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Author Topic: Applied Gamism  (Read 4130 times)
Rich Forest
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« on: March 21, 2002, 08:23:47 PM »

I wasnít sure where to post thisÖ but I think Iím in the right place.  First, the disclaimers: Iím not here to debate the GNS.  Iím here to apply it to game design.  So, this thread is not about defining Gamism.  I think thatís been done.  Very well.  Thatís why I didnít post this in the model forum.  Iím interested in applying the G of GNS as a game design exploration.  That is, Iím trying to figure out how to make a good gamist game.  

Now, on to the point.  My primary question is this:

What elements are conducive to gamist design goals, and why?  

Ok, some ideas, far from complete:

Strategy:  Strategic elements are conducive to gamist fun.  When I say strategic elements, Iím specifically talking about a restricted set of units that are connected by a restricted set of interactions that can be manipulated by players for competitive gain and/or victory over opposition.  I think the set of units and rules should be shared by all competitors, but it is not necessary that every player controls the entire set at all times.  Chess is an example.  The pieces are the restricted set of units.  The ways they move are the interactions.  The strategy is in the permutations of this interaction.  Granted, my analogy may oversimplify chess, but not by much, I think.  Having a restricted set of units and rules for how these units interact creates room for planning and outthinking opposition.  Strategy includes but is not limited to resource management.  It also includes things like bidding, raising, etc., which could easily be the focus of entire discussions.  Ive seen threads around with games using them, like the Stakes http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1625 and the Dice Heavy Gamist Romp http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1600.    

Elegance:  Precision, neatness, and simplicity are conducive to gamist fun.  A lot of gamist games don't do this.  Having more rules and more complicated rules generally leads to longer search and handling times.  While complicated rules are common and arenít necessarily contrary to gamist fun, they arenít necessarily conducive to it either.  I think an elegant resolution mechanic and currency can do wonders for meeting gamist design goals.  Donjon is taking advantage of this.  Again, not to overuse it, but chess games arenít long for the same reason RPG combats tend to be long.  There is minimal handling time in chess.  You just move the piece and remove the other piece when necessary.  Elegance in a system frees the gamist player up to focus on his goals as much as it does the narrativist player.  

ďDeck BuildingĒ:  Iím using this as shorthand for character creation that involves choices that directly affect character effectiveness in various gamist contexts during play, with combat being the most common context.  I have mixed feelings about ďDeck BuildingĒ in RPGs.  On one hand, Iíve really enjoyed it in Street Fighter, and my players love it.  As to why I donít like it: it lacks elegance.  

Gamist Reward Systems:  Iím not using this just to mean experience points, though thatís part of it.  So, part of this is Reward Systems that work together with ďdeck buildingĒ systems.  Thereís also the version that supports gamist success, basically rewarding success at reaching gamist goals.  Rune does this.  For me, it does this too much.  By Odin's eyes, I feel like an accountant when Iím playing Rune.  Ok, now what about reward systems that support the goals of the players in various situations/encounters?  I think some of the most interesting systems are those that reward play that is contrary to immediate gamist goals with rewards that support long-term goals, and vice versa.  Street Fighter has a touch of this in its glory/honor system.  

Combat:  This is the norm, but I donít think it has to be the focus of a good gamist RPG.  I like combat as much as the next guy (hell, I play Street Fighter: the Storytelling game every week), but isnít gamism also appropriate to courtly intrigue?  Espionage?  Running a crime family (Troupe style gamism, anyone?)?  

Dice:  RPGs tend to use fortune-based mechanics, and gamist RPGs probably even moreso.  Are there any that use Karma?  Diceless was always the war cry of so-called ďStorytellingĒ oriented games.  Why?  It seems to me that the ultimate gamist RPG would use karma but have a specific set of ways different scores can be applied strategically to a desired end.  In many gamist RPGs, at best, the units you are manipulating are not certainties.  They are probabilities.  If youíre manipulating probabilities, youíd better understand them if you want to be able to control them effectively, strategically, but most of the time neither the players nor the GM do.  Maybe, at best, the game designer does.  One hopes.  (On a side note, Iím obviously interested in being a game designer, but Iím pretty clueless with probabilities.  Ironic, I know.)

Rich

(Edited because "minimal handling" is more elegant than "minimalnhandling.")
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: March 21, 2002, 08:57:20 PM »

Hi Rich,

First off, what an amazing and wonderful post. I love it.

Second, I think that you might consider some ways in which Drama becomes a major part of Gamist play. When a Fortune-heavy system is involved, Drama is often used subtly to influence when rolls come in, and what they are about to determine. Pantheon represents a very good example of putting this phenomenon front-and-center rather than keeping it covert.

I've noticed too that when Amber play turns Gamist, it's usually combined with boosting the degree to which Drama overrides Karma, sometimes to the point of reducing the point-values to mere powers-indicators and using "I say so" or "I said it first" as the primary means of resolution.

Lots more to say, but I'm really interested in what others have to say first.

Best,
Ron
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #2 on: March 21, 2002, 09:23:02 PM »

Hey Rich,

RPGs tend to use fortune-based mechanics, and gamist RPGs probably even moreso. Are there any that use Karma?

Y'know, I can't think of one that uses Karma to the exclusion of Fortune, unless you count the kind of Amber play Ron describes. But I can't think of any good reason why there isn't one that's entirely Karma and resource management. Epiphany maybe comes close with its comparison of outthrust fingers method of conflict resolution...in fact it definitely does...it is entirely Karma and resource management...dang...I might have to play Epiphany. Uncertainty in the outcome of conflict resolution comes from how a player apportions their advantages between offense and defense, and how that compares to what the opponent did. But that's not Fortune...or is it...hmmm...

Paul
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Bankuei
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« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2002, 07:36:00 AM »

As a major proponent of gamism at times, I gotta say, you summed up my particular glee:  Strategy :)

I place all(all, any, not just rpgs) games on a scale, with strategy on one end and fortune on the other.  Chess being all strategy(no luck whatsoever) and craps being the other.  Most games I find fun, are ones with both.

I'd say the main reason fortune is used so heavily in gamist games is that for strategy to exist, there must be some optimal choices(strategies) towards acheiving goals, but there should be more than one way to do it.  Magic emphasizes this because while it has some optimal strategies, there are an infinite amount of ways towards acheiving them.  These optimal choices are obviously what players are going to lean towards, and if there is an absolute predictable outcome, there will be no variation in play(what's the first move in tictactoe?).  Fortune is the easy way of making even the most optimal choices a gamble...

Take a look at the gamble mechanic in the pool, a perfect example of resource management(the pool), strategy(how many, how to allocate, borrow/give from/to other players, MOV/guided event, etc), and of course, straight fortune.

Most of my game designs are heavy G/N...I use gamist mechanics to encourage Narrativist play.  If you look at Persona/Forgotten Fist, the reward comes solely for expressing values about your character, but the primary use of it is in making it more likely for you to succeed.  Gamist reinforcement for narrativist play.  Ditto with Fate & Tide.  This idea is the biggest lesson I've learned from the Pool :)

Chris
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #4 on: March 22, 2002, 07:51:42 AM »

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: March 22, 2002, 07:56:37 AM »

Hey,

I wonder whether Nobilis play has ever drifted toward Gamist application. Its system is 100% Karma with resource management as the main system-concern.

Gareth (mytholder), any notion?

Best,
Ron
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Laurel
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« Reply #6 on: March 22, 2002, 09:51:07 AM »

Rich, I think you nailed conducive gamist elements better and more articulately than I've ever seen.  I'd like to add a couple sub elements that relate to what you have written.

Re: Elegance
Coherent Consistency
Not only should the rules be elegant, but there should be an element of comon sense to them all, so they can be memorized quickly and build off one another.

Re: Gamist Reward Systems
Gradual, Per-Scene Aquisition
Part of making a gamist reward system work is to offer players the opportunity to achieve a "small" reward each time they succeed at an objective that increases in potency as both the gamist character and the difficulty of the opponent increases.

Re: Combat
Win/Lose Conflict
Combat doesn't have to be the focus of a good Gamist RPG, but it should have some kind of series of conflicts that achieve an end and relate specifically to the game's Premise and the role of the character in the game.

Laurel
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #7 on: March 22, 2002, 10:21:28 AM »

Quote from: Rich

Combat:  This is the norm, but I donít think it has to be the focus of a good gamist RPG.  I like combat as much as the next guy (hell, I play Street Fighter: the Storytelling game every week), but isnít gamism also appropriate to courtly intrigue?  Espionage?  Running a crime family (Troupe style gamism, anyone?)?  

There is absolutely no reason why combat has to be the focus of Gamist games. But other than the obvious comment about the Wargaming roots of RPGs, I could also mention that Combat is probably seen by most as the ultimate form of competition. Chess could've been made using peices that represent commodities or something and been about commerce. But Combat just captures the imagination firmly.

But other arenas of conflict appeal, as well. Commercial is on the top of my list, with Diplomacy a close second. I'd like to see a game a bit like Civilization (kinda like what I'm going for in the Mesopotamia thing) in which the game revolves around building a culture, comercilism, and diplomacy, and just like in the boardgame, combat is an option, but a sort of last resort.

The Crime Family idea has a little of all three (Comercial, Combat, Diplomacy) , really, which may be why it appeals.

"Troup Style" gamism shouldn't be all that difficult. Heck, with a couple of small tweaks, Universalis could be made into a serious Gamist game. But just looking at Rune, you have an example of a functional game that involves rotating GMs. The Middle Earth: Wizards CCG, had a model for what was something like what a true GMful Gamist RPG might look like. All these are close enough that I'm sure it could be done.

Mike
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Rich Forest
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« Reply #8 on: March 22, 2002, 01:52:41 PM »

First, thanks for the positive responses.  

Second, thanks even more for pointing out the stuff Iím missing and fine-tuning the stuff I initially proposed.  

I had completely overlooked Drama.  Somehow, it didnít even make a blip on my radar.  Iím going to need even more help with this one, as I donít actually own a copy of Amber or Nobilis, and I was completely ignorant of both Pantheon and Epiphany until Ron and Paul mentioned them.  

If I remember Amber, I think I know why Drama is so important to resolving more Gamist aspects of play.  Correct me if Iím wrong.  Since the game is aggressively free of Fortune, it uses Drama in order to allow for flexibility in success/failure, right?  Otherwise, if my score is higher, I win.  Every time.  A Gamist design goal might take Karma and provide ways for scores to interact that allow ďoptimal choicesĒ (thank you for these words Chris), but Amber was not designed with these kinds of goals in mind.  

So, since Drama is out thereÖ is it possible for Drama to be implemented in a manner that is conducive to Gamist fun?  Iím really intrigued by this, although my instinct is to say it canít.  Or better: given my current understanding of how Drama-based resolution works, I canít conceive of a way to use it to fulfill Gamist design goals.  Iíd like to see someone figure out a way, though.  Gamist Drama resolution would have to be very explicit about who gets to assert what, and when.  But once this is made explicit, does it turn into Karma (as I echo Paulís question about Karma turning into Fortune)?  

Chris, I think youíre right about why Fortune is so appealing to Gamist design.  Having thought about Karma-based Gamist mechanics for RPGs, Iíve generally just gone back to Fortune because it feels easier for me to implement.  Iím not sure if my feeling is accurate, however.  Fortune does add uncertainty to ďoptimal choices.Ē  But, I think even with Fortune, the same optimal choices remain optimal.  They are just less predictable and less dependable.  However, I think that as a player, I still have almost as much incentive to stick with the same optimal choices, even if they are less dependable due to Fortune.  As another corollary to strategy, is it fair to say that optimal strategies should all have exploitable weaknesses (to avoid the Tic Tac Toe phenomenon)?  And given Laurelís point about Coherent Consistency, if the system is elegant and coherent, to what degree should the players and GM have explicit knowledge of specific strategies before they begin play?  What Iím imagining here is this: in order to play you only need to learn the units and how they interact.  During play, over time, you will discover what the optimal choices are.  Now, are the advantages to telling players and GMs about the optimal choices ahead of time?  To what degree?  

Iím interested in Laurel's point about Gradual Per-scene Acquisition.  I think itís a useful design element, but itís one I havenít had much success at implementing (I think).  Does Runeís point-keeping fit this?  Or do the acquisitions have to actually give immediate results in increased ability to meet Gamist goals, like magic items in Donjon?  Are there advantages to these being permanent?  Likewise, what are the advantages of these only lasting for the duration of the next scene, or perhaps the adventure?  

Arenas of Conflict:  I like this, Mike.  My mind immediately wants to draw lines and start making a classification system out of this, with sets and subsets of arenas.  Given Combat, Commercial, and Diplomatic, what other broad arenas of conflict do people think might be conducive to gamist fun, and what specific applications do people see of these categories that are of interest?  Iím definitely going to consider arenas of conflict when trying to apply gamist goals to design.  


Boy, do I have a lot to think about,

Rich
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: March 22, 2002, 02:16:48 PM »

Rich,

Drama is amazing in Gamism given just a little organization. You are correct in your assessment of how it tends to "take over" Amber play.

And no, it does not become Karma just because it's organized. There are few or no gray areas among Drama - Karma - Fortune, just interesting combinations of them. (Similarly, Karma in Nobilis remains Karma even though its units rely on a resource pool.)

The key game for competition with Drama is Once Upon a Time, a card game published by WotC. You need to own this game.

As for arenas of conflict, do not forget Romance. "All's fair in love in war, and this is definitely war."

Best,
Ron
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Ben Terry
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« Reply #10 on: March 22, 2002, 04:33:38 PM »

Hello everyone,

This is my first post at the Forge, but I have spent many nights staying up with Rich discussing RPG design and this is a topic I am very interested in.  For a while now I've been in a very gamist phase.  I often enjoy feeling that my character is successful at the things he does because of my personal immediate intellectual effort, not wholly because of a die roll, or just because my character's sheet crushes my/his opponent.  For this reason, I feel strategy is the central component of enjoyable gamism.  I've looked at various games, trying to determine how strategy gets infused, looking for similarities, etc.  To get down to the nitty gritty, I started with the game of chess to see "What are the specific elements of strategy?" So here are the options I could come up with (in chess):

1.  Develop a piece:  Work your chess piece to a place where it has the ability to control the most squares possible.

2.  Develop a position:  Get your pieces to a place where they are redundantly threatening and controlling areas of the board, working together to control the most squares possible while also redundantly protecting each other, so that an opponent would have to sacrifice many pieces to break up your strong position.  This leads to a complicated running through of the options to see if the lengthy and dangerous exchange is worth the risk and pure mental effort, or if there is a way around the position.

3.  Threaten a piece:  Threaten to take a piece, which may force the opponent on the defensive, or if you take the piece the opponent is left with fewer resources and strategic options.

4. Threaten a position:  This seems to have the same effects as threating a piece...

5.  The Pin:  Pin his piece, meaning he can not use a piece either because it is impossible because it would lead to a check, or alternately, if he feels the piece has to stay to maintain the integrity of the position, or moving it would lead to a very important piece becoming vulnerable (such as a Queen or Rook).  This means that the pinned piece is effectivly out of the game until it can free itself.

6.  The Fork:  Create a fork, meaning you put a piece where it threatens to take 2 (or more, very rarely) pieces at once. Knights seem to be good at this, it may force the opponent to chose which resource he will lose. If you create a fork where the King is threatened, that almost always means he has to move to protect the King, leaving his other threatened piece completely vulnerable.

7.  The Gambit:  Engage in a gambit. This doesn't force action, but involves you putting a piece in danger, while also creating a threat of its own, tempting the opponent to take it. Sometimes they are almost forced to take the gambit, as otherwise they simply lose a piece, but maybe they move to bypass the gambit, or ignore it, feeling they can accept the loss of the piece the gambit threatens or turn it to their advantage.

8.  Endgame Tricks:  Use endgame tricks. There are times when you are garunteed victory in the end game, if you use a simple technique that inevitably leads to a checkmate. The two most common cases I can think of are the King, Rook ending and the two Rook march. If you do not pay attention and slip up, it may allow the opponent to force a stalemate, and if you are an amateur (or just distracted), there is always the possibilty of stupid mistakes that result in lost pieces.

So, enough about chess...  
I started wondering if these strategic elements were showing up in other games, and I think they do quite often.  Two other strategic games I considered were Street Fighter: TSG and Magic: The Gathering.  In chess, the pieces on each side are the same, and there are no hidden variables, all pieces are there for everyone to see.  In Magic:TG  each player may have a different set of pieces, and there are pieces that are in play and visible to all, pieces that only 1 player can see (in his hand) and the pieces no one sees (the deck and its card order).  In Street Fighter: TSG, each character has thier own set of "pieces" (manuevers and thier stats) that they use throughout a fight.  The nature of these pieces are not known by the opponent until they are used, or if the opponent has previous experience with the character. Additionally, with Street Fighter: TSG, the dice are there creating that edge of uncertainty.  

Differences aside, it does appear to me that you see gambits, pins, forks, and position building in Magic: The Gathering.  With Street Fighter, perhaps not all of these elements are present, but I know gambits, pins, (if you get the right opponent) endgame tricks, and some "piece development" (setting up a maneuver or combo, etc.)occur.  In a thread on 'The Stakes' I believe poker strategy was mentioned, refering to the elements of 'Raise', 'Fold', 'Show', and 'Bluff'.  It seems these elements are mostly possible because in Poker, most or all of your pieces are hidden.  Also, Raising or Bluffing seems somehow similar to the gambit, but they may qualify as strategic elements distinct enough to stand alone.

To wrap it up, I thought that if it is possible to compile a list of these strategic elements, one could find a way to infuse them into the rules to make a more satisfying gamist supporting RPG.   I have yet to deeply consider the other elements conductive to gamism Rich mentioned, but I hope some of this strategic rambling is useful.

Enjoying the Forge,

Ben
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Rich Forest
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« Reply #11 on: March 24, 2002, 09:10:44 PM »

Hi Ron,

Quote
The key game for competition with Drama is Once Upon a Time, a card game published by WotC. You need to own this game.


Funny thing is... I do own this game.  Now, it looks like I need to play this game.  Maybe it's time to take another look at it.

Rich
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #12 on: March 26, 2002, 09:58:58 AM »

Hi Ben, and welcome,

Great list. I agree that identifying tactics can help you incorporate them into a game. And there are so many more, even in Chess:

9. Feint - Maneuver apeice so that it appears that you are building an attack in one region, when in fact you plan it in another. The desired response from the opponent is a maneuver to counter the feint which leaves him open in the desired area.

10. Sacrifice - putting a peice in jeopardy in order to cause the opponent to take the opportunity to take it thus leaving him out of position.

11. Interposition - placing a piece between your threatened peice and the peice threatening it so as to defend the threatened peice.Presumably the interposing peice is itself better defended, or often less valuable.

12. Attrition - exchange of peices in a manner that simply depletes both players power. Usually used by players who are ahead and want to accentuate the lead, but also in certain positional cases.

13. Support - placing a peice so it is able to take a piece that is currently threatened (which makes taking the supported peice less desirable).

14. Initiative - moving such that the player is forced in some way to respond in such a fashion that allows for the player who now has the initiative to continue this cycle. The player with the initiative is the restricts the decisions available to his opponent.

15. Bluff - a move intended to appear more efffective than it is. Risky, as it involves decetion which may be discovered and countered, but allows a player to do more with less resources.

16. Counterattack - move that ignores an opponents attack to establish ones own attack. Usually designed to put the opponent off his attack, or gain the initiative.

17. Flank - maneuver inteded to create a threa on a weak or undefended side of the opponents forces.

18. Retreat - a move out of an enemies line of attack.

And I'm sure there's more. Given other game elements you can do even more. Like blind bluffing which you cannot do in Chess, but is a staple of poker.

Anyhow, this all makes me want to work on a Gamist system. :-)

Mike
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Ben Terry
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« Reply #13 on: March 26, 2002, 04:44:08 PM »

Mike, thanks for the response!

I completely forgot some of these tactics, and you listing them really helps me understand a few things better.  For example, I have always suspected war games had some fun tactics/strategy buried in them, but I have rarely felt like I was seeing these things, so I came to think that they were boring, and didn't have rules that encouraged much of this thinking.  I haven't had enough experience with those sorts of games to make a judgement though, and some of your list of elements make me think I should give them another look.

On another note, at the end of your post you say 'and I'm sure there's more' (tactics, in chess) and mention Blind Bluffing as a tactic that is only available with hidden pieces.  I am wondering if there is a finite list of these, or if there is just a partially overlapping but infinite number of these elements that occur in different sets in different games.  It would be nice and elegant if it was the former, but could the infinite potential to create rules variations and new games make the latter the case?...  Ideally, it would be nice to grasp what set of strategies exist for games and how that set changes in games with hidden pieces, dice, or any other of a whole load of different game elements.

I suppose I will have to search out more strategic games and see if I can make more sense of it.  I hope my head doesn't get too drawn into math in the process....

Ben
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #14 on: March 26, 2002, 10:37:59 PM »

Ben,

I suspect that there are infinite possibilities. I also suspect that some are more interesting than others.

The ability to add rules to a game is one way to allow for more permutations of possible action. This is one reason why Magic:TG is so interesting conceptually. With that many rules, you are unlikely to ever see all the possible interactions (and also why the game is so messed up).

In 'Fairy Chess' each player can add rules occasionally (I can't remember if it's every turn or after taking a peice or when). This allows for his infinite permutation, but also allows for problems with rule interperetation when certain combinations arise. SJGs solution was to introduce a variant (which I think may have originated in Europe) which they call Nightmare Chess, which is essentially the same thing but you can only add rules from the cards provided. This way the permutations are limited and controlled.

The game Cosmic Encounter is classic in that there are a Jillion (actually more than a billion IIRC) combinations of starting positions, all which make for a somewhat different game each play. Also there is a game online called Evolution where the players essentially design the game as play progresses.

So, lots of ways to really get complicated with rules and strategy.

Mike
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