Saturday, September 13, 2008

Miscellany: Hive

Most strategy games strive for "depth" - a nebulous term that describes how many effective tactics are available for winning the game. Without depth, a game often boils down to one optimal path that gets replayed over and over again (tic-tac-toe, for instance).

It's hard to measure "depth," so people tend to use state-space complexity (a measure of how many unique legal positions exist in a game) as a shorthand. Naturally, this skews the depth discussion in favor of games with huge playfields, like Go. But suppose you don't have a place big enough to plop down a 19x19 grid? Then you might whip out Hive, a tile-based game developed by John Yianni. It's a good example of how to limit a playfield while maintaining some sort of depth.

The object of the game is to surround your opponent's queen bee with other insect pieces (either yours or your opponents). You place various insects (spiders, beetles, ants, etc.) into the hive and attempt to maneuver them in for the kill. The insects have different ways of moving around the hive, with one huge limitation - they cannot break or separate the hive (all the pieces must be adjacent to each other after each move, in other words). It's a good way of boiling the action down to a manageable level, and the game is both portable and fun because of this limitation.


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