Thursday, December 3, 2020

Stones and Go

Any reader of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time is familiar with the game stones. Popular in all countries in the Westlands as well as overseas in Seanchan, stones is valued by generals, rulers, and civilians, for it was said that all of the intrigues and all of life's pleasures could be found within this game. Skilled players of stones are known possess skill at both the Game of Houses and/or battlefield tactics, and vice versa. Thom is exemplary at Daes Dae'mar yet is hardly a military commander, while good ol' Mat is the opposite. Sounds like a fun game, right? I agree utterly, yet sadly Jordan never specified the any save the most basic of the basic rules, those being that each player is assigned one of two colors of army, each player alternating placing a stone on the board with the overall intention being to capture the stones of the opponent's army.

A Go board
Interesting, but hardly detailed. I did some digging, however, and learned that stones has a real-world counterpart: Go. An abstract strategy board game hailing from ancient China – indeed, is believed to be the oldest board game continuously played to the present day it is a two player game in which the aim is to surround more territory than the opponent; and the playing pieces are called stones. Now I can you saying, "sure, but what is wrong with chess? Why bother learning Go given chess' global reputation for as the quintessential strategy board game?" Curiosity and variety to start, but half-jokes aside, it is because the depths and breadth of Go's strategy makes chess look a sparrow before a griffin. A bold claim? Not at all and despite the fact that, compared to chess, the rules of Go are relatively simple. So where is the breadth and depth? A Go board is both a larger than a chess board with both more scope for play (on average there are many more alternatives to consider per move) and longer games. How much more scope? Enough that, unlike chess, a computer cannot automatically defeat a human. Indeed, the number of legal board positions in Go has been calculated to be vastly greater than the number of atoms in the known, observable universe.

So for those The Wheel of Time fans who want to try their hands at stones, as well as all others who, like me, finds chess tactics rather limited, here is the nearest thing. See this link for the rules. (Why do I find chess limited? I am accustomed to playing Fire Emblem and other turn-based strategy games which, as a general rule, I find far more challenging and emotionally engaging. I am no chess master, far from it by any and all definitions, but the impersonal and unchanging nature of chess makes it feel quite limited compared to Fire Emblem. Let's face it, one never begins a chess match outnumbered and on uncertain terrain that favors the enemy more than yourself with the possibility of enemy reinforcements looming in the background, much less wondering how a simple pawn could realistically defeat a mounted knight even if it was in the position to make an attempt, or taking the wounds sustained by your loyal troops into consideration. Fire Emblem, however, does all this and more as a matter of course and, in addition, has a basic troop component every medieval-style army worth the name had yet which chess lacks an equivalent of: archers.)

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