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Tabletop Game / Checkers

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The board at the start of a game

Checkers, or English draughts, is an Abstract Strategy Game for two players. It's in the draughts family of games, which have the following properties in common:

  • The board is a grid of squares, usually in two different colors
  • The pieces are identical short cylinders, in two colors (one for each player)
  • The goal is to capture (remove) all of your opponent's pieces
  • Capturing means jumping over an enemy piece with one of your own

The word "checkers" is more common in the USA and Canada, and "draughts" everywhere else. "Checkers" usually means the specific game of English draughts, but it's also used to refer to the other draughts games (for example: "Turkish draughts" may be called "Turkish checkers"). Draughts games vary in terms of the size of the board, the number of pieces, and what powers a piece gains when it reaches the opposite side. In most versions, capturing is compulsory (though capturing the most pieces possible might not be). This rule is often forgotten or even disputed, to the chagrin of some. Players of one version are often unaware the other versions exist.

English checkers is played on an 8x8 board of alternating color squares, much like the one chess is played on. There are only two kinds of pieces: the normal checkers, which can only move forward diagonally, and "kings" which are created when a checker reaches the far side of the board and can move forward or backward diagonally. Since all moves are diagonal, all pieces throughout the game will always be on the same color square; the squares horizontally and vertically between them will never be occupied.

Capturing an enemy piece is accomplished by jumping diagonally over that piece with your own; if your opponent is dumb enough to leave his pieces in a bad formation, it's possible to capture multiple enemy pieces by chain-jumping over them all in a single turn. However, if the compulsory-capturing rule is used, clever sacrifices can be made to force your opponent's pieces to go where you want them to. The most popular gag in fiction involving checkers has one braggart player who confidently moves a piece, and the other, generally more subdued character who then jumps over an exaggeratedly large number of pieces, then asks to have their piece promoted (usually by saying "king me").

Checkers is a very old game, possibly Older Than Dirt, with similar games dating back to ancient times. A board resembling a draughts board was found in Ur dating from 3000 BC, and it has been confirmed that a game like this was played in Ancient Egypt; the British Museum has checkerboards found in burial chambers. It was referenced by both Plato and Homer, who claimed it was of Egyptian origins.

Checkers contains examples of:

  • Abstract Strategy Game: The theme is extremely minimal, there's no randomness or bluffing, and the rules are simple and abstract.
  • But Thou Must!: If you are able to capture an enemy piece, you are required to. If you have a choice between which piece, you get some flexibility there.
  • Color-Coded Armies: The colors for the teams are usually black and red or dark and light.
  • Large and in Charge: When a piece reaches the other side of the board they become a king and a second piece is added on top of them.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: The game has a bit less "theme" than, for example, chess.
  • One-Hit Polykill: One piece can jump over and capture multiple pieces in one turn if given a path to do so.
  • The Siege: A player reduced to a single king can prolong the game by taking refuge in a double corner. This requires a simple yet tedious series of choreographed moves similar to a siege to flush him out.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Which leads poor checkers to often be thought of as a game for those not smart enough to play chess. However, checkers actually does allow for a fair degree of strategizing, so it's certainly not "for dummies".
    • As checkers has less rules and allows for less individual moves in the average situation than chess, it's easier for beginning players and computers. Good players will see an average of two viable moves on every turn in both games, meaning not slipping up becomes about equally hard for them in both games. Blind checkers, especially the "Polish" version (which almost certainly originates either in France or the Netherlands), played with 20 pieces on each side, actually appears to be a lot harder than blind chess. Chess players have less individual pieces to remember, and have an easier time distinguishing between them. Almost all chess pieces furthermore threaten a straight line, while a checkers piece can jump in the strangest zigzags when taking other pieces.
    • It's been solved by computers. All you need to do is memorize 500 000 000 000 000 000 000 possibilities and you can force any game to a tie.
      • Even before it was solved, most high level tournament games tended to end in a draw unless a participant found some previously unseen move.
  • We Have Reserves: Once you get ahead, you have an almost inevitable chance of exchanging your way to victory. This is the case even more than in chess because the pieces are of equal value.