Entry for the Thousand Year Game Challenge

Some years ago I worked on a steampunk/space opera setting called the Steamopera, and developed a simple board game for Venusian (human) cultures. It was called Sáto, and it went something like this:

(fig. to the left: arrows show possible movement, a crossed out piece is captured, a circled piece is not captured)

The game-board is a set of hexes arranged symmetrically around a centre hex, usually four hexes deep in concentric “circles” that are coloured in alternating hues. Each player has a number of pieces (five seems good, ignore the old illustration; for an attractive initial pattern, remove two pieces from the “corners”) that are arranged opposite of the other player’s. The players take turns moving one piece at a time, with the purpose of capturing the opponent’s pieces by actively bracketing them with two of the player’s own pieces. Further complications arise from the (approximately) circular layout of the board: one of the movements of the pieces is explicitly that of moving around the board in a rough circle, moving on one of the concentric layers of hexes.

Here is a codification of the above summary:
1. The board is made by setting down hexes, starting with a central hex that is surrounded by 6 other hexes, which are surrounded by 12 hexes, etc. The central hex forms a group with itself, while the 6 hexes surrounding it form a “circular” group, and the 12 hexes surrounding those form a third group, etc. (A good size for a board seems to be four hexes deep, with five pieces: if the board gets bigger, increase the number of pieces.)
2. Each player has the same number of identical pieces that are initially set on the board in a symmetric pattern. Using five pieces seems to be a good number, because using more than six pieces may bog down the game at the beginning because forming defensive walls become possible.
3. Each player takes a turn moving one of their pieces on the board.
3.1. There is no passing, and each player must make a move on their turn with one of their pieces (with an exception if there are no legal moves).
4. The pieces may move in straight lines, as defined by the hexes, as far as possible without colliding with another piece, like a rook in chess, except hexagonally.
4.1 Pieces may also move in a circular movement around the board on the Concentric Circle group they stand on at their turn. They may move clockwise and counter-clockwise as far as they can without colliding with another piece.
5. A piece is captured when the player moves one of his pieces into such a position that that piece becomes the neighbour of an opposing piece, which is the neighbour of a third piece that is not the neighbour of the first piece, capturing the opposing piece between the player’s two bracketing pieces.
5.1 It is not sufficient to have two pieces touching an opponent’s piece: the bracketing counts only if it takes place on the capturing player’s turn, and two bracketing pieces are on opposite sides of the captured piece. For example, two of the player’s pieces may be touching one of the opponent’s pieces, but they are also each other’s neighbours (i.e. all of the three pieces are touching each other). The player can capture the opponents piece by either moving one of the two neighbouring pieces in another position touching the opponent’s piece, or introducing a third piece that can be seen as bracketing the opponent’s piece with one or the other (or both) of the pieces already there.
5.2 If a player moves his piece between two of the opponent’s, that piece is not captured. If the opponent wishes to capture the piece, it must be done with a move on his own turn.
6. The game ends when one of the player loses all but one of his pieces (though it’s possible to lose all with a double-capture, but I’ve never seen one happen), and the player doing the last capture wins.

Originally I used seven pieces, but that made it possible, even easy, to create an impenetrable wall and just move around your pieces behind it.

This is a relatively simple game, except for the circular movement around the board, the original Thing I wanted to build a game around, inspired by game-boards with sectorial movement, or the one in Star Wars. Otherwise the rules are a simple bracketing/capturing game like latrunculi or tafl games (well, much simpler than those), except complicated slightly because its played on hexes.

The name “Sáto” was a tolkienism in the Venusian conlang stub I never bothered to work on, from Finnish saarto, ‘surrounding, siege’.

Written on May 23rd,
Kristian Järventaus