STRATIC
V 0.2 -- Created 2020/4/20 -- Updated 2021/7/29 ______________________________________________________________________________________
:: About ::
Stratic is a boardgame designed to stop AI from outperforming humans. There are no preset starting formations, the number of pieces on the board increases as well as decreases, and the board continually grows in size. These features stack to make it impossible to calculate board end-states in finite time. We have also included a very simple resource management function so Stratic officially qualifies as a tactics-level wargame. Additionally, Stratic is 3-dimensional, despite looking like a flat 2D board, which is trivial for humans to track but is another layer of complexity for AI.
We need help testing Stratic, so if anyone wants to help try it out, @ me. We have a public gdoc we play on but if you join the Discord we have a bot for it and soon we will have a web-end as well (this page you are on now will become a portal for playing the game) so you will be able to play it online like most other games.
To clarify how this combats AI engines: the games get exponentially more complex as time progresses since the boards grow out in every direction and the number of pieces increases, making calculating probabilities over the playable area orders of magnitude more difficult over time. This is partly why we think it will be immune to AI supremacy. There will still be AIs that can play it, but they won't be able to properly determine odds of winning since board end-states can't be calculated in finite time. This means the AI will be reduced to simple heuristic choices instead of being able to see absolute end-states and definite probabilities. This makes any AI only as good as a human.
There are two ways to win, either capture the commander (equivalent to capturing the king in chess) or until someone surrenders; attrition is a real strategy we allowed so the games could continue forever and get exponentially more complicated over time - it is up to the player to win outright or test their will by simply never giving up.
:: Pieces, Movement, & Rules ::
There are four kinds of pieces - Fortifiers, Aggressors, Interdictors, and Commanders. There is only one Commander on the board per player and the game is over when it is captured. You must place at least one of each piece and have a total of 19 pieces placed before starting. Players do not know each other's placements until starting the game. You can only move onto a space if it is empty, you are capturing a piece that is currently positioned there, or you are occupying a Fortifier (explained below).
FORTIFIER: can move up to 2 spaces in a straight line; can capture any piece; cannot occupy any other piece's space; can be exchanged for a different piece if behind the enemy starting line; when occupied, can only move 1 space at a time. AGGRESSOR: can move up to 3 spaces straight or 2 spaces in any direction; can capture every piece except Fortifiers; can chain one additional capture if the first capture is within 2 spaces of the originating position; can occupy Fortifiers - doing so allows unlimited unidirectional movement. INTERDICTOR: can move up to 3 spaces straight and can jump over or move through other pieces; can capture every piece; can occupy Fortifiers - allows for unlimited unidirectional movement in which you can still jump over other pieces. COMMANDER: cannot move on its own unless in check or position is swapped with another piece in range; can capture any piece within 1 space of it; can occupy Fortifiers. When a Commander occupies a Fortifier, attempting to capture that Commander instead results in the occupied Fortifier & the attacker both getting removed from play. The Commander cannot place itself in check (like Chess).
Piece Movements
Occupation means two pieces occupying the same space, stacked in 3D (like Gungi). Any Fortifier can be occupied by any other piece except other Fortifiers. To remove an occupier you must capture the occupying piece, which means you must be capable of occupying that same space after as well. Fortifiers can't capture pieces occupying other Fortifiers. Occupied Fortifiers cannot capture any other piece at all. An occupied Fortifier cannot be targeted for capture by any piece except its occupier. The benefits of occupation do not apply until the next movement after you have occupied a Fortifier. The benefits only last for the first movement of a piece off its Fortifier. You cannot start a game with occupied positions.
Turns in Stratic allow the movement of only one piece at a time, with turns alternating between players. There is no zugzwang, meaning you do not have to move if you don't want to, including during your first turn. You can indefinitely pass your turn if you desire (unless in check). This is to allow the realism of battles of attrition and also means you can wait to see how your enemy develops their pieces, breaking the strictness of strategy around being first to move. Special conditions allow doubled movement - these are called operations. If you pass on two or more turns in a row, you get one extra movement on the next turn you take to move. This does not stack, you only get one extra movement no matter how many turns you passed on.
Reinforcements are new pieces placed after the game has started (like Shogi). There are three ways to gain a reinforcement piece. The first is by having control of the midboard during expansion (explained in the next paragraph), the second is by making a move in under five seconds for three turns in a row, and the third is from your opponent taking more than 60 seconds to make a move. The second and third methods are only applicable in games with time controls and only exist to make games end faster; this mechanic is not required and may not be applicable to games against an AI engine. These three methods can be stacked but they only gain you one reinforcement piece each, meaning you can only ever have a maximum of three reinforcements placed in a given turn. When you gain a reinforcement, it can be any piece of your choice except a Commander and it can be placed anywhere on the board except the midboard or past the opponent's starting line. Reinforcements must be placed before any other movements in a turn, otherwise you forfeit the reinforcements.
Expansion refers to the growth of the board in every direction by one unit (inspired by Prosfair from BBB). Expansion starts occuring after the first two rounds pass (four turns total), then again after three rounds have passed (six turns), then again after four rounds have passed (eight turns), and then every five rounds (ten turns). The reason for this non-constant expansion is to quickly expand the board in the beginning of the game and then allow regular expansion for the mid-to-late game. Infinite expansion occurs in the official game, but this is obviously not possible on physical boards so we limit physical boards to an expansion range of seven. Physical boards also don't require infinite rulers to identify their grid spaces with, and so using A-Z and 1-26 instead of negative letters and numbers is preferable.
The Board refers to the 12x12 grid the pieces start on. Starting formations can only be placed within a 3-row space on one of the opposing ends of the board and the space this occurs in is demarcated by the colored 'starting lines'. The 'midboard' is the rectangular space between the two starting lines; it is static and does not grow with board expansion. The 'trough' (or 'trench') is the horizontal space between the two starting lines, which does grow.
:: Additional Rules ::
Direct checks (next-turn single-movement mates) need to be called but indirect checks (next-turn multiple-movement mates) do not. This means double movements from attrition or double captures from Aggressor pieces can mate and end the game without warning.
Draws: if your commander gets captured but you could have similarly captured your opponent's commander in the very next turn, you may do so and call the game a draw. A draw can also be called if the players enter 'truce', meaning they agree to end the game without a clear victor. This will usually occur when it becomes clear that the game will go on infinitely and neither player has the will to outlast attrition.
A Show of Force can occur before starting the game by having a player reveal their starting formation for an additional two starting pieces. The player that learns this information sacrifices two pieces from their starting total. Since only one player can do a show of force, the players must agree on this beforehand. Otherwise, normal starts are acheived by sharing obfuscated formations to confirm their existence before seeing the other player's opening placements. We use our in-house SSC for this but when the web-end is finished this will be done automatically for the players. This rule may be included in the official online version as a variant but is not necessary for standard play.
Starting Formations must contain 19 pieces each. 19 was chosen since you can't score 19 in cribbage and an odd number of pieces on an even board works out well in the meta. To test placements and formations you can use this tool by Cozmic.
Example Formations
The two on the left were the starting formations of the first game ever played, before the rules for piece movements and captures were augmented. The game was played by Snax (top) versus Sphlem (bottom).
:: Planned Variants ::
Antistratic: the goal in this variant is to lose all your pieces first. Just like Antichess, the main mechanic is that if a piece can capture, then it is forced to capture, and the Commander is no longer a special piece since all pieces must be lost in order to win. This is difficult because having a presence in the midboard means you are likely to get reinforcements, and in this variant reinforcements must be played.
Partners: this variant allows four or more players on the same board. The starting lines extend infinitely with board expansion, so you can just connect two boards side-by-side to start and have expansion carry out rectangularly instead of square-wise. This means four players can play on the same board in the same space. Additionally, you could add more boards side-by-side and have a large front simulated to toy with more realistic war theory.
4D Stratic: because this is a tactical level wargame designed to teach people the basics of combat tactics and war theory, we want to also represent space combat. To do this we add one dimension to the board so it goes from a 2D square grid to a 3D cube grid. Pieces still move and behave the same as normal but have another dimension to act in. We call this 4D instead of 3D because the normal game is technically already 3D since multiple pieces can occupy the same space; similarly, multiple pieces can occupy the same space in the 3D cube grid and so there is technically another dimension of space being utilized, making it 4-dimensional. Plus the joke of 4D Chess. 4D Stratic can be combined with the Fog of War variant below for optimal space sim.
Fog of War: to add complexity and realism to Stratic - to make it more in line with traditional wargames - a fog of war mechanic is added whereby the only spaces a player can see are the ones within a 3-block radius around each of their own pieces. The Fortifiers are special in that they can see a 5-block radius around them. Further, reinforcements can only be placed within a 9-block radius of the Commander and in a space not obscured by the fog of war. In this variant, pieces may start fortified. Additionally, there are three new piece types added for this variant. The first is the Scout, which can move up to four squares in any direction or sequence, can capture the Commander directly (even when fortified) but cannot capture any other piece, can see a 5-block radius, and can occupy a Fortifier, giving it a sight radius of 7 blocks. Like the Commander, only one Scout can be placed on the board per side. The second piece type is the Viper, which can move up to five squares in any direction or sequence, can capture every piece except Fortifiers, can only see one block around it, and can occupy a Fortifier, giving it no special properties. What makes the Viper special is that after it has captured a piece, if it still has movement left over then it can continue moving and capturing everything in its path. Only two Vipers can be placed on the board and Vipers cannot be selected as reinforcements. The third piece type is the Bureaucrat, which can move to any unoccupied position on the board, cannot capture any piece, can occupy fortifiers, but otherwise exists soley to get in the way and slow things down. Only two bureaucrats can be placed by a player at a time. For this variant of Stratic, starting formations have 21 pieces instead of the usual 19.