goldkin: i has book (goldkin bookly)
For your review, a small pen-and-paper game that congealed in the back of my mind during the various holiday festivities:

Consider an arbitrarily large, square board of Connect Four. At the start of play, players are randomly assigned, or may choose to self-assign, a color ("black" or "white") and a direction ("across" or "down"). Starting with white, players alternate placing weighted pieces into the field of play (hereafter, "well"), Connect Four style. During play or once the well is full, its pattern is recorded on a sheet of plain fax paper.

Play then proceeds to the paper representation of the board. Starting with the player that was assigned "across", players alternate filling in the board using words of a single language (with right-left mirroring for nations that require it). The only constraints are:

  • The chosen word must fill the available space in the assigned direction, starting with an edge of the board or a black space and ending with an edge of the board or a black space. Words of length one are allowed. "Words of length zero" are not.

  • When a white square in that region is already filled with a letter, that letter must be used at that location in the chosen word.

  • On a player's assigned turn, instead of filling in a word, that player may instead choose to pass. If they do, they name a set of contiguous white spaces in their direction that isn't already occupied by a word or otherwise filled by play. Each unfilled character in this region receives an asterisk (*) character, which scores no points at the conclusion of play, but works as a wildcard for any letter.

At the end of game, each word is scored using the Scrabble points for each letter. Contiguous regions that do not contain valid words in the official Scrabble dictionary are not considered. Wildcards always score zero points, and words are always scored once, regardless of the number of valid words a contiguous region may create. The player with the most points in their direction wins. If a tie occurs, the game results in a draw.

Because the board is so easy to simulate, all that's required for play is a sheet of fax paper, a pencil, a fair coin (to choose color and direction randomly), and a scoring guide.

Does such a game already exist? For example, this is similar, but not quite an exact match. I'm curious to try playing this and see any variations that arise.

Bonus errata:
  • This is not currently salable by me: it conflicts with many of the patents for Connect Four, Scrabble, and similar properties. It's a fun little thing, though.
  • This game actually scales nicely to multiple players, if you place each of them in one of two opposing teams. Play then proceeds, alternating through the participants of each team.
  • For an individual multiplayer variant, just add a dimension for each player. So, for three players, the game would be played in a cube, for four a hypercube, and so forth. Unfortunately, only professional mathematicians and computer nerds would be likely to play this variation.
  • Play is significantly more challenging if, instead of a square, different shapes are considered vis variants of chess. I leave you to consider the possibilities.

October 2015

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