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Monday, February 13, 2017

Well the landslide will bring it down...

Sometimes all it takes to set off a landslide is one stone jarred loose from its comfortable resting place.  In Tak, the stones (and their controllers) act in much the same way.  The mid-game is mainly where these landslides lurk. You are sitting there watching the board peacefully fill with flatstones, when suddenly a single capture results in a complete change in the look of the board as well as a complete change in attitude of the players. Peaceful coexistence seems to give way to winner-take-all competition within the space of a few turns. Aftershocks of that first landslide spread their waves throughout the remainder of the game, causing other landslides, and finally ending in a rubble-strewn expanse of a game board and a single victor.

I have come to call these landslides Cascades.

John Lewis brought this up on the Tak subreddit. I have attempted to expand upon the idea and nail down some definitions and examples:

Forced Cascade - A series of forced moves that results in a major swing in the board state.  This is very similar to Road to Tinue, except that the result is not an immediate win (though it could lead to it, certainly). Forced moves only work if your tempo is 1 (or 2, if failure to follow the forced move results in Road to Tinue)

Potential Cascade - A pre-Cascade board state that will not become a Cascade unless initiated. The responding player is not forced to initiate the Cascade.

Fishing Cascade - an intentionally set up Potential Cascade (you might even say it is a Potential Cascade with malicious intent) - a lure is dropped that, if taken, will result in a cascade by the player dangling the bait. The best fishing cascades offer the mark a "treasured bait" AND improve the fisherman's board state regardless of whether or not the mark takes the bait. Ex: player 1 captures a stack within reach of player 2's wall. If player 2 captures the stack, player 1 crushes it with his cap and gains superior board position. If player 2 does not capture the stack, player 1 spreads the stack and gains better board position anyway.

I would like to start with the most basic cascade -- a flat capture/recapture scenario. This cascade is a direct result of influence; and if you have not seen Ben's video on the subject, or it has been a while, I highly recommend taking a look at it.

This type of cascade is sometimes called a stack war or a trade war or even a dog pile. As Ben's video demonstrates, each piece on the board exerts a certain amount of influence over adjacent squares. At some point during the game, capturing becomes necessary to prevent a road win or to gain better board position. If the captured piece falls under the influence of an opponent's piece, then the opposing player can choose to recapture. If that recapture falls under the influence of the initiating player's piece, then he/she can choose to continue the war. As stated, each recapture is a choice, making this a Potential Cascade. If the trade war is taken to its end (no adjacent pieces available to recapture the dog pile), then the board now contains a significant stack.

I try to make it a habit to check the outcomes of trade wars for each potential capture that may occur (try to use your opponent's time to do this so you can concentrate on The Fox Prances To The Barn, Smelling Turkey on your turn).  

Below is a simple trade war. Notice that each player has other options besides continuing the dog pile. You can use the navigation arrows to play through the trade war.

The next step in a trade war is to bring in a noble to help rein in the peasants, as seen here in the Northwest:

Exactly how a player should react to this noble placement really depends on the board state at the time. One common response to the placement of a noble beside a valued stack is to jump and spread that stack in the most beneficial direction found.

Now for the hard stuff. A forced cascade is a very powerful tool. Huge swings in flat count or setups for Roads to Tinue can be forced if you can get your opponent into the right position (over a barrel). The following is an example of a forced cascade - The capstone hops to a deputy stack which is also a Tak threat, black cannot respond by using the stack vacated. Then, the capstone hops back on the previous stack, adding 2 extra recruits, keeping a deputy stack, and putting black's capstone in the corner.

I am sure that there are many more cascades in this beautiful game to be discovered. Let me know if you see one and I'll see if I can work it into the blog somewhere.

Also, do you prefer the still pictures or the interactive frames?

Puzzle #5: White to Tinue in 3

This is a game I didn't complete yesterday at lunch. After going back to the ending later, I had a nice Tinue that I just couldn't see at the time. See if you can find it.

White's move. And, you can now interact with the puzzles! Thanks r/tak user gruppler!!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Puzzle #4: Who has the better position here?

It is white's turn to play in this mid-game scenario.  So, who is better off and why?

Also, let me know if you like the screenshots or the ones better.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Puzzle #3: How would you respond to this board state?

This is a game I played yesterday against TakticianBot. I was confused by the bot's response to this board state, as it was different from what I would have done and, I believe, lost the bot the game.

Let me know what you would have done as black:

Also, if anyone has thoughts on the game other than this state, I'm all ears. This was my second win against TakticianBot (the first was a bug where it missed my road threat). This win really surprised me. Did I just play an awesome game or did Tako miss obvious responses to my play? Here is the link to watch or try alternate moves:  Rabbitboy84 wins! Wait, Rabbitboy84 wins?