Christening post! Morelli

5 replies. Last post: 2014-09-10

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Christening post!
  • Richard Moxham at 2014-09-09

    Richard, thank you very much for opening this dedicated Morelli forum.
    I’m not sure how much exchange goes on on LG regarding the patterns of gameplay.  Maybe not a very great deal, if my trawl through the other forums (admittedly cursory) is a reliable guide.  But I’m hoping we might manage some on the subject of Morelli.  One of the reasons I was so happy to see it implemented here was the prospect of having a group of what are clearly pretty hardcore players get to grips with the theory of the game.
    Anyway, we shall see what we shall see.  But let me just say, to start the ball rolling, that I’ve been following quite a few games with great interest over the past two weeks, and one of the most notable features has been the emergent strategy, on the part of a number of players, of shutting the adversary out of one quadrant.  This seems to have been quite successful on the whole, but I’d like to hear people’s views of it – both the adopters and those on the receiving end.  Do you feel it will become less effective as opponents get hip to it, or will it continue to be a prominent approach?  And (given that the LG implementation randomises every set-up) how far does the answer to those question depends in the hand you find yourself dealt?
    Be great to hear some thoughts on those issues or any other Morelliana.
    Best
    RJM

  • Richard Moxham at 2014-09-09

    That should be “those questions depend”, of course :)

  • Richard Moxham at 2014-09-09

    And "depend on".  Clearly not my best day!

  • Rex Moore at 2014-09-10

    I’d love to see some strategy discussion as well! 

    I’ve done alright so far, but with just a few games completed don’t have much to say on strategy. I’ve just been trying to figure out what my opponent is thinking, in order to counter and produce good moves. Shutting out one quadrant is certainly devastating, but probably hard to do to an experienced opponent. 

    Richard, hasn’t this game been played a lot on a couple of other sites? What have you seen there that’s noteworthy (at least for games with the variable setup)?

  • Richard Moxham at 2014-09-10

    Hi Rex.
    Yes, well you seem to be doing all right :)
    In answer to your question: one other site, actually (Boardspace), but although quite a lot of people have played Morelli there it’s probably true to say that most of them have played quite a small number of games, and even from those we don’t have a lot of feedback.
    However, I myself have played a lot, mostly against the Boardspace bots.  On the basis of those encounters, I’m in the process of compiling a set of elementary observations on strategy and tactics (I don’t think it will merit the label “guide”) that should see the light of day some time between now and the end of the year.  At the risk of stating what is already obvious to everybody, I’m certainly happy to pass on a few of the headlines.
    The twin key principles of Morelli would seem to be distribution and tempo  (or spread and timing, if you prefer).  To take distribution  first: because self-evidently the win condition can’t be satisfied without a piece in every quadrant (terminology: NW, NE, SE & SW, or N, E, S & W, depending on the patterning of the individual position) - because of that, a balanced presence across the board is an important thing to cultivate.  Conversely, of course, excluding your opponent from any quadrant is a winning ticket, though my feeling is that it maybe shouldn’t be enforceable against best defence – at least, not in the opening stages – and therefore, when it does arise, could perhaps be said to constitute a sort of Scholar’s Mate.  As the game was originally conceived, there were two initial ‘start modes’ (‘Facing’ and ‘Adjacent’ - see the official rules), to which I soon added the third possibility of a ‘Free’ mode, where the players alternated (1-2-2-2 ... 2-2-2-1) in choosing their placements.  The first two of these were automatically symmetrical, and in the third it was your own responsibility to ensure you didn’t get suckered in the set-up.  When the estimable Dave Dyer implemented the game for online play on his site Boardspace, his version of the Free mode was a random layout which wasn’t necessarily symmetrical or anything like, though it was programmed always to give each player two corner cells (about which more anon).  (I mention this format because obviously in a randomised set-up you have to watch your distribution with particular care, your opponent not being certain to face exactly the same issues as you do.)  Richard Malaschitz’s implementation, as you’ll doubtless have noted, differs by virtue of generating a starting position which, though randomised, guarantees symmetrical distribution of the opposing forces – a neat idea, and one which takes care of the corners issue en passant.  The Adjacent (L-shaped) set-up doesn’t arise in the Golem version as currently configured, but it’s worth observing that success in that mode is likely to hinge on your management of the ‘back quadrant’ (the one where you have no presence at all at the outset).
    The issues of timing flow from the unusual circumstance that victory goes, not to the first player to satisfy the win condition, but to the one who satisfies it last.  This means that, at  Morelli even more than at other games, strategy is about thinking backwards from an ending.  Dumbot, on Boardspace, always goes for an early square on Indigo or Blue, which often leaves him conducting a rearguard action for the rest of the game.  The other approach (call it “slow bicycle”, if you like) is to prepare one or more ‘squares-in-waiting’ at or near the periphery – the ‘in-waiting’ bit meaning that you’ll leave it/them three-quarters complete until the final stages, when you hope your opponent’s forces will be wholly inside your lines and therefore unable to obstruct you.  You also hope, of course, to have moves in hand, as a result of his having made longer advances (i.e. having used up bigger increments of a fixed mobility stock) in the opening.
    Many of the finer points of the game, in fact, are products of interplay between the win condition and the obligation to move centripetally.  So, for instance, blocking is a very important theme, but there are also instances of zugzwang in virtually every game as the movement rules tighten the screw, forcing the block’s dismantlement.  And there are frequent situations in which a player, in order to avoid this, will actively court what ordinarily would be a disadvantage.  Where one player, for instance, has engineered surplus moves for himself going into the endgame, his opponent (if he holds the Centre) may seek to exhaust his own moves at an accelerated rate.  Again, a piece that starts life on a Great Diagonal (or voluntarily moves onto one) is trapped on that axis for the rest of the game, but this restriction of mobility, in most circumstances a weakness, may deliberately be incurred by a player who sees his interests as best served by gridlock in that region of the board.
    There’s a lot more to say, but I think that’s quite enough from me for the moment.  I’m always happy to answer questions insofar as I’m able (though as a genuinely lousy player of abstract boardgames I’m unsure by what authority I pontificate about them), but I also look forward to hearing the theories and discoveries of others.
    In the meantime, my thanks to you and everyone for playing Morelli.  I hope you’re enjoying the experience, believing as I do that there’s an awful lot there to enjoy.
    RJM

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