Game Profile:

The Game of Y
Created by Schensted and Titus

This two-player strategy game has an unusual feature:   There is always a winner, never a draw. And it takes only about 15 minutes to play. Yet the strategies are so subtle and so deep that the game keeps its fascination forever.

The goal of the game is to form a connection of one's own color stones to link all three edges of the triangular board. The rules couldn't be simpler. Players take turns placing one stone at a time on the intersections of the grid, until one of the players wins.

Once placed, stones are not moved again. There is no capturing. A corner point counts for both of its adjacent sides, so a single string, from one corner to the opposite side, can be a winning position. More often than not, there will be three branches, like a Y, each running out to a different edge.

The Game of Y is unique among connection games in having not two, but three, sides to connect. Two-way connection games tend to favor one or the other player. In Y there is not known to be a sure-fire opening move. Playing defensively is more likely to lead to a win than focusing only on building the connection.

There are 93 nodes, and they have from 3 to 6 spokes emerging or converging there. So there is usually more than one connection possible between two points, making defense quite a challenge. A player can set up a powerful blockade by playing on nodes with two-way connections, not bothering to fill in the linkages unless the opponent begins to block them.

This game had its origins over 30 years ago, when Charles Titus and Craige Schensted (who has since then changed his name to Ea Ea), both professors at Ann Arbor, experimented with a variety of differently shaped grids. They even published a book, Poly-Y and Mudcrack Y, which contained hundreds of different grids to be played by coloring in the spaces with two different color pencils. As time went on, the present version of the board and the technique of playing on the intersections, as in the game of Go, was adopted. Charles Titus' son, Stephen, designed and produced a prototype in wood, to be played with genuine Go stones, and Kadon was offered the game for production.

Soon afterward, Games Magazine reviewed the game and chose it as the best new abstract strategy game of the year, 1996.

Several other games were added to the board's repertoire, including a type of Chinese checkers where every move is a jump; games where the pieces can move on the lines of the board to achieve various winning positions; and a quirky kind of capturing game, "Aliens and Amazons," where the two players have different numbers of pieces (3 against 30), different powers (jumping to capture, and not allowed to capture), and different objectives (elude the opponent, and surround the opponents).

A couple of solitaire puzzles are included in the set's rulebook, based on the classic triangular jumping puzzle where the objective is to jump over and remove jumped pieces until only one remains on the board. The traditional puzzle is played within a 5-on-a-side triangle. The Y puzzles begin in the center of the board as a triangular array of 15 stones and then let pieces jump outside of that area, even roam all over the board. One goal, in fact, in "Supply Line," is to build a sequence of ladders that allow the last piece to arrive all the way to the border. One intriguing aspect of the grid is that 3 nodes have exactly 5 spokes, and a piece jumping across that node has the option of taking either branch of the fork on the other side.

These pentagon-centered nodes also play significant parts in some of the games. In the instruction book for the set, a chapter on playing the Game of Y well, written by Ea, discusses the limitations of those nodes versus the hexagon-centered ones. Some observers have also noted the similarities of the Y grid to a flattened geodesic dome. The complex matrix of the board keeps the games from becoming static, and is a fertile playground for further research into its mathematical properties.

Kate Jones

The Game of Y is a trademark of Kadon Enterprises, Inc.

The Life of Games
No. 2 (April 2000)
©2000 Kadon Enterprises, Inc.