Saturday, February 26, 2011

Weekend Gaming -- Piet Hein's TacTix

A Grook by Piet Hein:


There is
one art,
no more,
no less:
to do
all things
with art-

Piet Hein was, among many other things, an inventor of remarkably clever games. After Hex,* his most famous is probably his two-dimensional variant on nim, TacTix.

As with most of Hein's recreations (even those dealing with sophisticated mathematical concepts), the rules of TacTix are wonderfully simple. The players take turns picking up pieces from the board (shown above) until the losing player is forced to pick up the last piece. The players can pick up as many pieces at a time as they choose with the only constraint being that the pieces have to be in the same row or column and have to be contiguous.

Here's what what a game might look like after a couple of moves (taken from this sample game):

TacTix doesn't quite meet Othello's "a minute to learn a lifetime to master" standard, it yields fairly easily to analysis (or to practice if you're paying attention), but while this keeps it out of competition with chess and Go and less well-known games like agon, Hein's invention still has a lot to offer:

The rules are almost as simple as TicTacToe, making it an ideal game for very young players;

Like TicTacToe, TacTix can easily be played as a pencil-and-paper game. Just mark off a grid then cross out squares instead of removing pieces;

Unlike more complicated games, the underlying concepts of TacTix are easy to grasp and to teach (Martin Gardner had a good summary in one of his Scientific American columns though I'm not sure where it's collected);

TacTix also makes an excellent programming exercise;

Finally, there's no rule that says you have to follow the rules. Try adding a few of your own. Play around with the board configuration or try flipping a coin to determine whether you can pick up an odd or even number of pieces. Get creative. It's what Hein would have wanted.

* Also independently invented by John Nash a few years later.

No comments:

Post a Comment