Late in 2011 I was thinking about connection games. Hex is the most famous, but it's the granddaddy of a whole genre of games centered on the idea of connecting elements into paths or groups. Many of them have the earmark of great abstract strategy games: complex strategy that arises from beautifully simple rules. Inspired by games of this ilk, I designed Asterisk, a variant of The Game of Y, which is itself a variant of Hex.
In almost every game in this family, making a certain kind of connection is the goal. Making small connections is usually important, but only because they build up to the big, game-winning connection.
But a few months earlier I had been pondering another type of connection game. What if making connections were useful for something other than a game-winning connection? What if, say, there were pieces that moved on connected portions of a shapeshifting board, so that making a connection could increase the mobility of one's pieces? As I was thinking about this, I came across a word puzzle that used circles and squares as blanks, and I found myself drawn to the way the shapes clustered on the page in wily little groups.
Then, in one of those musings that only come in the bathroom, it occurred to me that pieces could simultaneously be grouped by shape and by color. Shape and color can act as different dimensions, independent ways in which game pieces differ from each other. This idea is exploited in Quarto, a clever four-in-a-row game that adds the further dimensions of height and solidity.
In Syrtis the multidimensional tiles make many of the possible actions double-edged. Sliding a tile to connect two light groups, for example, might easily connect two square groups as well, giving the opponent an advantage at the same time. The two dimensions also make for two ways to create a complete island, which makes finding the best strategy a balancing act. More on both of these facets of Syrtis in future posts.