Blither – An Abstract Strategy Game

Blither is a simple capture and territory game for two players.

Setup

Game board – The game is played on a hexagonal game board where each space is labeled with one of three types. Place the game board on the table between the two players.

Pieces – Each player chooses a color, and takes all the pieces of that color. They will have three distinct types of piece, corresponding to the three types of spaces on the game board. Players simultaneously set one of each of the three types of piece on any of the spaces of the game board along the two edges of it closest to themselves. The only rule for this initial placement is that no two pieces may be placed adjacent.

Example setup

Choose a player to go first.

Goal

Throughout the game, players will be trying to capture groups of their opponent’s pieces. The goal is to be the first to have captured at least one of each of the three piece types. There is no way to draw in this game.

Gameplay

On their turn, the player must choose one of their pieces already on the game board and move it to an adjacent unoccupied space. After the move, the player must then add a piece from their supply that matches the type of the space they’ve moved onto, placing the new piece onto any unoccupied space on the game board. (The space they place the new piece onto does not have to match either the type of piece they moved, or the new type of piece they are placing.)

After the movement and placement, all of the opposing player’s groups of pieces are evaluated for capture. A group is all pieces of the same type (belonging to the same player) that are adjacent on the game board. A group is captured if it is no longer adjacent to any empty spaces on the game board. All opponent groups are evaluated at once, and all captured groups are fully removed from the game board. A group may consist of only one piece.

If the player whose turn it is has not previously captured the type of piece from any of the captured groups, they place one of the captured pieces corresponding to that type off the game board in front of themselves to indicate that they have now captured that type. If they capture the third type of piece of their opponent’s, they immediately win the game.

Extra Stuff

Inspiration

Blither was inspired by the Abstract Games Magazine Unusual Board Spaces Game Design Competition, specifically, by the game Hox, which is described as an example for the competition. It was also inspired by Blooms, by Nick Bentley, and Slither, by Corey Clark. Mechanics from both games have been adapted here, and the name Blither is a portmanteau of the two. I am especially happy with this design because, at least to me, Blither also feels like both of those games.

Online Play

You can play Blither on Tabletop Simulator here: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=2492141466 This is actually my first Tabletop Simulator mod, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. It doesn’t do anything especially fancy though.

Watch it played

You can watch a game of Blither on YouTube from when it was played as part of the Twin Cities Playtest event in May 2021. I do also introduce the game and the rules before they play.

A screenshot from Blither played in Tabletop Simulator on YouTube as part of the Twin Cities Playtest event in May 2021.

About the Components

The number of pieces of each type is not meant to be limited. But in practice, I have not seen a game where any player used more than 14 of one piece type. (That said, I haven’t seen that many games yet.) It would of course be theoretically possible to use many more than that. I have played a game or two with a limited number of pieces (9 of each type), and that seemed to go okay as well.

I have spent some time working on 3D printed components for a physical version of the game, but I haven’t finished printing them out yet.

Why is it interesting

If you’ve played Blooms and/or Slither, you already know why those games are interesting. Briefly, here are my takes:

Blooms feels like an expanded version of Go, both because it’s on a hexagonal board, but also because there are four colors in the game. (Each player owns two of them.) The choice of which color to place is an expansion of the decision space in a similar way to how there are additional liberties for each board space. (There are 4 in Go because it’s a square grid versus 6 in Blooms because it’s played hexagons.) I am by no means an expert Blooms player, but my impression is that you must analyze each color’s liberties alone as well as in tandem with your other color, which is more than just double the thinking, but fortunately, the board is much smaller overall. Abstract Strategy Games magazine had a feature article on Blooms (and hexagonal Go in general) in their 20th Issue, and I do recommend it.

Slither is a very interesting version of a connection game because you get to move your pieces. As a connection game, the goal is to form a connected group of stones from one side of the board to the other. But because you get to move your pieces, (and the name is particularly apt here), those lines of stones end up slithering around the board over the course of the game. In Slither, you move a stone, and then place a stone, (although unlike Blither, the move is optional). This is, of course, an expansion of the decision space of a traditional single-placement connection game (Hex is probably the most well-known) because the movement opens up many more possibilities for connection in a single turn. David Ploog has written a nice article about Slither that introduces the rules and goes into more depth on why the game is interesting.

Blither combines some of the mechanics of both Blooms and Slither. But I’d argue it does so in such a way that expands the decision space in a similar way to how both of those games expand the decision spaces in respect to their direct predecessors. In terms of how it feels to me to play Blither, I’d argue that Blither is to Blooms what Slither is to Hex.

Blooms and Go and Slither and Hex are all in a family of abstract strategy games that connoisseurs of such games refer to as combinatorial. Combinatorial games are games for 2-players with no reliance on luck or hidden information. Some definitions say the game also has to be finite (meaning it can’t end in a draw). People who value combinatorial games also tend to value the following game attributes: elegance and simplicity. I could definitely write an entire article about just the previous sentence, but I won’t go into detail about what that means just now. Blither is combinatorial, but it might be that the number of components (hopefully not the number and complexity of the rules) is beginning to impinge on its claim to elegance and simplicity.

Right now, I feel like Blither is one of the better games I’ve designed. I hope you’ll give it a try.