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Illustration by Edward Burne-Jones, to William Morris'
Connect stars into constellations
to capture areas of a night sky
in this pencil-and-graph-paper strategy game
for two players.
- Starry Sky: a set of dots drawn at random intersections on a piece of graph paper.
- Edge: a straight line drawn between two stars.
- Sea: an area of the sky enclosed by edges; e.g., the Big Dipper's bowl is a sea; its handle is not.
- Islands: stars inside a sea that are not connected to the surrounding border.
- Peninsulas: stars inside a sea that are connected to the surrounding border.
- Captured Sea: a sea containing no islands. Write initials inside the sea to identify its captor.
One player creates a starry sky (10 to 15 stars work well). The other player decides who moves first. Take turns connecting pairs of stars with edges. Edges may not cross over other edges or stars and may not be drawn inside captured seas.
A player creates a sea by drawing an edge that completes an enclosed area. If the sea contains no islands, that player immediately captures it. If it does contain islands, it cannot be captured on that move; however, an edge drawn on a later move can turn an island into a peninsula. The player who turns a sea's last island into a peninsula captures it.
The game ends when no isolated (i.e. unconnected) stars remain in the sky. The player with the most captured seas wins, or, if the count is tied, the player whose turn ended the game (i.e. connected the last isolated star or stars) wins.
- Beginners often forget or ignore the strategy of the end-of-game rule (i.e., no isolated stars are left) and the secondary winning condition (i.e., the player connecting the last isolated star wins if the captured sea count is tied). Indeed, two beginners often continue making moves after the game has ended, not realizing that the last isolated star disappeared several moves ago. Most well-played games end using the secondary winning conditions, so make sure you watch for it!
- It is dangerous to connect a star to an existing edge to form an empty "V" shape. This allows the other player to create and capture a triangular shaped sea on the next move. However, forming a "V" shape with a star inside is a safe move. The sea created from it would contain an island and could not be captured until another move turned the island into a peninsula.
- Once one player gets ahead in captured seas, it is almost impossible to catch up, so keep the idea of "trading seas" in mind. In its simplest form, this is done by drawing an edge diagonally between two nearly parallel edges thus forming a "Z" shape. If the other player then captures one side of the "Z", you then capture the other side, leaving your opponent with the task of finding the next safe move.
- As stated above, 10 to 15 stars make a good game. Fewer than 7 or 8 leaves too few strategy variations. More that 15 only prolongs the game without increasing strategy significantly
STARRY NIGHT FOR WINDOWS!
My email correspondent in Denmark, Rasmus Pagh, has created a Windows program of Starry Night. The game is easy to play with paper and pencil, but the ability to analyze a game with the multiple undo feature alone makes the computer version worth downloading from his homepage.
It also has an "area score" version in which the score is not counted by number of seas, but by the area of the seas. This was an early version of the game that I quickly changed, since it was too cumbersome to calculate by hand. The computer version overcomes this difficulty, but we have not tried it enough to know if it makes for a good variation of the game or not.
Two other nice features of the Windows version are the "Save" and "Load" menu choices that help make the game easily playable by email.
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