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The Path of Go (XBLA)

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Picked up The Path of Go on XBLA. Impulse buy at 400 Itchy and Scratchy dollars.

For those who don't know, Go is a two-player board game originating in China. Players alternate placing tiles on a board, capture enemy pieces by surrounding them, and try to control as much territory as possible according to the game's rules. It doesn't sound like much written out, but it has been compared to chess in terms of complexity, and apparently there still hasn't been a Deep Blue-level AI made for the game.

Never played it before, but I had a few friends over the years sing its praises. So I gave it a shot.

The game begins with a short tutorial, where the Master of Go tells your avatar how to place tiles and capture enemy tiles. And then he tells you that capturing tiles isn't the point of the game. And then he says, and I quote, "Did you know that the Go board has a cavity to hold the blood of slain opponents?" Okayyy. That's a bit graphic for a simple board game. :erm:

And then you play the Master of Go in a full game. And then you see that the quote applies very well indeed.

My God do I suck at Go.

The first game you play, you begin with three tiles already on the board. Despite this apparent handicap, he kicked my ass. Readily. I then discovered the Suggest Move button, which led me to a dishonorable victory of AI vs. AI. This did not help me at all, since at no point in the slaughter thus far did the game explain the strategic value of the opponent's moves or the suggested moves. The AI opponent also never seems to play moves which are immediately stupid (at least to my horribly untrained eyes), so it is absolutely necessary to outwit it.

Still I went back. I played. I played some more. I eventually eked out a board state where I had more territory than the other player (43 to 38). Smug in my victory I passed my turn signaling my desire to end the game. It then told me I lost by 0.5 points? What is this treachery? Apparently the game gives the second player to move 5.5 free points to balance out the handicap he or she gets by moving second. I read about this in the manual. However, I didn't realize that the AI gets these free points since he places his tile first, but the handicap tiles are pre-placed on the board.

So for the very first game of Go you play, not only do you have to beat the computer, you have to beat it by six whole points. All without being told anything regarding strategies, opening moves, or anything useful.

I eventually lucked my way past it, and was rewarded by the master telling me that I had an evil twin. An evil twin who is so undoubtedly evil because he gets so pissed off while playing Go that he leaves games unfinished. He's evil because he ragequits, which of course cannot possibly be the fault of his master's teaching style. Part of the plot involves atoning for his sins by finishing his games. I am serious.

Only after finishing the first game am I given Go puzzles (like chess puzzles, you know?) that start to teach me something resembling strategy.

Just for fun, take a look at the game's screenshots on the Marketplace. Do it now. Take a very close look. Notice anything interesting? No? Look closer.

The gamertag being used is GoCheatProfile2! Cheat profile! They needed to cheat their way through the game just to take screenshots!

Go seems like a fun, deep game, but my god does this implementation do a terrible job at easing the player into it.

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You need to buy a book. I've got one that's a few hundred pages and, although it gives the basics, it's clearly only a beginner's. Been playing it for a few years, but prolly only 15 kyu or something. Top game tho'.

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Yeh, me too. However, the game is such that there are some things you simply need to be told, for example illegal moves (ko, seki), how to spot ladders, atari, liberties etc. It is also a very abstract game which relies on advanced pattern recognition. The book I have is Teach yourself Go by Charles Matthews (but it can be found a LOT cheaper). I like the game, but it's really tough. It is the only book about Go I have read and it is clearly laid out, if a little dry.

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