Note: If you haven’t already, you’ll probably want to read my original blog post introducing Blither before you dive into this one.
What’s a heuristic?!?
I promised to write up some “strategy notes” for Blither, but then yesterday I read this excellent article by David Ploog about Abstract Strategy game Heuristics, and had the revelation that most of the advice I’d already written would not actually be in the realm of strategy. Ploog lists 4 types of Heuristics: Evaluations, Strategies, Tactics, and Patterns. To quote:
- Evaluations: Assessing a position, locally and globally.
- Strategies: Global methods and formulation of subgoals.
- Tactics: Local methods, generally small scale and short term.
- Patterns: Specially denoted moves or structures on the board.
I think most of the advice in this article falls into the category of Evaluations. How to read the board, and what to look for that might be an advantage to you while playing. (Possibly some of it will drift into the realm of Tactical decisions.)
It’s a new game still, so I can’t promise these are all anything more than tips for beginners. It is also certainly possible that someday this post will only serve to prove how terrible I am at playing my own games.
It’s worth noting that I haven’t played that many games of Blither, although probably more than anyone else at this point. (A few dozen at most.) It’s also possible that some of the tips here are circumstantial, and don’t apply in situations that I haven’t considered yet.
More than anything, I hope this post will give you a sense of what a person could be thinking about while playing the game, and whether that appeals to you. To that end, I’ve also included an example game at the end of this post, and I’ve attempted to annotate it with my reasoning for each move.
Tip1: Try to maximize your liberties
In Blither, you capture opponent’s groups by surrounding them, so you want to be sure to leave your pieces with the maximum amount of empty spaces, or liberties, around them. As with Go, I’m certain that higher-level play will involve some amount of counting empty spaces around your pieces. Fortunately, the small board means the numbers are never very large, and it’s not the counting that is difficult, but anticipating what your opponent will do.
Designer note: Initially, Blither was designed with a hex6 board. Only a few games were play tested on that size board. It just felt like hex4 let you get to the “meat” of the game faster.
Tip 2: Move into the center early
Corner spaces only have 3 liberties. Edge spaces only have 4. But a space in the middle of the board has the potential for 6 different empty spaces around it. For this reason, you should only play on the edges of the board when it’s giving you a strategic advantage to do so. (Or at the end of the game when there aren’t any other options.) Leaving a piece in the corner is even more dangerous.
Tip 3: Pieces are stronger in larger groups
Because your own pieces also remove a liberty, it only makes senes to play next to your own pieces when they are of the same type, which does increase liberties for the entire group. But unlike most games with surrounding capture, in Blither, you can actually move away from surrounding pieces. Ideally, strive to maintain any group connections when doing this, however.
Tip 4: Try to position pieces next to open spaces of their own type
The reason for this is one of the things that (I think) makes Blither interesting. It is possible to move a piece onto its own type, and either 1) place the resulting new piece back on the original space, or 2) place the new piece elsewhere, thus migrating the piece that moved. Because, the original piece is now on a matching space, it has no immediate movement opportunities to another matching space, but the newly placed piece, assuming it was placed next to that original piece does have that potential. Toward the end of the game, there’s often a period where you wish you could move onto a specific shape, but you just don’t have that potential. Keep in mind what shapes your opponent wants to place as well, and try to deprive them of those types of move.
Tip 5: Your pieces types that have been captured are now safe
I don’t meant that those types can’t be captured again, but rather, if they are, your opponent is no closer to winning the game as a result. This means moves that were previously too risky are now a little more acceptable. The previous tip about keeping your pieces in a single large group can safely be ignored.
An Example Game
As promised, here’s an entire game, illustrated and annotated. This took way more time than I intended, and I got a little rushed at the end. Please let me know if you see any incorrect moves or if anything is unclear.