Abstract strategy game

Abstract strategy game

An abstract strategy game is a strategy game, aiming to minimise luck, and without a theme.[1][2] Almost all abstract strategy games will conform to the strictest definition of: a board or card game, in which there is no hidden information, no non-deterministic elements (such as shuffled cards or dice rolls), in which (usually) two players or teams take a finite number of alternating turns.[3][4]

Many of the world's classic board games, including checkers, chess, Go, and Mancala, fit into this category.[5][6] Play is sometimes said to resemble a series of puzzles the players pose to each other. As J. Mark Thompson wrote in his article "Defining the Abstract": "There is an intimate relationship between such games and puzzles: every board position presents the player with the puzzle, What is the best move?, which in theory could be solved by logic alone. A good abstract game can therefore be thought of as a "family" of potentially interesting logic puzzles, and the play consists of each player posing such a puzzle to the other. Good players are the ones who find the most difficult puzzles to present to their opponents."[1]


What is considered an abstract strategy game

The most strict definition of an abstract strategy game requires that it cannot have random elements or hidden information. In practice, however, many games that do not strictly meet these criteria are commonly classified as abstract strategy games. Games such as Continuo, Octiles, Can't Stop, Sequence, and Mentalis could be considered abstract strategy games, despite having a luck or bluffing element. A smaller category of non-perfect abstract strategy games manages to incorporate hidden information without using any random elements. The best known example here is Stratego. The pragmatic definition seems to be that if a game is strategic and abstract (as opposed to being a simulation), the term "abstract strategy" should be applicable.[citation needed]

Traditional abstract strategy games are often treated as a separate category of game, hence, the term abstract games is often used for competitions that exclude traditional games and can be thought of as referring to modern abstract strategy games. Two examples of this were the IAGO World Tour (2007-2010) and the Abstract Games World Championship held annually since 2008 as part of the Mind Sports Olympiad. [7]

In some abstract strategy games, there are multiple starting positions of which it is suggested that one be randomly determined: at the very least, in all conventional abstract strategy games a starting player needs to be chosen by some means extrinsic to the game. Some games, such as Arimaa and DVONN, have the players build the starting position in a separate initial phase which itself conforms strictly to abstract strategy game principles. However, most people would consider that although one is then starting each game from a different position, the game itself still has no luck element. Indeed, Bobby Fischer promoted randomizing the starting position of a game of chess in order to increase the game's dependence on thinking at the board.[8]


Analysis of “pure” abstract strategy games is the subject of combinatorial game theory. Abstract strategy games with hidden information, bluffing, or simultaneous move elements are better served by Von Neumann-Morgenstern game theory, while those with a component of luck may require probability theory incorporated into either of the above.

As for the qualitative aspects, ranking Abstract Strategy Games according to their interest, complexity, or strategy levels is a daunting task and subject to extreme subjectivity. In terms of measuring how finite a mathematical field each of the three top contenders represents, it is estimated that Checkers has a game-tree complexity of 1031 possible positions, whereas chess has in the vicinity of 10123. This suggests that computer programs, through "brute force" calculation alone, should often be able to surpass human players' abilities. As for Go, the possible legal game positions range in the magnitude of 10170. Computers have yet to come close to winning over a ranked professional Go player.


The Mind Sports Olympiad first held the Abstract Games World Championship in 2008 to try to find the best abstract strategy games all-rounder.[7] The MSO event saw a change in format in 2011 [9] restricting the competition to players' 5 best events and renamed to the Modern Abstract Games World Championship it was again won by David Pearce.

  • 2008: England David M. Pearce (England)
  • 2009: England David M. Pearce (England)
  • 2010: England David M. Pearce (England)
  • 2011: England David M. Pearce (England)

See also


  1. ^ a b Thompson, J. Mark. (2000, July) Defining the Abstract. The Games Journal. Retrieved April 2, 2010, from http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/DefiningtheAbstract.shtml.
  2. ^ International Abstract Games Organisation article on game genres, Retrieved September 10, 2010, from http://iagoweb.com/wiki/game-genres
  3. ^ "Abstract Strategy Games". Random knowledge. 2007-05-15. http://randomknowledge.wordpress.com/2007/05/15/abstract-strategy-games/. Retrieved 2010-09-11. 
  4. ^ "Glossary". BoardGameGeek. http://www.boardgamegeek.com/wiki/page/glossary#toc2. Retrieved 2010-09-11. 
  5. ^ boardgamegeek list of abstract strategy games, retrieved 11 September, from http://boardgamegeek.com/abstracts/browse/boardgame
  6. ^ IAGO list of classic abstract games, retrieved 11 September 2010, from http://iagohalloffame.com/
  7. ^ a b Mind Sports Olympiad on abstract games world championships, Retrieved February 12, 2011, from http://www.boardability.com/game.php?id=abstract_games
  8. ^ http://www.chessvariants.com/diffsetup.dir/fischerh.html
  9. ^ Mind Sports Olympiad article about 2011 event http://www.boardability.com/article.php?id=10

External links

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