Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Quarto! quandary

Quarto! leaves me in a bit of a quandary because I think I like the game better than I should.

I ought not to like it much because it's really not much of a game, when you come right down to it. It's basically a more elaborate tic-tac-toe.

It's much more challenging than the little X and O game, but it's principles are the same. The 4 by 4 grid, of course, add a little to the possibilities. Instead of just 8 winning lines there are 10. But the real difference is that it's not just X and O but a line of four pieces sharing one of eight characteristics: dark or light, solid or hollow, tall or short, square or round. It's all very clever, mostly because figuring out the possible combinations in the mid game are too hard for human brains, but it should be solvable. Perhaps it already is.

Certainly it's easy enough to set up a drawn position, which indicates to me that a draw must be the likely outcome if both players play properly, just as it is in tic-tac-toe.

The first few moves are meaningless. One piece is as good as another.

And the end game, once the last few pieces are left, should be solvable by attentive human play.

The middle game, which sets up the win for one side or the other, is beyond human computation, so both players are basically forced to try to trick the other player into an unwise move. But, assuming both players are careful, this effort should fail and an inevitable draw set up.

Still, I find myself playing the game often enough. It's a very "shallow" game -- as shallow as Go is "deep." But it plays quickly and it can be amusing enough because of blunders. Usually you spot your blunder as soon as you place your piece and realize you boxed yourself in.

And it looks nice. The game could be played with paper and pencil ( filled-open, red-black, circle-square, thick line-thin line would do) but the hefty and handsome wooden pieces provide a pleasing tactile sensation that add to the game's appeal.

Yeah, it's not much of a game, but it's enough fun to be a staple part of my game collection.

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