Saturday, October 12, 2013

Napoleon Tic Tac Toe: A new mobile and web based board game

Tic-tac-toe (or Noughts and crosses, Xs and Os) is a paper-and-pencil game for two players, who take turns marking the spaces in a 3×3 grid. The player who succeeds in placing three respective marks in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal row wins the game.  An early variant of Tic-tac-toe was played in the Roman Empire, around the first century BC. It was called Terni Lapilli and instead of having any number of pieces, each player only had three, thus they had to move them around to empty spaces to keep playing. The game's grid markings have been found chalked all over Rome. Other sources state that tic-tac-toe could originate back to ancient Egypt. During the years, the original 3X3 tic-tac-toe evolved into more complex and challenging variations, such as Gomoku and Renju.

A renju board
Gomoku is a more complicated version of tic-tac-toe: also called Gobang or Five in a Row, it is traditionally played with Go pieces (black and white stones) on a go board with 19x19 intersections; however, because once placed, pieces are not moved or removed from the board, gomoku may also be played as a paper and pencil game. This game is known in several countries under different names. Black plays first, and players alternate in placing a stone of their color on an empty intersection. The winner is the first player to get an unbroken row of five stones horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.  

Renju is the professional variant of Gomoku, a strategy board game originating in Japan from the Heian period. It was named Renju by Japanese journalist Ruikou Kuroiwa on December 6, 1899 in a Japanese newspaper Yorozu chouhou. The game is played with black and white stones on a 15×15 gridded Go board. Renju eliminates the "Perfect Win" situation in Gomoku by adding special conditions for the first player - it is actually a Gomoku with extra regulations and winning conditions / apart from just making five-in-a-row.

The Napoleon Tic-Tac-Toe game
This year, a team and company of friends in Greece, designed and launced the Napoleon Tic-Tac-Toe game.  Napoleon can be seen as a Gomoku enhancement with a simple rule: the game does not end when a player makes 5-in-a-row but continues until the board is covered, scoring several points for 3-in-a-row, 4-in-a-row, 5-in-a-row and so on.  This way, the winner is the one with the most points.  Then, the game can be played in 9x9, 19X19 or other dimensions of boards, resulting in infinite complexity variations.

I first played this "n-tic-tac-toe" variation with paper and pencil, several years ago and realised the intellectual challenge that it poses, turning an "instant kill" game like Gomoku into a game of "deeper strategy", especially in larger boards.  So, I enjoyed playing the electronic, well-designed, version for web browsers and mobile phones.  If one tries the professional 19X19 version against the computer, she will realise that Napoleon can be very demanding and fun.

You can play the Napoleon game for free at:  

Visit to STFC and Oxford University in UK

It was a nice week, at the beginning of October 2013, invested in visiting Oxford area and London UK.  It started by a two day working meeting of the ENGAGE open data project, in beautiful and very quiet Abington in Oxfordshire.  The ENGAGE project aims at developing a scond-generation open data portal, focusing at multilinguality, metadata interoperability, social network and reputation management, as well as new processes for supporting open data and linked data needs declaration. 

STFC facilities at RAL
The Science and Technology Facilities Council (in short STFC) is one of Europe’s largest multidisciplinary research organisations, with more than 1500 staff, 900 PhD researchers and thousands of scientists and engineers. STFC was formed in April 2007, following a merger between the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Centre (PPARC) and the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC).  Highights at STFC in Oxfordshire certainly are the particle physics and laser laboratories, at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory RAL, a place that is worth to try visiting when in the area.

A view of the campus at Oxford
Then, I spent a couple of days in Oxford University, visiting several colleges, the library and the Department of Computer Science. Oxford University is a very nice place to be, as it is more of "a city around a university than a a university within a city".  Houses, restaurants and other public places look like filling in the gaps among university buildings and estates.  Some facts that helped me understand the importance of persistence in education excellence, as perceived by students, faculty and supporters, are:
  • There are 38 colleges in Oxford, the first of them founded as early as the 13th century. There are over 22,000 students at Oxford, including 11,832 undergraduates and 9,857 postgraduates studying in more than 70 departments and faculties.   More than that, every year there are more than 15,000 enrolments on courses offered by the Department for Continuing Education, making Oxford University one of the largest providers of continuing education in the UK. 
  • Oxford is very competitive: over 17,200 people applied for around 3,500 undergraduate places for entry in 2012.  That means that only one out of five applicants gets a position at Oxford (the highest rate in UK), which of course can became more difficult in some of the colleges.
  • The Bodleian Library, the University’s main research library, dates from 1602 and is globally acknowledged to be one of the greatest libraries in the world. Its priceless collections include the papers of seven British Prime Ministers; a Gutenberg Bible; the earliest surviving book written wholly in English; a quarter of the world’s original copies of the Magna Carta; and almost 10,000 western medieval and renaissance manuscripts.  In my visit, I had the chance to see original manuscripts of alchemists, such as the famous George Ripley scrolls.

I also had the chance to visit the Computer Science Department, where friend Professor Jim Davies kindly hosted me - discussing current teaching and research activities, comparing practices between projects and loboratories, and laying out some new, visionary ideas for the future. 

With Prof. Jim Davies, at Oxford Computer Science department
The Fender line in a Denmark Street store
After Oxfordshire, London during the weekend seemed a very busy place to be.  Thanks to some friends though, staying there for a couple of days was fun. Among things to remember was a visit to Denmark street, London's music market - where you get the chance to see and, carefully, put your hands on some very special vintage guitars.  Although I did not manage to find a quite rare set of strings for my electroacoustic (3 nylon and 3 wound strings - but not classical), walking, seeing, testing guitars and amps was real fun. Finally I got myself a book for song-writting, and some rare books on indian scales and guitar styles.

The only other area that was really new for me in London was Canary Wharf, the area in East London by Thames River that used to be the Docklands, and now is the heart of financial and other similar services provision in UK. Unfortunately, no green land and quiet places there (as opposed to Oxfordshire): just asphalt, paved roads, cement only - extremely clean though. 

View of the Canary Wharf skyline (360 degrees)