Abstract Strategy Games

Anything and everything about abstract strategy games

NASA’s astronaut Greg Chamitoff carried a chess set aboard the International Space Station.  Playing chess with some of the ground controllers in Houston makes this the first Earth vs. space chess match.  Chamitoff as white played d4 (Queen’s Pawn Game), and ground control played d5 (Double Queen Pawn Opening).  Chamitoff won.  You can download the entire game notation here.

Abstract Strategy Games

Hive is an two-player, bug-themed abstract strategy game with hex tiles and no board.  The objective is to surround your opponent’s queen bee, and at the same time prevent your queen bee from being surrounded.  Each player begins with eleven hex tiles - 3 ants, 3 grasshoppers, 2 spiders, 2 beetles, and 1 queen bee.  Players take turns by either placing tiles, or moving ones already placed.

Compared to games currently in the marketplace Hive is unique, but does resemble an older hex tile game published in the 1970’s called ‘The Game of Ancient Kingdoms’.  The Game of Ancient Kingdoms was also a boardless abstract strategy game where players took turns placing hex tiles.  Some compare Hive to Chess, because the pieces don’t all move the same way.  I don’t agree Hive is like Chess, but it could be argued Hive is similar to Steve Jackson’s chess variant Tile Chess.  Tile Chess also has tile placement, no board, and the pieces have their own unique movements.

Overall, I enjoy playing Hive and I recommend it to other abstract strategy gamers.  Hive is simple to learn, yet deep enough to create interesting positions.  It’s not only quick to learn, but quick to play.  My only concern with Hive is the amount of draws.  Not only have I experienced lots of draws in casual play, but there’s a surprising amount of draws in tournaments.   I’m a chess player, so I’m accustom to draws, but Hive seems to draw more often than Chess - at least on a non-master level.

Hive is a great first abstract strategy game.  If you are trying to convince someone to play abstract strategy games introduce them to Hive.

Play Hive Online

Abstract Strategy Games

Dave Dyer from BoardSpace is proposing a ‘Play a Game in Public‘ weekend - this coming weekend.  The goal is to have at least one person ask “What are you playing?”.  Pick a place where people have enough time to get curious, like cafes, parks, bus stations, etc.  In the US, Monday is a holiday (Labor Day) which gives Americans an extra day to pick a game and location.  If you choose to participate, feel free to comment with your experiences.

On a related topic, November 15th 2008 is ‘National Gaming Day

On November 15, 2008, libraries across the country will participate in the largest, simultaneous national video game tournament ever held!

The goals of this event are to:

  1. Raise awareness about the use of games as a library program;
  2. Expose people to a new type of board game;
  3. Establish connections between local board game groups and the library.

Abstract Strategy Games

Calling all Indianapolis abstract strategy gamers!

I’m starting up an abstract strategy game club in Indy. The dates and location are to-be-determined, but I will have set times/locations very soon. To join, visit the club’s Meet Up page: Indianapolis Abstract Strategy Game Club. It’s open to everyone who is interested in games like Chess, Go, Checkers, Hive, Abalone, and any other abstract strategy board games. Feel free to bring your own games, or play the ones available at the club.

This is a great opportunity to meet other gamers in the Indianapolis area, and to improve on your gaming skills. Playing online is fun, but there is nothing like playing head-to-head with a person across the table.

If you are a game designer, joining this group is a great way to meet your potential target market, and to playtest your game.

Abstract Strategy Games

Amanda Gershkowitz, a casting producer for Wife Swap has been posting on various forums and blog sites.  She is looking for families who play chess to be on the reality show’s fifth season.  It should be interesting to see how they portray the chess-playing family.

ABC’s “Wife Swap”!

We are currently casting for our fifth season and we are looking for CHESS PLAYER families! We cast everywhere from Maine to California, and this would bring a fun and unique dynamic to the show.

The premise of Wife Swap is simple: for seven days, two wives from two different families with very different values exchange husbands, children and lives (but not bedrooms) to discover what it’s like to live a different family’s life. It’s an interesting social experiment and a great way to see your family in a whole new light. It is shot as a documentary series, so NO scripts and no set. It’s just one camera that is documenting your life.

Families that appear on the show will receive a financial honorarium for lost wages, time and commitment. And if you refer a family that appears on the show you would receive $1000.

Here at ’Wife Swap’ we look for a two-parent home with at least one child between the ages of 6 and 17 living at home full time.

If you are interested, please email me your contact information and tell me a little about your family. Or if you would like to refer a family, please email me their contact information and I will be in touch.


Abstract Strategy Games

Brooklyn Museum: Gaming Board Inscribed for Amenhotep III with Separate Sliding DrawerI visited a wonderful exhibit called To Live Forever at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  The museum is currently showing Egyptian treasures borrowed from The Brooklyn Museum.  One of the 120 objects being shown is an Egyptian game called Senet (means ‘passing’) from the tomb of Amenhotep III.  They estimate the board and pieces were made somewhere between 1390 and 1353 BC.  There are references to this game dating back to over five-thousand years ago, and is one of the earliest known board games.

I’m not going to write extensively about Senet, because it is not an abstract strategy game (too much chance).  But, I wanted to use Senet as an example of the importance of board games in past and current cultures.  Senet, also known as ‘the game of thirty squares’, was found in many Egyptian graves, including King Tut’s tomb, and became apart of ancient Egyptian religion.  Below is a quote from Peter A. Piccione’s article In Search of the Meaning of Senet explaining the importance of Senet.

Senet was originally strictly a pastime with no religious significance. As the Egyptian religion evolved and fascination with the netherworld increased - reflected in such ancient works as the Book of Gates, Book of What is in the Netherworld, and portions of the Book of the Dead - the Egyptians superimposed their beliefs onto the gameboard and specific moves of senet. By the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty in 1293 BC, the senet board had been transformed into a simulation of the netherworld, with its squares depicting major divinities and events in the afterlife.

When I play Senet, I get a similar feel as when I’m playing other race games like Backgammon and Mancala.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Senet was an early ancestor to these and other two-player race games.

Play Senet online at The Cleveland Museum of Art’s website.

Abstract Strategy Games

As a game designer, my interest was peaked while reading about the Chicago Toy & Game Fair taking place in November.  This year they’re expanding their outreach to game inventors with the Toy and Game Inventors Expo (TAGIE).  It is a four day event (11/20/08 - 11/23/08) taking place at Chicago’s Navy Pier.

It’s an excellent opportunity for new game designers to learn the game business from experts in the field. However, this crash-course education isn’t cheap - the price tag is an expensive $1,950.  But, the package includes two nights in a hotel, two breakfasts, two lunches, one dinner and a cocktail cruise.

The schedule is full of topics helpful to anyone trying to either self-publish or license their game.  According to their website, the agenda will include advice on IP protection, licensing, self-publishing, presentation, prototype creation, exhibiting, marketing, public relations, safety, and much more.  That weekend they are also allowing TAGIE 2008 attendees to demo and promote their games at tables in the Chi-Tag exhibit halls.  This is a great opportunity to put some of the their advice into practice.  There is nothing like demoing and playtesting with strangers to test your game.

Abstract Strategy Games

Strategy requires thought; tactics requires observation. - Max Euwe

Strategies are long term plans to win a game. A tactic is an immediate action, typically planned to advance your strategy. Tactics often are available as a result of a particular strategy. It is common for the winner to best coordinate tactics with strategies. Strategic goals are often accomplished through tactics. It is also possible to allow for a tactical loss and gain a strategic advantage.


"Chess is 99% tactics"
Richard Teichmann

Two questions to help understand the difference:
1. What do I do to win? (Strategy)
2. How do I do it? (Tactics)

Strategic examples:
1.  Chess: Pawn Structure, King Safety, Center
2.  Go: Amashi, Shinogi, and Reduction (more)

Tactical examples:
1.  Chess:  Forks, Pins, and Discovered Attacks
2.  Go: Ladder, Net, and Snapback (more)

It is common for players to be referred to as ‘strategical players’ or ‘tactical players’. For most abstract strategy games, a player needs to understand both strategy and tactics to be well-rounded. Every game has a natural balance of tactics and strategy, and may reward more tactical or strategic gameplay.  A player needs to know how to balance the two levels.  For example, a chess player will often be more tactical when first playing Go, and will need to learn the strategy/tactic balance in Go.

Connect Four is a trademark of Hasbro, but has many other names, including Four in a Line, Four in a Row, Plot Four, vertical checkers, and The Captain’s Mistress. The famous explorer Captain Cook played this game so often, his crew named it The Captain’s Mistress.

No matter what you call this game, the rules are the same.  It is a two player abstract strategy game played using a 7 x 6 grid.  Each player begins with twenty-one pieces, and take turns placing one piece at a time in one of the seven columns.  The piece is “pushed” to the bottom row (usually with gravity).  The object is to be the first player to get four pieces (checkers, marbles, etc.) in a row, either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.  If both players run out of pieces (grid is full), the game is drawn.

It is sometimes considered a children’s game, but that is likely a result of marketing. The rules are simple, the games are quick, and the overall playing experience is enjoyable. It is a perfect game to introduce to someone new to the abstract strategy game genre.

Connect Four has been weakly solved, and with perfect play the first player can win every time by starting in the center column.  Many experts have memorized openings giving them an advantage, but it would be difficult for any player to win every game without a computer’s help.  Play online here:


Similar games:
1. Tic-Tac-Toe (three in a row)
2. Gomoku (five in a row)
3. Connect6 (six in a row)
4. Renju
5. Irensei
6. Connect 4 Stackers

Three characteristics of an abstract strategy game:

1. The gameplay is not impacted by a theme.
2. The rules allow for a minimal amount of chance.
3. The game environment provides perfect information.

If an abstract strategy game has a theme, it shouldn’t influence the rules.  For example, Simpsons Chess has a theme, but is still an abstract strategy game because the rules have nothing to do with the Simpsons.  It is considered a weak theme because it could be changed without impacting the game’s core.

Abstract strategy games are not games of chance, and gameplay does not rely on random elements, like rolling dice or card shuffling.  Only the players’ actions determine the outcome.  Abstract strategy games typically provide an environment where the player with the best strategy will accomplish the object of the game.

Abstract strategy games allow the players to know every action that has taken place in the game.  If a rule in a game doesn’t allow a player to know the full position and past positions, it is a game of imperfect information, and is not an abstract strategy game.

Examples of abstract strategy games:

  1. Chess
  2. Go
  3. Tic-Tac_Toe
  4. Blokus
  5. Connect Four
  6. Quarto
  7. Mancala
  8. Checkers
  9. Hive
  10. Othello