Archive for August, 2006

Episode 3: Handicaps and GIPF

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

Howdy all,

Gipf opening setup

Pshew, here is episode 3.  It’s a day late because the week has been crazy!  I’ve been fighting Audacity and I lost.  No buzzing, but you do get to hear my parrot a couple times.  I’ve also been trying to de-skunkify my dog.  Unfortunately, she caught a skunk.  The house is a little stinky now.   🙁



  • Apparently I misplayed the TAMSK potential and therefore gave the rule for it incorrectly.  Instead of making another move by using your reserve, instead, you get to use the TAMSK potential in your extra move.  This is a big difference, since it doesn’t affect the number of pieces in the reserve.  I guess I was playing with the jeep-TAMSK potential.  😉 


As always, I’m very interested in feedback.  Here are some of the notes I promised:

  • Shogi Handicaps
    • I thought I was going crazy, but I finally found the handicap scheme that I mentioned in the podcast: Shogi for Beginners by John Fairbain
      • Even: Determine first move randomly
      • 1 Grade: Stronger player takes white and removes left Lance
      • 2 Grades: Stronger player takes white in a two game match.  In the first game White removes the left lance only; in the second game, white removes the Bishop only.
      • 3 Grades: Stronger player takes white and removes the Bishop
      • 4 Grades: Stronger player takes white and removes the Rook
      • 5 Grades: Stronger player takes white and removes the Rook and left Lance
      • 6 Grades: Stronger player takes white in a two game match and removes the Rook and Lance in the first game; in the secong game White removes the Rook and Bishop.
      • 7 Grades: Stronger player takes white and removes the Rook and Bishop (called two pieces)
  • is the website for the Gipf project.

Also, I was going to try to put together an enhanced podcast, but it doesn’t look like there are good tools for Windows.  I found an article on using scripts to simulate the Mac format.  Does anyone have any experience putting these together, preferably using free tools.


The music was found at:

  • Funky Rap Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons “Attribution 2.0″
  • Whimsy Groove Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons “Attribution 2.0″

Promo Available

Sunday, August 20th, 2006

I’ve put together a quick promo for the show.  Anyone who wants to play this in their podcast may do so.  If you do, I’d love to know about it, so drop me an e-mail.  If you’re interested in my podcast, it’s likely I’m interested in yours.



Episode 2: The redo of Episode 1

Sunday, August 20th, 2006

Well, here is episode 2.  It sounds like there is still a buzz in the beginning, but it goes away pretty quick.  I’ll try to root cause the problem if it comes back.

iTunes 1 Click

This is still a little rough.  I haven’t found my voice quite yet.  I hope you get some good information out of it.  I also hope that my love and passion for this family of games comes across.  Here are some references for the games I discussed:

It looks like the section on the Chu Shogi pieces didn’t get added to the end.  All that information can be found in the Chu Shogi section of the Shogivariants site.

Also, some Errata and explanation:

  1. I can’t believe I said it, but when I said that you couldn’t drop a piece to cause checkmate, I was specifically thinking about a Pawn.  You can drop to cause checkmate, with any piece other than a pawn.
  2. Also, to clarify, the lion can step back into it’s starting square.  This allows for a passing move to be possible with a lion.  You can also capture a piece and step back.  This is called capturing by igui.

The music was found at:

  • Funky Rap Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons “Attribution 2.0”
  • Whimsy Groove Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons “Attribution 2.0”

Chu Shogi Review

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

Chu Shogi, ready to play

In 1998 I read about Shogi and not much later, I played my first game of it. I loved Shogi, but could not find a regular opponent to play against. A month or so later, I read about Chu Shogi in R. Wayne Schmittberger’s book New Rules for Classic Games. I found it intriguing so I made a set of pieces out of some trim and marked the pieces with pen. I made a board out of a piece of canvas and voila, I had a Chu Shogi set. Unfortunately, I still had no opponent.  I played against Steve Evan’s Shogi Variants program a few times, but quickly found that it didn’t pose a real challenge to me (especially after I found an opening that caused it to throw away it’s Lion).  My homemade board sat in a drawer for quite some time.  Eventually, I bought a commercial pieces and thanks to the miracle that is the Internet, I play it online, both in real time and by e-mail.  I’m still waiting to find regular across the board opponents, though. 

Rules:  The rules are not difficult for anyone familiar with any Chess-like game.  You are moving your pieces in an attempt to CAPTURE your opponent’s King (and Crown Prince, if they have promoted their Drunk Elephant– seriously).  However, you do need to learn the movement of a lot of pieces.  When playing online or against a computer, you can use “international” pieces, that have the move represented symbolically on the piece, but commercial pieces have the Kanji for the piece name on it.  That means that if you don’t read Kanji, there is some memorization required or you’ll need a cheat sheet.  If you play Shogi, you already know the Kanji and move for eight of the pieces.  The game is similar to Shogi in how it is played, but it is on a larger scale.  While Chess is played on an 8×8 grid and Shogi is played on a 9×9 grid, Chu Shogi is played on a 12×12 grid.  Each player has 46 pieces total with 21 different piece types.  In Chu Shogi, virtually every piece can promote, but they can only promote to one piece.  When a piece reaches the promotion zone (the last four ranks) you can promote the piece by flipping it over to it’s stronger side.

Like Chess, unlike Shogi, when a piece is captured, it’s dead.  It cannot be dropped back into play.  While I like that aspect in Shogi, I don’t think that drops work well in the larger games and I’m happy that there are no drops in Chu Shogi.  (Although, it’s worth playing with drops exactly once, just to see why it’s bad, despite how interesting it sounds.) 

Most of the pieces have moves that will be familiar to players of games in the Chess family.  The Lion is unique, though, and requires some explanation.  The Lion can move as a King (in Shogi and Chess) that can take up to two moves in a single turn, even if they both capture!  It can also jump to any square that could be reached in two steps.  Special rules apply to the Lion (in all cases, if a Kylin is promoted to a Lion, then it is a Lion for all purposes of the rules), which have the effect of making it difficult to exchange Lions.  These are:

  • If an opposing Lion is two steps away from your Lion, then your Lion can only capture that opposing Lion if that opposing Lion is unprotected- with one exception, see below.
  • If your opponent captures your Lion with a piece other than a Lion, then you may not capture your opponent’s Lion immediately, unless you can do so with a second Lion. Instead, you must wait at least one turn, after which, you may capture your opponent’s Lion freely (subject to all the other rules).
  • If you are in a position to make a double capture with your Lion, and the first piece captured is any piece other than a Pawn or a Go-Between (un-promoted), then if the second piece to be captured is a Lion, it may be so captured, even if it is protected

Pshew, you made it through!  Good job.  That is the only rule that is a little scary.  It’s not even quite complete, but it’s more than enough for this review.  So you can see that the Lion is really quite a powerful piece and the rules preventing them from being traded makes them the focus of the game. 

Game Play: This and the other larger cousins of Shogi are the “War Games” of Abstracts.  They generally take a long time to set up and a long time to play.  They are big and have a lot of maneuvering of your armies.  Chu Shogi is no exception.  With a timer, I struggle to keep my games to 2 hours for each player.  It’s a very strategic game, with several opportunities for tactical skirmishes that occur primarily in the middle and end of the game.  As to how unforgiving the game is to one bad play, it’s fairly forgiving in the beginning simply because even the best players of the game still make “blunders” of varying degree quite often.  This is simply because there is often too much going on and, later in the game, you start to worry about time.  When played without a timer, there are fewer blunders, but they still occur.  Blunders aside, whoever makes the most efficient use of their moves when positioning their army will usually get to choose the first theater.

In the beginning of the game, you need to maneuver your forces to where you want them positioned, maybe sending in a small attack to try to gain a little material or throw off your opponents game.  Although the Lion is the strongest piece on the board, the Lion doesn’t see a lot of action in the beginning.  It generally sits in front of your pawns exerting a LOT of influence in that region.  Very passive aggressive ;).  Once your pieces are positioned, you engage your opponent.  The goal in the mid-game is to gain a little material, and make a path to get your Lion into your opponents territory.  As I mentioned, in the mid-game, you will sometimes try to get your Lion into your opponents territory, while trying to create a “moat” so your opponent cannot get their Lion into your territory.  This idea of creating a moat deserves its own strategy article.  But basically, it’s creating a zone where your opponent cannot simply jump into your territory, but must go through this region that is completely protected.  So when you are trying to break through your opponent’s moat, you need to have several minor pieces to pave the way.  In this whole process, you are trying to get ahead on “ranged” movers.  That is pieces that can move across the board in a single move, like Bishops and Rooks in chess.  Another respectable goal in the mid-game is to promote some of the mid-level pieces into power pieces.

In the end game, you are trying to use your superiority in force (either in a particular theater or overall) to break up your opponents army to expose his king and CAPTURE it.  “Check” and “checkmate” have no meaning in Chu Shogi.  You do not need to move to save your King.  This is important because it’s possible to have two royal pieces by promoting your Drunk Elephant and if you get the second royal piece, you can sacrifice one, if needed.  I have yet to see a Crown Prince except when playing against the computer, but I have gotten close, and my opponent had to spend a lot of time maneuvering away from my King to deal with the Drunk Elephant.  If you don’t have the superior force in the end game, you need to send in the forces you can muster to try to gain a local superiority that you can take advantage of before your opponent can get reinforcements on defense.

Comments: I love this game.  The Lion capture rule takes some special attention, but I can live with it because of the depth of the strategy and tactics you get in the game from the Lion.

Components:  Like Chess and Checkers, you can buy sets of varying quality.  Unlike Chess and Checkers, you’re unlikely to find a Chu Shogi set at your FLGS.  There are very nice wooden pieces and boards available from Japan.  Unfortunately, I can’t afford to import one of them.  However, I did purchase a set of wood grained plastic pieces from George Hodges.  There were a few nibs that required some filing, but overall, the quality was good and they feel nice.  I did not purchase the vinyl board, but made my own board.

Rating: I rate this game a 10/10.  I love this game (have I said that?).  As far as I’m concerned it has everything except for the player base and popularity that it deserves.  It’s a game of pure skill where two players engage in single combat.  When I play it, my sense of gestalt is satisfied.  It seems complete to me.  It has a decent handicap system, even if it’s still not fully understood, so I can play against my non-Chess playing opponents and still have an interesting game.

Recommendation: If you read the review, it’s not hard to guess my recommendation.  I’ll put in a little caveat, though.  If you like abstract strategy games that are deep AND wide, you’ll probably like this game.  If you don’t like abstract strategy games, you should stay away from this.  It’s big, has lots of pieces (though not as many as Tai Shogi) and takes a lot of maneuvering of your armies.  If you like that, this is THE game for you.


Introduction/Episode 1

Monday, August 14th, 2006

Hello Everyone!

Welcome to the Abstract Gamer podcast and blog.  In this forum I am going to try to give coverage to the wonderful world of Abstract Games.  I’ll focus on Abstract Strategy Games primarily, but will cover any themeless game that I feel like talking about.  It’s also possible that I’ll talk about Designer Games, Party Games, Card Games, and who knows, perhaps even the occasional RPG or computer game.

I’ve recorded a first episode for the podcast, but I’m not happy with the quality, so I am going to re-record.  Here is the first episode, but I will not be putting this into the feed.  The new recording will cover the same information, but in a more satisfying way.