Discovered a new board game called Arimaa. It’s been around for 12 years. Lots of people are playing it — mostly online, I’m sure, but the inventor is selling a reasonably priced set, which I bought. Being a maniac, I also bought a couple of books on Arimaa strategy and tactics.
Preliminary impressions: It seems to be a very good game. The rules are simple … well, fairly simple. The tactical possibilities are very deep. Arimaa was designed specifically to be easy enough for humans to enjoy, yet too complicated for a computer to play. After reading the introductory book for an hour, my head is spinning. The logical complexities of a given situation on the board pretty much put go to shame, and go is already so complex that computers don’t play it well. One reason for Arimaa’s complexity is that each player gets four moves per turn. In go, you can often do the logic in your head to analyze a position six or eight turns into the future. You can figure out how a given move will play out. With Arimaa, that depth of calculation is just plain not going to happen.
If you want to try playing Arimaa, I would definitely suggest buying the book. Trying to discover basic tactics on your own is likely to be a fairly drawn-out and possibly somewhat frustrating process.
The good news is, you don’t need to buy the commercially available board and pieces. You can use an ordinary chess set, because both the board and the count of pieces (8 of one type, 2 each of three types, and 1 each of the last two types) are identical to chess. But Arimaa isn’t chess.
In fact, using a chess set is probably a smart move. The Arimaa set is not very good. It’s attractive and well manufactured, but the types of pieces are far too difficult to distinguish optically, as are the colors of the opposing pieces. Technically silver and gold, the opposing pieces are actually sort of medium gray and medium brown. In a dim light they’re nowhere near as easy to tell apart as white and black chess pieces.
The Arimaa pieces are called rabbits, cats, dogs, horses, camels, and elephants. Only the elephants are visually distinguished, on account of their extra bulk and curling trunks, but all of the pieces are just animal heads. Okay, the rabbits are a bit smaller and have longer ears, the horses have a ridge that looks like a mane, the dogs have a longer muzzle than the cats, the cats’ ears are flatter than the rabbits’, and the camels have a larger muzzle than the dogs or horses, so technically you can tell them apart. But they’re all much the same size and shape, and when you’re playing a game many of the pieces will be facing away from you, which will reduce the visibility of the distinctions. No, use a chess set.