In "That's life!" I approached the Game of Life, by John Conway, and one of the two-player versions, Immigration, developed by Don Woods.
Now this world of interconnections in which we live provides unexpected possibilities and events: a search, an address found, a message sent, a reply that ended in the spam box, its recovery many days later.
All facilitated by technology, but only made possible by the kindness of people: Don Woods himself, was gentle enough to share some memories and to answer a set of questions sent by this stranger, thousands of kilometres away, about a game created a few decades ago!
A good pretext to revisit Immigration, and a little more.
Ironically, in a stage of his programmer's career (which includes companies such as Sun Microsystems, Xerox, and others that came to be purchased by Microsoft and Google), Don worked in a spam filtering-related service company. And I almost lost his message because of a spam filter!
Ever since a fan of games, Don Woods created, together with Will Crowther, in the 1970’s, Adventure, a computer game considered to be the first interactive fiction game in which the player introduced his commands in natural language. As we will see from the choice of games, the taste for adventure continues.
No wonder, therefore, that combining the enthusiasm for games, the programming and the logical and mathematical approach that is inherent to it, he has attempted to transform the abstract Game of Life, more contemplative, in a game for two. In his own words:
“I have been interested in games since quite a young age, so I’m not surprised I wanted to find a two-player version of Life, but I no longer recall any specific inspiration.”
Or, perhaps more appropriately, in a game concept.
“I must confess that, back when I came up with the idea for Immigration, I was still quite inexperienced at game design, so I was mostly guessing at what would make for an interesting game. I do not remember a lot of play-testing, either, so the game is mostly hypothetical.”
And clarifying, about playing over the board:
"I'm sure I've never done any profound analysis of life, except on computer."
“The 10-generation gap was an arbitrary choice and could no doubt use some tuning. Allowing player intervention every turn would clearly be too chaotic, but it's possible that the right interval could be shorter or longer, or even that it should gradually become longer as the game proceeds, to make it harder for a player to recover if their position is dying out.”
In "That's life!" I had suggested the possibility of reversing the order of play: not starting with the player with a larger population, but according initiative to the player lagging behind. Now, interestingly, initiative may not always be the most important factor, and may, even, induce adverse effects, as Don Woods points out:
“Regarding which player should be the first to add their immigrant, I think the stronger position should be required to add theirs first, so that the weaker player can try to react and limit the damage. If the weaker position is forced to move first, the strong position is free either to counter their play or to make an attack that cannot be countered.”
And on the hypothesis of a variant for more than two players:
“I recall thinking a bit about supporting more players, and I'm sure I've seen rules for automata with more than 3 states (including empty). The tricky part is finding a rule for which player "owns" a newly birthed cell. Since it takes exactly three neighbors to generate a new birth, it was easy to come up with the rule two players, basing it on the majority. With 4 players you could rule that the new cell belongs to whichever player owns 2-3 of the neighbors, or to the 4th player if the three neighbors are all different. But I never tried out anything like that.”
Interesting reflections on the notion of neighborhood, and its implications, with potential applications for the development of board games!
Don Woods's list of preferences, of different periods, includes games such as Titan (Avalon Hill, 1980), Empire Builders (Mayfair Games, 1982), Wizards (Avalon Hill, 1982). Race for the Galaxy, since from the pre-publication phase, and Dominion (Rio Grande Games, 2007 and 2008). In addition to computer games.
“Many of the best games of the past several years continue to be abstract games at their core, even if there is theme and structure pasted on top of the mechanics. I do tend to prefer games with an element of randomness, to keep the game fresh and not bogged down with analysis. (Azul is a good recent example.)”
And while we are at it, as for today's games, the preferences go to Terraforming Mars, Gloomhaven and Azul.
Let's conclude with a word about the crave for game design:
“I don't generally design games, but have several friends who do, so I satisfy my designer "itch" by play-testing their games and offering suggestions.”
Thanks so much, Don!
P.S. – Conway’s Game of Life and the cellular automata related are still alive: http://www.conwaylife.com/