dab: Those dots and boxes from your childhood

It may be that this depends upon your culture, but the dots-and-boxes game — in its pencil-and-paper form — was something I saw frequently while growing up, and I’ve even made a point to pass it along to some people younger than me.

Here it is in its digital form, as it appears courtesy of bsd-games under the title dab:


Rules are fairly simple, if you’ve not seen it before: Each player (usually there are two, but there can be more) connects two dots horizontally or vertically. If you complete a box, you claim it and gain an extra line. When the whole field is finished, the player with the most completed boxes wins.

It’s nothing terrifically challenging, even if Wikipedia insists there are layers of strategy.šŸ™„ I’ll remember that the next time the championship dots-and-boxes tournament opens at the local pub.O_o

This digital version is a good rendition, and as you can see, it relies on pipe-drawing characters to draw the field, and navigation is primarily through the HJKL keys. A complication arises in moving between odd and even rows, and that’s when you’ll want to use the YUBN keys for diagonal shifts.

That’s about the only negative thing I can say about dab — that sometimes navigation is a little tricky. Personally I would have designed it to just use four-way control over the entire field, and trap attempts to drop lines on joints. That would be easier to understand to me.

And of course, dab could stand to use a little color. I see no reason not to switch from white to red or blue when a box is claimed. But color wasn’t high on the agenda when some of bsd-games was written.

And after those two small points, dab becomes quite flexible. You can specify custom field dimensions. You can play hotseat two-player. You can set a predetermined number of games. You can even drop the pipe-drawing symbols and go all-ASCII. Maybe best of all, you can pit the computer against itself in a dots-and-boxes battle to the death.šŸ˜Æ

Speaking from a wider angle, if you’ve played the game before against real people, you’ll probably understand how dab loses its charm rather quickly when played against a computer. Like a lot of games that are translated from the real world to computer form, some of the fun is lost when you realize that the real game relies on the fallibility of people following rule sets. Dots-and-boxes is fun against a (small) person because we all make mistakes, spend minutes searching for one … more … unclaimed line, and then watch as an entire chain of boxes collapses.

dab is too good, finds those last free lines too quickly, and out of all the games I played, it probably won 95 percent of them. Like a computerized Scrabble game that can sift through an entire dictionary of exotic words in a few seconds, dab has the benefit of speed and precise algorithms. While you and I just have a little extra time to spend with a few primary school kids, before class starts.šŸ™‚

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