Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review -- ARIMAA II

This is a first for me, a re-visit to a game previously reviewed.
In this case it's because there has been some interesting developments in Arimaa since I first reviewed the game in 2008.
Arimaa is a simply amazing abstract strategy game designed by Aamir Syed and Omar Syed, who brought the game to the public in 2002.
Initially the game was published, the rules at least, with players needing to fashion their own sets. Mine was made using backgammon stones with paper cut-outs attached, although the game can be play substituting standard chess pieces too.
However, in 2009 Z-Man games came out with a commercial Arimaa set. A local game bud purchased the set recently, and it's a sharp looking set with 3-D pieces representing the animals such as elephant, camel, horse, dog and rabbit. The pieces have a nice weight too.
A fancier, tournament set, larger both in size and cost, and a very detailed wood set have also hit the market.
Having commercial sets will draw more players and that's good since this game deserves attention, and lots of it.
Arimaa was designed to be difficult for computers to play. Something that is not the case with chess where computers are now at least equal to all but the very best players. With that goal in mind the number of possible moves at each turn in Arimaa is about 500 times that of chess.
To show that Arimaa is beyond a computer there is a reward of $10,000 for the first person or company who can build a computer program (with off-the-shelf programming tools) that can defeat a selected human Arimaa player prior to 2020.
The top computer program for 2011 was recently pitted against a trio of top world level players, and once again the computer went down to defeat.
While that doesn't mean a lot in terms of a game to play on a board for most of us, it does lend itself as an indication of the depth or Arimaa.
The depth comes from the vast array of moves afforded a player each turn.
It is great Arimaa has a world championship for players, in addition to the computer challenge.
The event is held on line and the most recent final was held in March with Greg Magne (a Canadian) and Jean Daligault facing off.
Daligault won the game to clinch the title becoming the first player to win the championship four consecutive times.
Now I hate mornings, but I was up at 8 a.m. the Saturday of the final to watch the final. It was a great experience since live commentary during the game was provided by Fritz Juhnke and Joel Thomas, so there was a better understanding of what the world-class players were trying to accomplish.
Games are archived at www.arimaa.com
As for the game, each piece in Arimaa has the same basic move ability. A turn consists of making one to four steps. A step has a piece move into an unoccupied square one space left, right, forward, or backward, except that rabbits may not step backward. The steps of a turn may be made by a single piece or distributed between several pieces in any order.
Stronger pieces may also move weaker pieces around the board, allowing them to push, or pull opponent pieces.
There is complexity within the game, and that brings me to another reason for the re-visit, Juhnke, who was one of the commentators for online world final, has released a book; 'Beginning Arimaa'.
A two-time world champion himself Juhnke takes readers inside Arimaa with 185 pages of background basics and strategy. The writing is enhanced by a number of diagrams which add to the ability to absorb what he is writing about.
The book has a sticker price of only $16.95 and is available through www.arimaa.com, and Amazon, so is both easily available and reasonably priced companion to the game that anyone serious about the game should look at investing in.
Juhnke has managed to create just what a game like Arimaa, one that should rival chess in interest, needed, a tool to get better through study when an opponent is not handy.
Well done Sir. Kudos on helping Arimaa take another step in its much-deserved growth.

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper May 18, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

1 comment:

  1. I agree. I believe ARimaa to be the greatest abstract to emerge in decades. By the way, you might need yet another review as Jean has released a guide book as well. His is not for the beginner but is worth buying.