Playtesting Tulsa Oil

November 13, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I played Tulsa Oil with a friend of mine last night, and it worked very well. Every time I play I discover new things to think about, new strategies to try. The first couple times I tried the game it was all about trying to hook as many wells together as possible, while at the same time trying to prevent my opponent from doing the same.

Then I started learning specific ways to go about this: a diagonal line of pieces is impossible for an opponent to cross, while at the same time being easy to connect offensively. Two pieces a knight’s-move (two squares up and one square over) away can always be connected in a defensive way (when you’re trying to block your opponent), but can’t always be connected in an offensive way (when you’re trying to connect two wells).

When playing against my dad a couple weeks ago, I learned how valuable it can be to wall off territory in the corners and along the edges: if you’re the only player in the area with any active wells, then any pieces your opponents play in there count nothing. And often games are won or lost by just a couple points.

This was fresh in my mind when playing last night: I wanted to try to cut off or isolate as many of my friend’s pieces as I could, thus causing them not to count in the final scoring. And in this I was relatively successful. However, he opted for the connect-as-many-wells-together-as-possible strategy, and he absolutely hammered me. I think he won by over twenty points.

So now I’ve come full-circle. It’s not that the isolation strategy is a bad one, it’s just that it needs to be thought of as a secondary or supplemental approach. It’ll often be the tiebreaker in close games, but games need to be close in order for it to be relevant. Ignoring the primary strategy of connecting as many wells as possible (while simultaneously trying to prevent your opponent from doing the same) will almost certainly result in defeat.

While vastly simpler than Go (the great-grandfather of all board games and unquestionably the finest abstract strategy game of all time), Tulsa Oil does remind me of it in some ways: it’s easiest to secure territory in the corners and along the sides, for example, and players need to focus both on the tactics of the local battle and on the strategies of the larger “war.” While there is no capture in our game per se, connecting a property to an active well in Tulsa Oil makes it count in much the same way that connecting a stone to two eyes in Go makes it safe.

Maybe we’ve designed “Go-ultralite.” Or maybe not. Ó¿Ò

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  1. November 13, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    This sounds quite interesting. It the game that’s in your banner Tulsa Oil?

    • November 13, 2010 at 7:04 pm

      Thank you. It’s coming along nicely, and I’m hoping we’ll be able to post the game by the end of the month, certainly by the end of the year. There are still a few things we need to work out.

      I think we may have decided to either skip the theme altogether (leaving it abstract) or go with a water theme of some sort. What we have now is a kind of hybrid between the two. :-(

      No, the game pictured in the banner is Lemuria, a game I started working on about five years ago. It’s a connection game of sorts, kind of a cross between Empire Builder and Settlers, where players are trying to deliver common goods (wheat, salt, coffee) to mythical cities (Lemuria, Avalon, Camelot). It’s finished, but I’m having a hard time getting it published. It has too many tricky components to be a good candidate for print-and-play, and so far only one publisher has shown any interest (they thought it looked good, but it didn’t mesh well with their plans for the coming year).

      It’s a great game (in my humble and unbiased opinion), a fairly lightweight gateway roughly akin to either Carcassonne or Ticket to Ride. What I like best about it is its modularity, meaning that every game is different. Getting that to work with both having to pay for connections and getting paid for completing orders was very tricky — what I like to refer to as the “sweet spot” (the region of order in a basically chaotic parameter set) was very small for this game. Now that the math is worked out, though, it works quite well and is even fairly flexible / extensible.

      I need to send it off again.

      • November 13, 2010 at 7:25 pm

        Sounds like a game I would enjoy as I am a huge fan of both Settlers and the crayon rail games. Eurorails was actually my gateway game.

  2. November 14, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    Sounds interesting. I’m glad YOU enjoy the game – that’s the first step. If you hate it, there’s probably no chance anyone else will like the game. I’ve never played Go myself…that’s one of the essentials missing from my repertoire.
    -Jesse

    • November 14, 2010 at 9:15 pm

      Yeah, I guess my love of the game isn’t a very good recommendation, is it? :-)

      If you’re interested in giving Go a try, there are any number of decent programs out there that let you play against a rudimentary AI. Igowin is good if you use Windows, gnugo is decent command-line player if you use Linux, and there’s even a Live CD (Hikarunix) based on the Unix OS. I’d recommend starting with a 9×9 board, working up to 13×13, and then trying the full game only after you’ve mastered the smaller versions. It’s definitely a game that’ll teach humility.

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