Mary Russell


When it comes to traditional abstract games, Chess is arguably the King (and Queen, and Bishop, and Rook). Only Go rivals it for popularity and fanaticism. Backgammon is older than both of them, and I actually find it more dynamic than Chess, but it hardly has the same following or the same kind of serious attention afforded to it. Only hardcore abstract enthusiasts have time for oddities like Nine Men's Morris or Fox and Geese, and even children get bored with Tic-Tac-Toe pretty rapidly. 

And then there's Draughts (or Checkers). Draughts gets a bad rap. At least in the case of the version that most English-language gamers are familiar with - played on an 8 x 8 grid with twelve men apiece - that reputation is not entirely undeserved. International Draughts (or "Polish Checkers") is much more compelling, and has a richer decision space thanks to its 10 x 10 grid, twenty men to a side, and flying kings. But in any version, the thing that makes the game work is the compulsion to jump: if you can capture an enemy piece, you must capture an enemy piece, even if it's not a particularly good idea to do so. 

What I didn't realize until playing a game with my nephew a few years back is that there are an awful lot of people - young and old alike - who are somehow unaware of this rule, and they're extremely resistant when you try to enforce it. They just plain don't like being forced to do what you want them to do when it's their turn. Now, they're also able to force you to do what they want on your turn, but they don't see it that way - usually because, when there's a disparity in skill level, they're always being forced to react to what you're doing. Turning the tables requires that they be better at the game, and a lot of folks don't like being told that they're playing badly, and that they only have themselves to blame because the other guy keeps punching them in the face. 

If all this sounds slightly familiar, it's something of a recurring theme in my designs. Table Battles, with its mandatory reactions and skipped action phases, is built around this idea explicitly. It also factors into something like For-Ex, in which the Resolve action can become a sort of a weapon that can beat a player into a fine pulp. (Or not; it's quite possible to avoid this altogether depending on play style.) I don't see either of these as being flaws in the design, of course; they're there for a reason, just like Draughts forces you to jump for a reason. 

They're a feature of the game, not a bug, and it's up to the players to grapple with them. Some players like to do that. Others simply don't enjoy that kind of grappling, and that's okay, too.


  • Counter point:

    People prefer playing without forced capture because they like having agency in a game and don’t like predictability, particularly when it’s forced.

    When someone places down a checker and that FORCES you to take it then it eliminates any strategies that are more careful and less offensive.

    Not to mention you already have movement limitations like not being able to go backwards until you have a king piece, which you will note most people keep because it’s a more general limitation that doesn’t force a strategy nearly as hard.

    As someone who likes seeing what their opponent will do next, it is just very annoying to have a a decision be automatic regardless of if either player actually wants it.

    While it may shorten game times and make them more efficient, people don’t really play games for efficiency.

    It’s less enjoyable if you just want to play some checkers.

    Hence why most people don’t use that rule at home.

    It’s a rule obviously designed to force interactions between players and lessen the chances of a draw.

    It’s like if in tic-tac-toe you HAD to put an X on the other side of any O placed near yours.

    It would annoying to have your personal strategy so heavily influenced, regardless of if it actually led to you winning more often.

    It’s just less fun when you’re forced to be more offensive in a game, regardless of who wins.

    And yeah, people who like that strategy will do better with that rule.

    That doesn’t mean other people aren’t skilled at the varient they like to play and that’s probably why they find it so offensive to have that rule enforced by people who favor that strategy.

    If you told football (soccer) players they could actually grab the ball and throw it of course people who prefer games like basketball would appreciate it more and of course everyone would be confused about that rule they never heard of.

    With it being such a major change, it feels like a different game and they didn’t sign up to play a different game, having dodge ball player tell them it’s fun or they’re not trying hard enough doesn’t change that.

    Most people play an unoffically recognized variant that allows them more variety in play styles for the satisfaction of its simplicity and variety.

    Kind of like how Uno Offical will tell you that you can’t stack draw 4s and I believe draw 2s as well.

    People just don’t like rules that eliminate fun strategies and interactions that add more outcomes.

    Doesn’t matter the game.

    Honestly this rule reminds me of the rule some people have that you can’t shuffle the deck in Uno OR that you have to play a card if you have a playable card.

    It’s not to make it fun it’s to suit a particular play strategy OR to limit longer term strategies, people don’t like that.

    Also some people are just obstinate and don’t like forcing people to do anything because they don’t like being forced to do anything.

    I personally don’t care if I can force you to draw two as well regardless of what cards you have because you can do that to me, I like watching cards stack and the anticipation of seeing who it will land on at what number notbto mention how they will get rid of all the cards they had to collect at once.

    You can complain it’s not official, that does change house rules and most people aren’t even aware there ARE official rules like that.

    And you can act like it’s not a valid variant, but apparently most people play it that way.

    And it’s for a reason, not just because they’re “too unskilled” to appreciate it.

    To them YOU are forcing them to play a variant they don’t like and invalidating theirs while calling them stupid for following the rules they recognize as official.

    You’re just technically correct, which doesn’t really make people enjoy the conversation or the game.

    You seem to like that variation on the rules and that’s awesome, more people might also if they knew that existed when they started playing.

    But that doesn’t mean there’s no point to playing without it other than people refusing to get good at it.

    Cat Elkins

  • If you haven’t checked out Zertz I’d recommend it. if you’re a fan of forced jumps it’s that to the nth degree. Probably my favorite abstract game. Think checkers with communal pieces played on a perpetually shrinking board.


  • Forced capture wasn’t always the rule in Checkers, but the game is much better for it. Initially the rule was pseudo-enforced via the “huff” meaning that if you didn’t jump when you could then your opponent could take your piece. However, the forced capture rule dictates tempo, but more importantly facilitates a bevy of beautiful combination possibilities. The difference between a beginner (myself) and an expert in Checkers is the way that forced captures become a key tactical element.

    In Table Battles, the forced action is not about establishing combinations but is instead the primary was to dictate tempo. It’s a very nice element of the game and one that I’ve used to bite and been bitten by.


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