Friday, May 11, 2012


Neutron Game

When I was younger, I was so fascinated by abstract strategy games such as chess, shogi, xiangqi, go, mancala, chaturanga, etc, that I regularly bought the magazine Games & Puzzles to discover ones unknown to me. Issue 71 (the July/August 1978) edition featured the rules of a brand new board game invented by one Robert A. Krauss. Called 'Neutron' it employed the unusual device of giving each player two moves per turn. For some reason I never attempted to play this game at the time. Maybe I couldn't find anyone else interested enough to play it with me. There's a lot of resistance among board game enthusiasts to games that seem to have unorthodox procedures and moving two different pieces in a single turn is almost unheard of in abstract strategy games throughout history.

But I always remembered Neutron and 34 years after reading about it in that magazine I decided to make my own board and play it for the first time last night. It's an extremely simple design. It is played on a 5x5 board with two players; and each player has five pieces. At the centre of the board is positioned the neutron, which is a neutral piece. The first photo shows the initial set-up.

The goal is to get the neutron onto your home rank (the first rank of your side) either by moving it there yourself or by forcing the other player to move it there for you. Another way of winning is by stalemating the other player so that he/she can't move the neutron (by boxing it in with pieces) on their turn.

Play proceeds as follows: one player moves the neutron and then one of his own pieces. Both the neutron and the pieces move orthogonally or diagonally through (and onto) unoccupied spaces. There is no jumping or taking. The neutron and the selected piece must be moved as far as they can go before they meet the edge of the board or another piece.

The neutron must always be moved first. The only exception to this rule is the very first move, in which only a piece is moved. If I have done a bad job of explaining these rules, then you can find them written with perhaps more clarity on the Wikipedia page devoted to the game.

When I played my first game of Neutron, I forgot that pieces could move diagonally as well as orthogonally and the game ended up getting stuck in a loop. Anyway, it's an amusing game and quite different to almost any other abstract strategy game I have yet encountered and it's very easy to make, so I recommend it for those quiet evenings when there's nothing on TV.

For a long time I have been thinking about inventing my own abstract strategy games. I might get round to doing that this year. If so, I'll be sure to post details here on my blog.

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