Thursday, November 02, 2006

Crank Calls and Hive

Doctor’s Fastfood Puzzle Question and Answer

Q: I was driving down the street when I noticed that a fast food place had a peculiar quality to its name. When I read the syllables backward (just reversing the order of them), I got something that a certain kind of specialist doctor probably had to take in med school. The new phrase was phonetically constructed from the fast food business’s two syllables. What is it and what do some specialty doctors have to take in med school?



I don’t have a puzzle for this week, but I’ll leave you with a couple of things I’ve said on the phone to people:

a) I called R&M Distributors in California and spoke with a guy named Mike. Good guy. Anyway, I asked for a couple of Ouija boards, which he put on our order, and then asked about the availability of "Deluxe Ouija: Devil’s Edition." He was silent for several uncomfortable moments before I told him I was kidding.

b) I called our phone service Blackfoot Communications to inquire about what I could do to get our fax machine to work harmoniously with our phone service. The employee started describing the different set-ups and options, and then I asked if it mattered that our fax machine had a hand crank. She was absolutely silent, then went hysterical when I told her I was kidding.

Oh, I love those phone calls. Normally, it’s all business, business, business. I gotta shake it up with a little silliness or else I’ll go nuts.


So I’ve been playing a lot of Hive lately. Definitely a neat game. It came out several years ago, and got a lot of attention recently with Mensa. It’s been dubbed "Insect Chess," though there is an arachnid in the group.

With Hive, each player gets either black or white hexagonal pieces with bugs on them. The pieces include a queen bee (like the king in chess), ants, spiders, beetles, and grasshoppers. These pieces are placed together to form the hive.

The object of the game is to surround the opponent’s queen bee, with any combination of pieces, including your opponent’s.

Each piece has a unique movement. The queen bee slides one hexagon at a time. The ants can slide any number of squares around the perimeter of the hive. The spiders can slide/jump exactly three squares in any direction around the perimeter of the hive. The beetles slide one hexagon at a time around the perimeter of the hive or can crawl on top of the hive itself (that is, on top of other bugs). The grasshoppers can jump over any number of pieces in front of it.

Each player places a single piece together. This is the core hive. After that, pieces may be added only to a player’s color, while taking care to avoid touching the opposite color. Once the queen bee has been placed, an action which must happen within the first four moves, players have two options: either add a piece or move a piece. Maybe I’ve glazed over a few details, but that’s pretty much it.

I have two observations:

1) The rules need some clarification.

The way we’re playing it right now is that the spider can "jump not slide" three spaces around the edge of the hive. If not, it’s just a weak ant. Maybe it’s supposed to be a weak ant, but we prefer something that makes it different. Also, the beetle can crawl, but can it crawl over and into a blank hexagon (the hive structure might contain a blank hexagon surrounded by six bugs, the beetle being one of them. Can the beetle crawl directly into the hole, or must he waste a move crawling onto an adjacent bug to get into the hole on the next turn? I don’t know.

2) The player who goes first has an overwhelming advantage.

After several plays (perhaps over a dozen, with a few different opponents), I believe that the first player has a distinct advantage, perhaps as high as a 75% chance of winning. It is hard to figure out how to play defense with an ultra-aggressive opponent. When you consider how the game functions, you can see why. The player who goes first can get on the offensive right away and stay on the offensive. A piece can be dropped in one move to make a threat, while to defend against the threat takes two moves (dropping the piece, then using it defensively). I know of no way to fix that, either by the creator or through player suggestions.

That said, it’s still pretty entertaining. In fact, it’s fun to play black because the odds are against you. The challenge then becomes survival.

I’ve had a good time with how the game looks and feels and plays. The makers are proud that the game is played without a board, and there is a certain appeal because of it.

I think another dozen plays is required to see if the winner’s advantage is wrong or if the ratio improves a little with more game plays. Right now, though, I’m content with the game, and I’m impressed with the overall concept and design. I’ve got a list of fun two-player games, and Hive has certainly crawled its way into a spot.


Rob Herman said...

A hand crank! I can just imagine the expression on the other person's face.

Hive sounds something like Tile Chess, by Steve Jackson Games (a game which bears only a passing resemblance to chess, but which is neat in its own right.) I actually prefer titles that don't include the word "Chess" so I don't feel bad about my chess ability when I lose.

Anonymous said...

1) By the rules, the spider slides and does NOT jump. Yes, it is a weak ant but this forces you to use your pieces wisely for jumping and for blocking (forcing the other player to use a "jump" piece to claim a hex).

1.5) The beetle must waste a move by climbing on the hive, the dropping into the necessary hex.

2) First player advantage? Although I would somewhat agree, I recommend getting your queen bee out sooner. This will give you mobility that the first player may not have yet. Experiment. Try ridiculous stuff to throw your opponent off. Plus you might find some interesting strategies that way (I know I did!).