# The Philosophers' GameJune 28, 2010 10:40 AM   Subscribe

The Glass Bead Game.
posted by grobstein at 11:07 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, Rithmomachia! Something that's not necessarily obvious unless you try to play the game is that it's (1) quite mad, yes; but (2) quite mad in a really sensible way.

So, take victory conditions. There are a few different types of victory in Rithmomachia. You can play for a Proper Victory; and if you do that, you can win it with a Big Proper Victory, a Middle-Sized Proper Victory or a Small Proper Victory (terminology for this varies). Or, you can go for a Common Victory instead; and if you do that, there's seven different types of Common Victory that you can pick from. You have to decide which sort you want before you begin, and also pick a target score.

Which is kind-of complicated! And takes up about five pages of rules explanations, and is initially really confusing! But what it actually comes down to is: you can tailor the game to fit the time you've got available, and also to keep it constantly fresh. So if you're playing for one type of Common Victory, a tile numbered 49 is 49 times more valuable than a tile numbered 1; for another type of victory it's twice as valuable; in another, it's worth exactly the same. It's a bit like if Scrabble was getting boring because your friend memorised all the valuable three-letter words, and you decided to fix that by having a few different sets of scrabble tiles with different point values for the letters.

Even so, it does take a few games before "amount of time spent actually playing Rithmomachia" exceeds "amount of time spent trying to keep track of the rules". And a lot more than that before "amount of time spent actually playing Rithmomachia" exceeds "amount of time spent making a Rithmomachia set", because all of those inconsistently numbered circular, triangular and square pieces, some of which you can stack in a pyramid? Have to be reversible, and differently coloured on each side.
posted by severalbees at 11:30 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

This looks fascinating, but I think my ADD is preventing me from understanding the rules.

Can someone take a shot at explain this as simply as possible?
posted by empath at 11:32 AM on June 28, 2010

This looks fascinating, but I think my ADD is preventing me from understanding the rules.

My AD&D gives me trouble too, but mostly with other things.
posted by freebird at 11:39 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh dear, there isn't really an "as simply as possible"! But, very basically: each side has a pile of pawns in different shapes - circle, triangle and square - with different numbers on them. Generally, circles have smaller numbers, triangles have medium-sized numbers, and squares have big numbers, but that's just a general tendency, not a rule. Circles, triangles and squares move differently (circles can move the shortest distance, squares the furthest) - they also have both a "regular move" (in a straight line) and an "irregular move" (a jumping move, a bit like a chess knight).

Black and white have entirely different sets of numbers. Both sides also have a "pyramid" - a piece constructed of five or six separate pawns, of all shapes, stacked together.

As in chess, players take it in turn to move a piece, and to "take" opposing pieces. There are half a dozen different ways to take an opposing piece. Some of these ways to make a capture are quite simple - if you have a piece of value X, and it's a "regular move" away from an opposing piece that's also of value X, you can take that opposing piece. Some are a bit more complicated, to do with ratios and distance, say; so if you have a piece that's worth x, and there's another piece that's worth 9x, then if there are 9 spaces between the two pieces, you can take the opposing piece (just as an example). And some of the captures are more complicated still - for example, if you have two pieces that can form an arithmetic, geometric or harmonic progression with a third opposing piece and they are both within a regular move of that piece, they can take that piece.

Pyramids can move using the moves of any of the pieces that are within them, circle, triangle or square; and they can capture (or be captured) either as a whole, or using any single one of those pieces.

To win - well, you decide before you start on the sort of victory you're going for. For a Common Victory, you can play to a certain number of captured pawns; or to a certain value of captured pawns; or any one of five other criteria. For a Proper Victory, you need to completely destroy your opponent's pyramid, and then construct - on their half of the board, but using your pieces - a pattern of pawns that follows certain rules about the relationship between the numbers on those pawns.
posted by severalbees at 11:47 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

For a Proper Victory, you need to completely destroy your opponent's pyramid, and then construct - on their half of the board, but using your pieces - a pattern of pawns that follows certain rules about the relationship between the numbers on those pawns.

For some reason I am intensely drawn to games that have simple design but elaborate rule systems. Unfortunately, I can. not. stand. teaching games to other people, so I am forever doomed to plan beautiful strategies to use against hypothetical opponents that I will never get to play.
posted by Think_Long at 12:29 PM on June 28, 2010

That's nummerwang.
posted by phrontist at 12:36 PM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

You know what I like? I like Chinese checkers.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 1:05 PM on June 28, 2010

I had never heard of this and I thought it must be some sort of tedious puzzle geek joke, but it has a Wikipedia entry, so there you go.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:25 PM on June 28, 2010

Why would wikipedia rule out the possibility that something may be a ___-geek anything?
posted by Think_Long at 8:32 AM on June 29, 2010

CANT FORCE SELF TO READ ENTIRE RULES

INTERNET WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME
posted by tehloki at 2:32 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

AD&D-read it...
Didn't understood much but noticed that 42 is all across the board in the harmonics tables.( 19 times )
posted by CitoyenK at 3:48 PM on June 29, 2010

... Back on it, very intriguing game and excellent post, Iridic.

I hope it's not already linked, a treaty from the American Mathematical Monthly of april 1911.

Now, I must read the glass bead game.
posted by CitoyenK at 7:55 PM on June 29, 2010

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