Friday, November 23, 2012

Agon -- the classic game you've probably never heard of

I don't know exactly what happened to Agon, but I'm pretty sure those damned orthogonalists had something to do with it. The game was all the rage in Victorian England where it was appreciated for its simple rules but surprisingly complex strategies. (the Victorians were also big fans of Lewis Carroll's Doublets, thus showing remarkably good taste in diversions.) The game was and is remarkably challenging and enjoyable but early in the Twentieth Century it faded away, perhaps due to the hegemony of orthogonal game boards.

You can find a complete set of rules on my game site. You can also buy boards there but obviously waiting for delivery would undercut the whole 'here's a game for this weekend' concept so I've included two JPEGs that you can print off if you can't find a suitable substitute (lots of games use a 6x6x6 hexboard so locating one shouldn't be that difficult).

The game is extraordinarily easy to learn. Each player starts out with six pawns and a queen spread out around the edge out the board.

A piece can either move around a concentric hexagon or go toward the center. The object is to get your pieces arranged like this (black wins):

'Capturing' is done in the style of many older games by placing two of your pieces on either side of the opponent's piece. I put the word in quotes because a captured piece is not removed from the board. Instead, it is moved back to the outer ring. Agon is therefore entirely a game of position. Novice chess players have a tendency to play for points and measure how well they're doing by how many of their opponent's pieces are lined up by the side of the board. Learning Agon can help break them of some bad habits.

I first came across Agon in David Parlett's Oxford History of Board Games -- an excellent resource if you're thinking about teaching a math class and not a bad read if you just enjoy games. Parlett is also a game designer of some note so he brings a lot of insight to the discussion.

Originally posted in West Coast Stat Views

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