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Subject: Contra ludos coniunctionis rss

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Richard Moxham
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We appear to be living in an age where abstract games of placement (to the extent that abstract games may be said to enjoy any popularity at all) are generally preferred to those of movement.

Obviously such claims are not strictly substantiable, but I nevertheless see some value in recording the impression to which my observation of the traffic on this forum over the past three or four years has led me, and which in particular the range of new games proposed by contributors during that period seems to support.

Actually, I’d take my initial generalisation a step further. I suppose it might be argued with a degree of merit that an inclination towards placement tends to shepherd you almost automatically into the narrower field of – what? - connection or territory or pattern-formation; but the last-named of those three shows little sign of mass appeal, and, of the first two (though this is somewhat closer-run), it’s connection in some shape or form that emerges with the clear popular vote. And even then, of the various shapes and forms which connection might imaginably take, the struggle to join opposite edges, à la Hex, seems sometimes to be the only game in town.

Ultimately, I guess I’m evangelising for more focus on movement games, on the grounds – in my view incontrovertible – that they simply provide more drama than pure placement ever can. (For a telling demonstration of that ‘edge’, one has only to look at Slither, a game whose genius resides in a single but crucial intuition into the benefits which might accrue from even a tiny unfreezing of the typical connection stasis.) But if the hope of so broad an attention-shift is a pipedream, at least let’s have a bit more creativity about the place. It can’t be all that difficult to come up with something genuinely fresh: not even – perish the thought – on the smooth-worn terrain of Hex variations. Maybe for a start it would be helpful to acknowledge that (notwithstanding Corey’s transcendent exception) the hex grid is the natural habitat of connection, just as squares are of movement.

Only sayin’…

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Nick Bentley
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mocko wrote:

We appear to be living in an age where abstract games of placement (to the extent that abstract games may be said to enjoy any popularity at all) are generally preferred to those of movement.


Only in this little community. In the larger world, movement is popular. Many of the most popular commercial abstracts use movement (Tak, Santorini, Onitama, and The Duke are the recent hits, and then there's the stalwarts like Hive and GIPF games, etc.) - our little group of combinatorial game enthusiasts is miniscule compared to the number of people who buy and enjoy those games.

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christian freeling
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milomilo122 wrote:
mocko wrote:

We appear to be living in an age where abstract games of placement (to the extent that abstract games may be said to enjoy any popularity at all) are generally preferred to those of movement.


Only in this little community. In the larger world, movement is popular. Many of the most popular commercial abstracts use movement (Tak, Santorini, Onitama, and The Duke are the recent hits, and then there's the stalwarts like Hive and GIPF games, etc.) - our little group of combinatorial game enthusiasts is miniscule compared to the number of people who buy and enjoy those games.


I don't visit the larger world all that much but Richard is certainly right where BGG is concerned. In part it may be a trend, appearing and disappearing with the mood of the times, but it also seems to be 'institutionalised' by Mark and Corey and you and others. Not that it bothers me - my last game happens to be 'placement only' because it happened to be placement only. No particular reason for the mechanics or indeed for the game. Except that it's a good game.
 
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Nathan James
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Movement games seem almost bound to run afoul of the aesthetic preferences regularly espoused here. Movement necessarily leads to more complex games, though only slightly. Unfortunately, it seems as if games with more than two rules are out of favor.

More speculative is the following thought. We are primarily a community of innovators and dabblers. If any of us are really studying the play of these new abstract games, I see little evidence of it. This is in sharp contrast with those who pursue a single "lifestyle" game, whether Chess, Go or something else. Obviously the most serious pursuit of a single game doesn't lend itself to dabbling in new inventions and works in progress. I wonder if dabbling itself doesn't strongly discourage certain types of games and contribute to a bias against movement.
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Richard Moxham
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NJames wrote:
Movement games seem almost bound to run afoul of the aesthetic preferences regularly espoused here. Movement necessarily leads to more complex games, though only slightly. Unfortunately, it seems as if games with more than two rules are out of favor.

"More than two" may be overstating the case a little, but in principle that does seem to be the way of the world. I think it's bound up with that misunderstanding of the concept of 'elegance' to which I've referred elsewhere.

NJames wrote:
More speculative is the following thought. We are primarily a community of innovators and dabblers. If any of us are really studying the play of these new abstract games, I see little evidence of it. This is in sharp contrast with those who pursue a single "lifestyle" game, whether Chess, Go or something else. Obviously the most serious pursuit of a single game doesn't lend itself to dabbling in new inventions and works in progress. I wonder if dabbling itself doesn't strongly discourage certain types of games and contribute to a bias against movement.

But this is also a community of ... no, it isn't a community of, but certainly a community that includes a strong (and above all a vocal) coterie of technical, conceptual thinkers. Theorists, you might say. (I've noticed the same trend in the forum discussions on Little Golem, despite its raison d'être as a playing site.) And I sometimes wonder if that doesn't also contribute to placement games' getting most of the analytical attention, in that their static nature makes them that much easier to get to grips with. Bit like painting or photographing objects in preference to animals, you know? Stuff like edge-templates and so on is a whole lot less tricky if the game will stand still for you.


 
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christian freeling
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mocko wrote:
But this is also a community of ... no, it isn't a community of, but certainly a community that includes a strong (and above all a vocal) coterie of technical, conceptual thinkers. Theorists, you might say.
...
And I sometimes wonder if that doesn't also contribute to placement games' getting most of the analytical attention, in that their static nature makes them that much easier to get to grips with. Bit like painting or photographing objects in preference to animals, you know? Stuff like edge-templates and so on is a whole lot less tricky if the game will stand still for you.



I'm a member of the coterie because I feel that inventors of abstract strategy games should be able to think generically - more so than usually becomes apparent here. It not only supports the process itself, it also makes it easier to recognise a game for what it is instead of speculating on what it could be or should be.

I had the idea for 'linear movement in a draughts game' stored on a shelf for 15 years because I had failed to find the right draughts game to implement it in. But I had already seen it 'work'.
Then Croda came along and the moment I saw the two together, Dameo assembled itself in two minutes. I knew the game's qualities because I knew its building blocks and how these would interact. Why couldn't everybody see that?

To be fair, eventually a lot of people started to do just that, but without implementation at LG it might have been different. For instance, it took Nick substantially more than a decade to discover the game. But then he didn't have the generic basis, the structure of International Draughts. And he's not alone. Ask any Dutchman if he 'knows Draughts' and there's a good chance you get yes for an answer. What it usually means is that they know most of its rules and little of its structure.



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Nick Bentley
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For my part, I find movement games a little harder to invent, though some of my favorite games (the aforementioned Slither, and now Dameo) include it.

(though note: two of my favorites among my own designs, Shifty and Shello, are movement games)
 
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Richard Moxham
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christianF wrote:
mocko wrote:
But this is also a community of ... no, it isn't a community of, but certainly a community that includes a strong (and above all a vocal) coterie of technical, conceptual thinkers. Theorists, you might say.
...
And I sometimes wonder if that doesn't also contribute to placement games' getting most of the analytical attention, in that their static nature makes them that much easier to get to grips with. Bit like painting or photographing objects in preference to animals, you know? Stuff like edge-templates and so on is a whole lot less tricky if the game will stand still for you.



I'm a member of the coterie because I feel that inventors of abstract strategy games should be able to think generically - more so than usually becomes apparent here. It not only supports the process itself, it also makes it easier to recognise a game for what it is instead of speculating on what it could be or should be.

I had the idea for 'linear movement in a draughts game' stored on a shelf for 15 years because I had failed to find the right draughts game to implement it in. But I had already seen it 'work'.
Then Croda came along and the moment I saw the two together, Dameo assembled itself in two minutes. I knew the game's qualities because I knew its building blocks and how these would interact. Why couldn't everybody see that?

To be fair, eventually a lot of people started to do just that, but without implementation at LG it might have been different. For instance, it took Nick substantially more than a decade to discover the game. But then he didn't have the generic basis, the structure of International Draughts. And he's not alone. Ask any Dutchman if he 'knows Draughts' and there's a good chance you get yes for an answer. What it usually means is that they know most of its rules and little of its structure.

Christian, I understand all this. I already knew it - knew, I mean, what the thing is which you call a generic perspective on games, and have always recognised that you had it whilst any number of other people in the field didn't. I guess I'd probably have called it something else - oh, I don't know: say, a grasp (doubtless part intuitive and part experiential) of underlying principles, something like that. But that's just vocabulary. To repeat: I totally get it.

What I'm less certain about is why you're making this reply. Is it that my follow-up post - and perhaps especially my use of the word coterie - propelled you into justificatory mode by seeming derogatory? If so, that wasn't really the intention, and wasn't at all the intention as far as you personally are concerned. I guess I do suspect that the predilection hereabouts for placement/connection games, while on one level a voguish thing as you suggest, has at the same time a degree of laziness about it. And I definitely think that some of the seemingly endless workings and reworkings of the same old connection themes have about them a regrettable lack of sparkle. But I don't despise them - they just seem unnecessarily myopic. Though I have no inclination to do so (and approximately zero relevant experience), I'm quite sure that given half an hour to think about it I could dream up a connection variant with a more original twist. And that's the top and bottom of my point, really. It already gets me down to see the cinema and TV industry reduced to just covering the other guy's move, and never looking beyond the tried and tested formula. And how much more of a pity if, within a group of simple enthusiasts without any bottom line to keep an eye on, we can't manage to broaden our imaginative horizons a little.


 
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Richard Moxham
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milomilo122 wrote:
mocko wrote:

We appear to be living in an age where abstract games of placement (to the extent that abstract games may be said to enjoy any popularity at all) are generally preferred to those of movement.


Only in this little community. In the larger world, movement is popular. Many of the most popular commercial abstracts use movement (Tak, Santorini, Onitama, and The Duke are the recent hits, and then there's the stalwarts like Hive and GIPF games, etc.) - our little group of combinatorial game enthusiasts is miniscule compared to the number of people who buy and enjoy those games.

Fair enough, but I would also say that from what I've gathered (and you won't be surprised to hear that I haven't played any of them), those games, though doubtless fundamentally abstract, aren't exactly abstract as the term would apply to most of the ones that get discussed in this forum. If you peeled the back story off Tak, for instance, I'm betting it wouldn't have quite so many fans. In other words, there exists another, slightly different 'abstract' clientele. And I concede the point with regard to them - but they're not the community I was generalising about.

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Stephen Tavener
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mocko wrote:
If you peeled the back story off Tak, for instance, I'm betting it wouldn't have quite so many fans.

Not quite so many, but it's a surprisingly good game - even on small boards.
 
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Richard Moxham
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mrraow wrote:
mocko wrote:
If you peeled the back story off Tak, for instance, I'm betting it wouldn't have quite so many fans.

Not quite so many, but it's a surprisingly good game - even on small boards.

Yes, I'm sure. Wasn't implying any form of adverse criticism towards the game. Simply highlighting the nuanced communities thing.

 
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christian freeling
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mocko wrote:
What I'm less certain about is why you're making this reply. Is it that my follow-up post - and perhaps especially my use of the word coterie - propelled you into justificatory mode by seeming derogatory? If so, that wasn't really the intention, and wasn't at all the intention as far as you personally are concerned.

Nothing of the kind Richard, I enjoy being part of the coterie! The reason is in part because I feel you're a disappointed by the way Damascus was received and in part because you're right ... in part. And I'm currently introducing a pure placement game that is elegant and simple and that might provide a handle.

mocko wrote:
I guess I do suspect that the predilection hereabouts for placement/connection games, while on one level a voguish thing as you suggest, has at the same time a degree of laziness about it. And I definitely think that some of the seemingly endless workings and reworkings of the same old connection themes have about them a regrettable lack of sparkle. But I don't despise them - they just seem unnecessarily myopic.

The harder you look, the greater the chance of myopia. And the workings and reworkings are often market driven. Tak was mentioned here. Despite the commentaries above I find it a prime example of the misconception that a game should be complicated to be (or at least seem) complex.

mocko wrote:
Though I have no inclination to do so (and approximately zero relevant experience), I'm quite sure that given half an hour to think about it I could dream up a connection variant with a more original twist.

That's an interesting proposition. I would like to see you do so, not in half an hour but say half a month. And it doesn't have to be simple, because that's very hard. But elegant would be nice.

mocko wrote:
And that's the top and bottom of my point, really. It gets me down to see the cinema and TV industry reduced to just covering the other guy's move, and never looking beyond the tried and tested formula. And how much more of a pity if, within a group of simple enthusiasts without any bottom line to keep an eye on, we can't broaden our imaginative horizons a little.

If this is in favour of movement games I tend to agree, but I don't believe that 'connection' has been milked dry. How can I? I had one coming out of the blue just recently. It was no 'reworking' and it needed no reworking and I will yet post why I think that as a strategy game it is on an equal par with Havannah.

 
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Richard Moxham
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mocko wrote:
And that's the top and bottom of my point, really. It gets me down to see the cinema and TV industry reduced to just covering the other guy's move, and never looking beyond the tried and tested formula. And how much more of a pity if, within a group of simple enthusiasts without any bottom line to keep an eye on, we can't broaden our imaginative horizons a little.

christianF wrote:
If this is in favour of movement games I tend to agree, but I don't believe that 'connection' has been milked dry. How can I? I had one coming out of the blue just recently. It was no 'reworking' and it needed no reworking and I will yet post why I think that as a strategy game it is on an equal par with Havannah.

Re connection games: I don't believe the vein is exhausted either. I just think that currently there's an unfortunate imbalance of attention as regards this and that sub-genre - and the only way to redress an imbalance is to lean out beyond the point of balance the other way.

[Edit] ...temporarily, at least.
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Richard Moxham
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Felt obliged to put my money where my mouth was, but I confess that in the terms of my boast I failed. Getting the right idea took more like an hour than half of one, and then another half hour or so doing the arithmetic for optimum board size etc.

Still: here, for better or worse, is the game. Given that it’s just Hex with a single added twist I don’t think the search for an ingenious name is appropriate. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, I give you…

Polychrome Hex

A draw-free connection game for two players, Black and White, each supplied with 72 identical pieces of his own colour.

The game (which because of its variable board layout is suitable only for onscreen play) takes place on a 12x12 rhomboid hex-grid.

Black’s aim is to link, with a continuous string of his own pieces, the northern & southern edges of the board. White’s is to link the eastern & western edges.

Each individual cell is shaded in one of four (or eight, or twelve) clearly distinct colours, the proportional distribution of the latter being as follows:

With four colours: 1st colour [x33]; 2nd [x35]; 3rd [x37]; 4th [x39]

With eight colours: 1st colour [x11]; 2nd [x13]; 3rd [x15]; … 8th [x25]

With twelve colours: 1st colour [x1]; 2nd [x3]; 3rd [x5]; … 12th [x23]

At the start of each game the computer generates a random arrangement of colours in one of the above proportions.

Play then commences with alternating turns, each consisting of the placing by a player of precisely one of his own pieces on a vacant cell. There is no movement, no removal, and no transformation of pieces.

Black goes first, but a pie-rule is recommended: i.e., after Black’s initial placement White is free to decide whether to accept that move and reply to it as White, or to adopt it as his own and thereafter be Black.

Whichever colour of cell is chosen by Black for the initial placement, both players must persist with it until no more of its kind remain unoccupied. The player ‘on turn’ then chooses the next colour, which likewise is played upon until exhausted. And so forth, to a conclusion. Since the number of cells of any given colour is always odd, the right to choose the operative colour passes in strict alternation between the players.

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christian freeling
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It's an interesting implementation of Hex and a clear example of what you said about reworking old ideas.
As to its merits, I'm somewhat sceptical. In plain Hex every placement is critical in terms of its only goal. Here those critical moves are blocked and players must instead prioritise 'filling in' the current colour. I have no doubt that there are better and worse ways to go about it in any given game position but the heart of the matter is that players are hampered in an arbitrary way, to pursue their goal. That may be fun in terms of a novelty, but when the novelty wears of people will get bored.

It's like the old example of running a mile with one foot in a bucket. Great fun and somebody will surely win. But is it a sport?
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Richard Moxham
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christianF wrote:
It's an interesting implementation of Hex and a clear example of what you said about reworking old ideas.
As to its merits, I'm somewhat sceptical. In plain Hex every placement is critical in terms of its only goal. Here those critical moves are blocked and players must instead prioritise 'filling in' the current colour. I have no doubt that there are better and worse ways to go about it in any given game position but the heart of the matter is that players are hampered in an arbitrary way, to pursue their goal. That may be fun in terms of a novelty, but when the novelty wears of people will get bored.

It's like the old example of running a mile with one foot in a bucket. Great fun and somebody will surely win. But is it a sport?

You may indeed be right, Christian. Don't imagine I didn't go through the same thought process myself.

But the restrictions (and every rule in every game is a restriction in one way or another) are laid out in plain sight for both players from the start. The key question is: to what extent, and by what means, might it be possible to take charge of your own destiny in spite of or even because of them? - and that, I would respectfully submit, is so tricky to get your head round 'in the abstract' that several plays might be necessary before one would be justified in pronouncing the game as a whole diamond or dud. If you feel like authorising a trial implementation ...

[The foot-in-bucket analogy, by the way - though it may well win its quota of nods and smiles and thumbs - is pure rhetoric, and contributes very little to the discussion.]

 
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christian freeling
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mocko wrote:
You may indeed be right, Christian. Don't imagine I didn't go through the same thought process myself.

But the restrictions (and every rule in every game is a restriction in one way or another) are laid out in plain sight for both players from the start. The key question is: to what extent, and by what means, might it be possible to take charge of your own destiny in spite of or even because of them? - and that, I would respectfully submit, is so tricky to get your head round 'in the abstract' that several plays might be necessary before one would be justified in pronouncing the game as a whole diamond or dud. If you feel like authorising a trial implementation ...

Ed as you may know is 'otherwise occupied' lately, and I already felt hesitant to ask him to implement Starweb (which isn't even implemented for the public yet). So no, I'm sorry

mocko wrote:
[The foot-in-bucket analogy, by the way - though it may well win its quota of nods and smiles and thumbs - is pure rhetoric, and contributes very little to the discussion.]

I'm low on thumbs lately, so who knows. But note that I mentioned the arbitrariness of the hampering. Yes it may have all sorts of consequences. You still might have several 'colour obliged' moves to make for instance, while seeing that your opponent can win because he's first to play the next colour. To be fair, you could resign just the way you would in a regular game that has been decided.

And sure, all rules are restrictions, and say steeple chase or hurdling have hampering build in. But the hampering 'fits in' and serves the spirit of the contest. In that light the bucket analogy isn't so bad.

 
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Luis Bolaños Mures
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If you'll bear with me...

FOOT-IN-A-BUCKET HEX

Like Hex, but:

a) Feet (preferably little plastic ones) are used instead of stones.

b) At the start of the game, players take turns placing buckets of their color on empty cells, one per turn, until n buckets have been placed.

c) From then on, a player, on their turn, must place a foot of their color in an empty bucket of their color, if possible, or any empty bucket, if not. Then, the player must place a bucket of their color on an empty cell, if any, and replace all empty enemy buckets adjacent to it with friendly buckets.
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christian freeling
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luigi87 wrote:
If you'll bear with me...

FOOT-IN-A-BUCKET HEX

Like Hex, but:

a) Feet (preferably little plastic ones) are used instead of stones.

b) At the start of the game, players take turns placing buckets of their color on empty cells, one per turn, until n buckets have been placed.

c) From then on, a player, on their turn, must perform the following actions in the same order:

- Place a foot of their color in an empty bucket of their color, if possible, or any empty bucket, if not.

- Place a bucket of their color on an empty cell, if possible.

- Replace all empty enemy buckets adjacent to the bucket just placed with friendly buckets.

You should contact Nestor about that one
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Richard Moxham
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I've taken the liberty of transferring specific discussion of Polychrome Hex to a new thread, in order to separate it from the more general issues with which this one started.

 
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luigi87 wrote:
If you'll bear with me...

FOOT-IN-A-BUCKET HEX

Like Hex, but:

a) Feet (preferably little plastic ones) are used instead of stones.

b) At the start of the game, players take turns placing buckets of their color on empty cells, one per turn, until n buckets have been placed.

c) From then on, a player, on their turn, must place a foot of their color in an empty bucket of their color, if possible, or any empty bucket, if not. Then, the player must place a bucket of their color on an empty cell, if any, and replace all empty enemy buckets adjacent to it with friendly buckets.


Man I'm really kicking myself for not having thought of this myself.
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Hi Richard. I think I'd be very happy to see more discussion of movement-based abstracts.

After largely ignoring abstract strategy games, Tak and Santorini inspired me to look more closely at modern offerings and I've found I'm mostly drawn to games like Tintas, Onitama, Fendo, Tak, Battlesheep, Santorini and other movement based games.

Even with placement games, I'm finding I prefer the ones that have both alternating additive and subtractive actions. That is, games like LOT and C-Cross where certain actions cause pieces to be removed from the board (but not "captured"). When you add to the head and remove from the tail, it feels like movement.

I think what I enjoy most about these games is they can be enjoyed on much smaller boards than most connection/placement games. I admit I also tend to prefer tactical games. I don't mind if the game _allows_ you to look ahead a dozen or more turns (Kamisado?), I just don't enjoy the game if it requires you to do so in order to enjoy playing it. I've been lurking in Christian's Starweb thread and I feel like the only person who can't see the woman in the red dress ("Matrix" reference). I felt the same way when I tried to play Zertz and every time I try to understand what the hell is going on in Go

I would welcome more chatter about movement based games and I'd be more than happy to play the fool in a few of those threads if it gets the discussion going

Is it easier to slap a theme on a movement game? e.g. Santorini, The Duke, Hive

Is it easier to incentivize actions in a movement game and make it a less pure abstract? e.g. Barony

Movement allows the game state to change in more ways than just placing and removing pieces. This adds a variable which can increase the decision space without increasing the size of the board. GoRoGo shrunk the Go board by introducing a neutral piece which changes state between turns. Are there examples of connection games that have pieces that connect on my turn but not on yours?

What about a connection game with neutral pieces that can - as a bonus action - be slid across the board but only if they cause a different connection to be formed. Meta question: Am I demonstrating the tendency for movement games to inspire rules which reduce purity/simplicity?
 
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Alek Erickson
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First, I would like to ask why Richard believes that the hex grid is the natural arena of connection, whereas the square grid that of movement?

Second, I want to put out there...though I'm relatively new to this BGG group, I am one abstract designer who does not prefer placement versus movement or vice versa. My first game contains both placement and movements. My second game was placement only. My third game is movement only.

However, I doubt that you were thinking of newer designers like me when you mentioned your "coterie". That's fine! I too have noticed a preoccupation with connection games among the major posters in the group, as others have perceived on this forum. However, I do think that if everybody play tested or gave feedback on all new games posted to the forum, I predict there would be a greater sense of balance among the games discussed.

 
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