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 The game from the depths of time


now mirrors the new millennium 


Quantwood2.gif (16679 bytes)

QuantumTM  reviewed by Mitchell Thomashow in the September 1986 issue of WGR, a publication edited by Michael Keller and dedicated to the review of games from all over the world:


I've always been intrigued by abstract games that attempt to model some deeper concept (Trippples psychocybernetics. Cathedral medieval urban development. Infinity cosmology. Black Box X-rays), yet maintain their integrity as simple, interesting and playable games.


Quantum is another game in that tradition, as it attempts to be more than just a good game, but a process which reflects a modern world view; a game that has, if you will, epistemological significance.  I'd like to review the game purely on its game-playing merits and then comment briefly on its 'deeper' significance.
Quantum is played on a 10x10 grid of cups or indentations. Each player (in the 2-player version) has 24 pieces including
16 Steppers which move like Pawns and 8 Stars which move like Queens. The object of the game is to occupy the four central spaces, or, if you have less than four pieces remaining, occupy those spaces with your remaining pieces.
What makes the game intriguing is the opening phase of the game in which both players' pieces are randomly distributed on the playing board with a blank side showing. The identity of each piece (Star or Stepper) is revealed by jumping a series of the opponent's pieces or by turning the blank piece over. Thus the game has a variety of opening positions which unfold and evolve as these pieces are revealed.
Quantum has two unique moves which serve to balance power and thus minimize the random aspects of the opening positions.
Disaster move allows the first person who reverses his or her last blank (that person usually has considerably fewer pieces on the board) to place that piece in a vacant cup and to 'explode' the piece, allowing it to remove the eight adjacent pieces.
Transformation move allows a piece which lands in corner cup to change its identity.
The game usually takes one-half hour to play. I have found Quantum to be consistently compelling as it succesfully combines intrigue and strategy. The excellent random opening procedure challenges the player to carve tactics and strategy which must be unique to the unfolding situation. You can plan far enough ahead to feel that you have some control, but you must reevaluate your approach depending on the everchanging game circumstances.
The randomness never overwhelms the player, because a game structure evolves, offering bounded choices and alternatives. You have to make the best use of your resources, and cannot rely on standard positions. Several game-playing patterns seem to emerge:
  Don't be fooled by superficial power advantages. Sometimes a highly mobile, but smaller array of pieces is preferable.
Keep as many steppers as possible near transformation cups, as that allows you to replenish your stars. This can be achieved by finishing your jumps near those locations.
Although mobility and numbers can be important, any power advantage is easily subverted if your opponent has better access to the center through superior positional play.
Try to manipulate the timing of a disaster so it can do the most damage.
Whenever possible, remove your opponent's pieces from the four center cups, even early in the game when it may not appear necessary to do so.
The game board is well-designed and crafted; the game is aesthetically pleasing. Quantum also appears to have a great deal of flexibility. Instructions are offered for another game, Quanterline, which is an interesting 'warm-up' exercise.
Included with Quantum is a lengthy essay which discusses gameboards as miniature models of the world. The authors contend that Quantum reflects a modern world view and describe how the game is inspired by the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

A thorough treatment of this topic is beyond the scope of this review. However, I think the game inventors should be commended for placing the game in such a context. Games offer us a chance to explore deeper realms of ideas and thought, and the very best games are classics not only because they are fascinating to play and they appeal to our strategic faculties, but because they offer pleasant aesthetics and they reveal deep patterns through experiential learning.
Go is the most outstanding example of this potential. Quantum may not be the quintessential 'modern game', but it is deserving of analysis and interpretation. It's also a lot of fun.

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