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Over the years, I have played a lot of Hearthstone and Through the Ages. A lot. One of the things both video games do very well is taking great tabletop game mechanics and adding digital flare[1]. You can clearly see these video games are really just tabletop games, but they take advantage of computers to keep state and execute mechanics which would be possible but really tedious in real life. For me, both an avid tabletop and video game player, this seems to really help connecting with the games.

Thinly tangential, I am terrible at and hardly understand Go. However, I have long held an appreciation for the depth of the game and the players who live and breathe the strategy. In that vein, I found the AlphaGo documentary captivating.

Recently, my thoughts on digitally enhanced tabletop games, my appreciation of Go, my desire to better understand AlphaGo, and an urge to create something new all collided in a project called Quagen.

Quickly taking on the AI in a demo game. Even with a fairly minimal implementation, the AI already clowns me around quite regularly!

Quagen is a Go-like game where players make simultaneous moves to control territory on a grid board. Every move gives you immediate and permanent control of your chosen spot and thus 1 point closer to victory. However, each spot under your control also exerts “pressure” on all surrounding spots. A spot under pressure moves towards the control of the player exerting the most pressure on the spot. After a handful of turns, a pressured spot will become permanently controlled by the pressuring player and start exerting pressure on its surrounding spots.

The game continues until a player controls a majority of the board or there are no more available spots. The player controlling the most spots at the end of the game wins.

A board after the players' first move. The solid colored spots indicate the spots players chose and now permanently control. The surrounding lightly colored spots are under pressure and will move towards the players' permanent control unless contested. The spots remaining gray between the players' moves are receiving equal pressure of 1 controlled spot from both players and thus do not start changing color.

Quagen plays just like a board game. However, going digital afforded two important game mechanics: spots exert pressure and players take simultaneous turns.

With spots exerting pressure, every move you make or fail to counter in the early game very visibly unfolds over every subsequent turn. Just like Go or Chess, you need to consider not just how the board looks now, but how might the board look many turns from now.

Simultaneous turns forces you to think of playing effectively against the range of moves your opponent may make rather than the single move your opponent just took.

Both of these mechanics could work in a physical implementation, but I suspect the tedium of tracking pressures and the roundabout way of making a simultaneous move in real life would ruin any chance of fun. You would spend more time figuring out the board state than playing the game!

With simultaneous moves, players may pick the same spot. In this case, the spot turns black and belongs to neither player! Black spots exert pressure and spread just like the players' spots.

At the moment of this writing, Quagen is at the end of the “minimal viable product” stage. You can play the game from start to finish against a friend or a pretty formidable AI. At this point, I’m somewhat convinced there’s a really interesting game somewhere in there. I’m looking forward to unearthing strategy with friends, tinkering with the gameplay, adding player focused features, and continuing to iterate on the AI.

You can play the latest version of Quagen at

You can peruse the source code on Github.


[1] Heartstone is a clear descendant of Magic the Gathering. Through the Ages is based on it’s own board game, but I would argue the digital version is so well done and streamlined, it really changes the experience.[/f]

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