Abstract Strategy Games

I have found a new love: Abstract Strategy Games.

I have spent an entire lifetime playing chess as a weak-ish amateur, reading books on its history, theory, openings, strategy, and having watched a gazillion hours of commentary online. Let me just say that chess has been a great friend over the years, in moments of solitude, in moments of kinship with family, and everything in between.

It was obvious to me even as a kid, that chess was just one game in a family of such games – there was dots and boxes, tic-tac-toe, and other such “pen-and-paper” games. There was Chinese Checkers, Go, Othello, and other such games with boards and pieces. These games and others like them – abstract strategy games – share most of these traits.

  • 2 players taking turns
  • No element of luck induced by card-drawing or dice throwing
  • Perfect open information
  • (Optional) Rules that can be explained in a few minutes.
  • Typically involving opening, middlegame, and endgame phases.

For the last many years, my world of such games was quite limited – at least, in terms of how many such games I had played. But in the quest to find simpler-than-chess games for my kids, I have now stumbled down the rabbit hole of “modern abstract strategy games”.

It started with Gigamic’s Quoridor, which is my current favorite. I have now played most of the games from Gigamic’s “Classics Collection”:

  • Quoridor
  • Squadro
  • Quarto
  • Quantic
  • Quixo

I ventured into chess variants like Onitama and other Tic-Tac-Toe variants like Gobblet. I have Shobu in the pipeline. Coming next: the Gipf series of games, Tac, Hive, Abalone, Pylos, and many many more.

Playing these games with the kids has been incredibly rewarding. The simple rules are easy to pick up, and unlike chess, the games are finished in under 10 minutes of play. I thought I’d be the better player, given my years of chess experience – but sadly, that was not to be.

What makes a particular game appealing to me? I am still not sure. I am still trying to find abstractions that help me explain the lure of abstract strategy games.

I will leave you with a link to a bot that plays Quoridor remarkably well: Kyutae’s Quoridor AI Bot.