Draughts is a game with many variants that are played by millions of players. The variants exist because, as with any other game of the people, they have gone through many hands and minds. The purpose of this essay is to trace the changes in the rules and the effect they have or have had on the evolution of the game.
This is not an encyclopedia of Draughts variants. An encyclopedia strives for completeness and doesn't shun the obscure. There are many obscure draughts variants out there, and if there were any harm in them one could argue 'way too many'. We do not aspire to present a historical treatise either. Interesting as it may be to explore every nook and cranny of the current games' ancestry, it doesn't serve our purpose.
Our purpose is to argue that Draughts is a game in a constant state of evolution that doesn't necessarily stop at Anglo-American Checkers or International Draughts.
A point in case: the former has been solved by professor Jonathan Schaeffer of the Department of Computing Science at the University of Alberta and his team. Humans now must play in the shadow of perfect play. Checkers has grown old, and had grown old even before it was solved, illustrating a point we'd like to argue: games have a life cycle. Checkers can live out its life in relative respectability, but its image is one of an old men's game and public interest in it is waning.
Where Checkers is retired, 10x10 International Draughts is in a midlife crisis without which this essay would probably not have seen the light of day. Once a Checkers variant itself, it surpassed its direct ancestor in every possible way, but nowadays it has a serious problem: too many draws at top level play. We will comment on the reasons.
Checkers and Draughts have rule sets that are simple and elegant and lead to appealing gameplay. When Checkers showed the very first signs of 'drying up', 10x10 Draughts stepped in, channelling the players' creative energy into a more rewarding direction. That's evolution and variants are the very tools. Good variants change rules in ways that are not complicated, and more rewarding. It is the opinion of the authors that complicated rules are a breach of style: complex is good and befitting Draughts, complicated is usually the effect of bad thinking.
We will also argue that the evolution of Draughts points in certain directions, shadows of which can be found in the past, with new implementations emerging in the present. The first one is the trend towards more freedom of movement.
In most traditional games, movement and capture follow the same lines. Notable exceptions are Frisian Draughts, where straight capture has been introduced in the otherwise diagonal 10x10 international game, and Armenian Draughts, where diagonal movement has been introduced in the otherwise straight 8x8 Turkish game.
A distiction is thus made between singlegrid games and doublegrid games and we will argue that the evolution of Draughts points towards the latter. Two recent representatives are Croda created by a Croatian mathematics professor and Draughts master, the late Ljuban Dedić, in order to create a draughts game with a smaller margin of draws, and its offspring Dameo.
The second direction is new and must do without a traditional precedent. It is called linear movement and was first introduced in the 'contact capture' variant Bushka, and later applied to Croda, to render Dameo. It means moving a line of men, rather than a single man, which is logically arguable since it brings a lot to the game while taking almost nothing away from it. Tempo and pace become more flexible, which is a good thing in a modernized game, and a whole new class of combinations is added, requiring a reconsideration of strategy (since strategy tends to move around combinations). It may never have emerged before, because in singlegrid draughts games it tends to gridlock. That's why it supports the trend towards doublegrid games.
Related game systems
We will cover two game systems related to Draughts, Contact Draughts and Column Checkers.
The first form has only one traditional representative, with at least three distinct rule sets, named Fanorona. It's a game indigenous to Madagascar and possibly derived from Alquerque. As might be expected, the rules of Alquerque are subject to speculation, as is its evolution into Fanorona, but both are played on the same specific grid. A modern representative of contact draughts is Bushka.
The second form's ancestry lies in the Russian game of Bashni. It is more than a century old and vastly underrated, not in the last place because ordinary draughtsmen are less than ideal to manipulate when stacked in columns. Nowadays convienient ways to play online may support a well deserved revival. In its wake Lasca and Stapeldammen were invented. Lasca doesn't top the original game. Stapeldammen has a direction of play but rejects promotion, and turns out to be strategically interesting of its own accord.
A modern representative of Column Checkers is Emergo, which is an omni-directional game without an initial setup, forwards movement and promotion.
Rather than using Draughts' traditional numerical notation system, we will employ algebraic notation as used on a Chess board. This notation translates in a simple manner to the hexboard. Bushka, Draughts, Stapeldammen and Emergo have an algebraic notation system specifically tailored for games that use a diagonal grid. However, the applet allows the use of traditional numeric notation in Draughts and Stapeldammen.
We hope you will enjoy this essay and the games covered in it.
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