: my sister was a worthy opponent in Hex, but she didn't like branching into other games. So I limited myself to very few plays with her or with some willing members of my Go club.

Long story short, I didn't like Havannah. It seemed to sacrifice the elegance of Hex for no good reason and my vote and comment on BGG (which are from that period) show it.

However, when I played it more "seriously" for my own Little Golem challenge, I re-evaluated it. I still think that Hex is the superior game, but I appreciate the tactics.

I like the fact that you can get out from a strategically lost position with a series of clever tactics. My favorite way of winning is the ring, usually completed with a series of forcing move threatening other rings.

I am still pretty weak at the game, but I hope to one day improve my 1632 rating.
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18. Board Game: Twixt [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:1666]
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This is the first of the "specialist" games.
I enjoy this game, and I rarely lose when playing with my friends. However the players on the site seem to be of a different level altogether.

I guess that, given the few opportunities for high level competition (there are no regular tournament, championships, multiple websites etc.) most of the best players tend to gravitate to Little Golem. Suffice to say that David Bush, which is one of the leading players in the world, is ranked only 11th.

All in all, I'm happy with my 1600 points.
 
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19. Board Game: DVONN [Average Rating:7.45 Overall Rank:387] [Average Rating:7.45 Unranked]
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The first game in this list that I started playing only because of this challenge. I guessed it should be possible to maintain a rating above 1500 even without prior knowledge, and I took the risk.

Of course I knew about the game, being an abstract games collector and liking Zertz and Yinsh. However I had never gone beyond reading the rules.

EDIT
After a few tries, I can't really get the "hang" of the game.
I mostly lost to everybody except people at their first try.

I think I will not play much more and keep my current 1537 points.
 
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20. Board Game: Hex [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:2841]
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The same "specialists game" concept as for Twixt.

This is a game I sometimes demo at conventions (we have a giant board), and I rarely lose even against experienced boardgamers.

However I am no match for the player of the site, and I'm happy that for now I avoided dropping below the 1500 entry rating (1545).

Regarding Hex 19, I don't play it for the same reason that I avoid Go19 (too lengthy in postal play)
 
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21. Board Game: Slither [Average Rating:8.00 Overall Rank:5483]
Maurizio De Leo
Singapore
Singapore
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What to say about this little known game ?

Hex is the quintessential connection game, and many have tried to transpose it from the hexagonal grid to the square grid.

The issue is how to solve gridlocks in the 4-connective tessellation and you can explore this geeklist to see the full range of games spawned from the different solutions.

Slither is one of the most clever ideas, solving gridlocks by forbidding diagonal connections and introducing two-steps turns.

It has also the distinction of being one of the most balanced hybrids between "placement games" like Go and Hex and "movement games" like Checkers or Chess. Dabble into this thread and other related ones in the Abstract Games forum for more info.

In short, I really like this game. However for some reason I have not restarted playing it yet since I rejoined Little Golem. All my games are from 2013-2014. Perhaps I'm scared of being rusty and quickly losing my 1576 rating.
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22. Board Game: Go-Moku [Average Rating:5.96 Overall Rank:5833]
Maurizio De Leo
Singapore
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This game is notoriously solved (Black, the starting player, wins).
To address the problem, the strong players play with all sorts of "balancing rules".

In particular the Japanese, which have even a "professional" circuit, with Dan rating and books published, have invented more and more accurate rules to balance the game. Black can't do "overlines", double-threes and many more patterns. So many rules, actually, that the game is called Renju and not anymore Go-Moku.

I personally dislike the loss of elegance of Renju, and usually don't play neither of the games, preferring Pente also known as Ninuki-Renju.

On Little Golem's Go-Moku, the balancing rules are quite soft, and I have the impression that the starting player is favored. I embarked in some games to gain some rating points for the challenge.

However I notice that I play with a very "light" approach, almost not caring for the details of the position and quickly sending semi-random moves. I guess this has to do with a sort of "giving up" on the game on the ground of knowing in the back of my mind that it is solved.
Or it could all be a rationalization for my abysmal performance
For the moment I managed to keep my rating above 1500 (barely,1504 currently) but I keep losing.

Another point to note is that I tend to get confused, because I'm playing Connect6 games at the same time. The human brain relies on "patterns" and analyzing in rapid sequences positions that look similar but are from games with very different tactics does not help.
A similar thing used to happen when I played Checkers and Italian Checkers in rapid succession with the same "equipment". Different "colors" or materials of the pieces definitely help.
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23. Board Game: TZAAR [Average Rating:7.69 Overall Rank:358] [Average Rating:7.69 Unranked]
Maurizio De Leo
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Another of the games that I started to play only for the purpose of the challenge.

At the beginning it looked almost random, and I lost multiple times by overseeing "mate in one" situations, i.e. making a move and then getting the "game loss" from the interface after the opponent next move.

My rating was below 1500 and I thought it would stay there forever. However with repeated play, I started to get some fuzzy "strategy" concept.

In particular mobility, the importance of reinforcing every move, threatening instead of outright capturing.

I'm still very weak, but I'm now approaching 1600 rating.
 
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24. Board Game: Boxes [Average Rating:4.63 Overall Rank:17112]
Maurizio De Leo
Singapore
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EDIT 2018
I have now started playing Dots&Boxes following the suggestions from Russ and it is easier than I thought.
As a second player, there is some scope for "mane" (mirror) play. However this does not work with stronger players.
In the end I'm doing much better than what I foresaw, encouraging me to "play first, worry later" :-)


Original 2015
This is the first game I never played at little golem.

My "line of attack" for making the top 40 was "breadth" over "depth", as I'm not strong enough to reach the 2000/2200 elo of the very top players in any single game. So I have played most of the games, even ones I didn't have experience of.

On Dots and Boxes however, I still did not plunge in the pool. This is because many years ago I had bought and skimmed through the book The Dots-and-Boxes Game: Sophisticated Child's Play.

Actually, this was the first book I ever bough on Amazon, and so much time passed that I don't remember anything on the strategy. However the book made me conscious of the fact that to play well, you need to use combinatorial game theory (parity of the number of strings, or things like that).

For the moment, I don't have the energy to go and re-read the book, which is by the way 10'000km from my current location. I also assume that most of the players on the site will be familiar with this technique (if nothing else, because other people dismiss the game as childish and don't play competitively). So I'm holding any play until I feel I can at least "float" at the average rating of 1500.

Maybe one of these days I will just drop all my "worries" and try my luck, but not for now.

On a side note....I know the game as "Dots and Boxes", but Little Golem decided to call it just "Dots" and Boardgamegeek just "Boxes"
 
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25. Board Game: Morelli [Average Rating:7.40 Overall Rank:7928]
Maurizio De Leo
Singapore
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One of the more "original" abstracts, with a unusual win conditions and movement reminiscent of Retsami

We can not really talk of "popularity" for the tiny field of web-published and self-published abstract games, but I think this game is a bit better known than others thanks to the effort of the author to publicize it.

I started playing the 13x13 version in 2015, but the games were very long and I was only halfway by the time I left Little Golem.

Having lost all my games on time, I restarted this year (2017) with a very low score, but I'm slowly raising up the ranks.

(Un)fortunately the competition is very stiff, being mostly restricted to the author and other very strong players.
I have however started playing the 9x9 version and I find it much more compelling, with a shorter duration and more possibilities for analysis.
I got a couple of win versus the top players, and my goal is to bring my elo up to about 1700.
 
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