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Symple
Symple started with a mail from Benedikt Rosenau on October 1, 2010:
You are among the most cluesome abstract gamers/designers I know. I have been thinking a lot about a certain class of games recently and I want to share my thoughts with you, hoping for feedback.
There is the family that got started with Star, moved on to Superstar, *Star, and YvY. The games of this family share a pattern, namely:
a) you score by taking certain fields and
b) imposing a tax: the more groups one has in the end, the more is subtracted from the score.
I have three issues with these games ...

And next came the issues, none of which I read because my mind was occupied otherwise, so I replied:
Thanks, but I'm not in the mood to wrap around connection games at the moment.
...
Concerning Superstar and YvY, they don't matter all that much. A bit forced, both of them. I'm sure there's something better on the same general idea, but you'll have to find it without me. :)

Note: eventually I discarded both Superstar and YvY because Symple made them lose any significance they may have had.

But Benedikt insisted, and a week later:
In other words, I am at the limit of design without heavy playtesting. I cannot achieve what I want. A telling experience.

To which I replied:
A generalized connection/counting game. I'll put it where I did put the idea of linear movement in Draughts, after inventing Bushka. Might take 15 years though. :)

A reference to Dameo's invention. I kept the idea of linear movement lying on the shelf for 15 years, before Croda came along and its shotgun marriage with Bushka resulted in Dameo.

board At the time I wasn't particularly interested anymore in the 'generalized' game Benedikt suspected, and tried to convey this in a polite matter. But we had one thing in common: I too had been looking for the generalized game, stranding as it were in YvY.
'Stranding', because YvY had not succeeded in completely taking away the suspicion of something deeper and simpler.

So I couldn't quite avoid thinking about it, and then that very night, while I was drifting off to sleep, Symple came rising up, and the last thing I remember thinking was:

" ... so simple? what's wrong ...?".

And though the board depicted here is square, I was thinking hexagonally.

And something was still wrong, too, but I mailed Benedikt about what I'd seen:
You asked for it, so don't complain if this works ;-)
Take a hexhexboard, two players, first move swappable.
On his turn a player has two options, and he may use either or both or neither.
Def.: a group consists of one stone or two or more like colored connected stones.
Option one: Put a stone on a vacant cell, thereby creating a new group.
Option two: Grow every existing group by one stone. A stone connecting two groups is considered to have grown both, so a stone may not connect two groups if one of them has already grown in that particular turn.
Option one, if used, precedes option two.
The game ends when the board is full (a vacant cell will always be advantageous to at least one player).
The count is the number of stones minus two points for every group.
Hexhexboards have an odd number of cells, so the score cannot be equal.
A first move in a corner is obviously worse than one in the center, hence a swap will have a balancing influence.

First question obviously: is there something wrong?

This was off the top of my head, and there was something wrong, still, but nothing that wouldn't show under scrutiny. Basically the game and the move protocol were both there and Benedikt's reply showed amazement:
Hi Christian,

And a wow. You changed the multimove approach into something less fixed, with effects that can be "configured" during the game. A strange and fascinating race should ensue. Generally, I do not like games which have to be played until the last breath, but here it is different, and the multi-move makes it quick.


- Option one, if used, precedes option two.

I guess that just means: if you start a new group, you may not grow your other groups.

Amazed,
Benedikt

That was a wrong guess, because in my vision the organism did still sprout and grow simultaneously, but it didn't take me long to see that reigning it in the way Benedikt had understood, would lead to what eventually turned out to be the central dilemma of the game. So credits to Benedikt for spotting the essence of the organism before I did.

Was that all? Barring the observation that the organism could do its thing on almost any grid, and discovering that the square game might be the most suited, there was the swap. My initial reliance on it was based on a superficial glance and wishful thinking, but looking a bit closer soon revealed that a swap wouldn't work because there aren't 'bad cells' to open with. Benedikt made quite a point of illustrating a winning white strategy, but I didn't need that kind of proof. I waited for the solution to reveal itself in my favorite couple of minutes, between going to bed and falling asleep. And sure enough it did. Symple's move protocoll allows for a sophisticated balancing mechanism that works like a high resolution pie-rule and extends beyond the relative merits of one particular opening move or another. Moreover, it is applicable to any game that follows Symple's move protocol, Sygo being a prime example.

About a year later, in december 2011, this unobtrusive mail by Luis Bolaños Mures, the inventor of Yodd and Xodd pointed to a problem:
"One rules question, though: is passing allowed? I'm just asking because I've seen some passes played in the recorded games, even though the rules don't seem to allow it. Of course, if passing is allowed, trivial draws are possible, so I guess it isn't."

Since the rules explicitly stated that passing was allowed and that successive passes ended the game, this is a very forgiving way of putting it. Yes, players could agree to a draw by passing with an equal count. That's not exactly in the game's spirit, but under tournament conditions it could become a problem. I hadn't even considered that because a Symple tournament seemed far from imminent, but there was this point regarding draws by mutual agreement.
So I considered compulsory movement in the sense that a player must (instead of 'may') either place an isolated single, or grow all of his live groups. As it turned out, this minute change has deep consequences for the endgame. Whereas the main consideration regarding invasions used to be whether they could be advantageous, they now should be regarded in terms of whether they could be forced. If the board fills up, there may come a point where it has become impossible to grow because all a player's groups are fully enclosed. In that case, instead of simply leaving vacant territory held by the opponent to him, the player is now forced to invade, and be penalized for it. In other words, where Symple used to suffer from a a certain lack of drama, compulsory placement turns this around in a rather dramatic fashion. In balanced games it now invariably showed a sharp increase of tension towards the endgame.
So where I had previously argued that Symple lacked the drama associated with the really great games, this minute change turns it into the great game it is!
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Jos Dekker (ger) - Christian Freeling (nl) - Penalty-4 (0-1)