Some games lead a basic principle of placement and capture to its logical conclusion - one can only follow and see where it leads, whether illustrious like Go or modest like Checkers. Emergo is an essential implementation of a mechanism of movement and capture called 'column checkers'. Its name is derived from the Latin 'Luctor et Emergo', the motto of the Dutch province of Zeeland, and meaning 'I wrestle and emerge'.
Its origin is a game called Bashni, invented some two centuries ago in Russia. Actually it's fun to play, but that isn't quite enough to make a good game. Competing at running a mile with one foot in a bucket is great fun too, and somebody will win for sure, but that doesn't make it a great sport.
The great Emanuel Lasker made things worse with his game Lasca, which has a better structure but is far less fun. And Lasker made the same classic 'inventor's mistake': he left a great idea where he found it.
To the lobbyists Lasca was 'obviously superior to Checkers' - they ignored its contamination. To the skeptics it was too erratic to be taken seriously - they ignored it altogether. As a result the potential of the concept has been grossly neglected. Stapeldammen for instance is a fabulous implementation that has existed in total obscurity for more than half a century now.

Column checkers - for want of a better name - suffers from a 'weird checkers' image. As it turns out, Emergo is so wide that Chess and Draughts simultaneously drown in it in terms of the number of possible positions. Yet it has less material than both of them. Its inner logic is flawless. Its strategy is basically simple but its tactics are fabulous, both in variety and depth. It can end in a draw, but it is very decisive nonetheless.
The game is a joint effort with Ed van Zon, who got me interested in Lasca's way of capture in the first place.

If there's mention of men and pieces, a man is single, while a piece consists of a number of stacked men. If the difference doesn't matter, a man may also be referred to as a piece, for instance 'the number of pieces on the board'.

On the board there are squares and lines. These are always dark squares and oblique lines, like the 'e-line' or the '5-line'. A square is identified as the intersection of two lines. The a- and i-line and the 1- and 9-line each count but one square. The board is initially empty.

If a player has no pieces left he loses the game.

  • There are two players, Black and White. Each initially has twelve men 'in hand'.
  • A 'piece' is a column of one or more men, composed in one of the following ways:
    • All white or white with black prisoner(s)
    • All black or black with white prisoner(s)
  • The top man of a column determines its owner. The top men together are called 'the cap'
  • Players move, and must move, in turn. White moves first. A move may be:
    • Entering a man (or the 'shadowpiece')
    • Moving a piece
    • Capturing one or more men

  • There are two phases: the entering phase and the movement phase.
  • Capture is obligatory and takes precedence in both phases.
  • A player captures the top man of an opponent's piece on an adjacent square, by jumping the piece with his own piece, taking the top man along under it, and landing on the square beyond, which must be vacant for the capture to take place.
  • Majority capture precedes: if the capturing piece can continue its course in a similar fashion in any direction except a 180 degrees turn, it must do so, taking care beforehand to establish the route that brings the maximum number of captured men. If there are more ways than one to meet this criterion, the player is free to choose.
  • In a multiple capture the capturing piece may visit a square more than once as well as jump a piece more than once!
  • Inducing a capture by the opponent is called feeding. Feeding a weak piece to eventually capture its guard(s) and liberate its prisoners is a key-concept in Emergo.

The capture of a single man reduces the number of pieces on the board by one. Since there is no mechanism to increase the number of pieces, a game of Emergo is always 'climbing upward', that is, the number of pieces steadily decreases while their size increases. This is the root of a game's eventual termination and its decisiveness.

Sorry, you need a Java enabled browser to view the Emergo Player! This sequence is only to illustrate mechanics. It is not a game position (because then White would have to enter a man).
White moves fe4 and black must take the majority capture hd4x after which white, also under the obligation of majority capture, must capture clockwise.
Anti-clockwise capture would end on the square of origin and bring only four men. As it is the move ends on c4: white liberates a piece of two and captures five men under a cap of three.

If a player who still has one or more men 'in hand', has no capture to perform, he must enter a man on a vacant square.
He may not enter more than one man, unless his opponent has all twelve men on the board, in which case he must enter his remaining men as one piece. This piece is called 'the shadowpiece'.

  • A player may still have several men in hand while his opponent has all men on the board. This is always the result of one player entering while the other must capture. It is not at all unusual: creating a large shadowpiece is a valid strategic goal.

The crucial restriction on entering
White may not, on his very first move, enter on the central square (e5). Apart from that there's only one condition for entering a man or the shadowpiece alike:

  • You may not force an opponent to make a capture during the entering stage, unless the position is one in which the opponent would have to capture anyway, if it were his turn!

This is the key rule governing the entering phase. A player is free to enter on any vacant square, regardless of whether or not it is a 'feeding' move, only if the opponent already attacks one or more of his pieces and thus would have to capture anyway.

Sorry, you need a Java enabled browser to view the Emergo Player!

In this example black on his seventh move takes a risk by attacking white. In the already crowded position, white - now released from the crucial restriction - takes over the attack.
On the tenth move it's black's turn to have no restrictions on entering (since he now is under attack himself).
Now 10...g6, forcing white to the majority capture 11.h6d4x appears to be black's best option, but after the position has come to rest, black's piece of two and shadowpiece of two are outweighed by white's piece of four.
Admittedly white's weak piece appears to be more isolated and thus more vulnerable than black's, but as a whole and for the moment the position is favorable for white.

This example shows how explosive the entering stage in a game of Emergo can be if players attack! In 'Strategy' you can read why it is usually black who attacks.
If the player to move cannot make a capture and does not have any men in hand, he must move a piece to an adjacent square. There are no restrictions except that the square must be vacant.

The following situations constitute a draw:

  • A player has at least one piece left on the board, and cannot move.
  • A forced cycle of moves, usually induced by one player, that cannot be broken by the opponent.
  • Mutual agreement.

A totally blocked position is easy to construct, but rare in actual play. Forced cycles are even more elusive. A situation in which every vacant square, if entered upon, would induce a capture while the opponent does not attack any of the entering player's pieces, cannot arise.

These were the rules. Now you know how to play Emergo ... almost.

How I invented ... Emergo
Using the Emergo applet
External links