Friday, March 17, 2006

Renju Master & WPente

Name: Renju Master
Author: Jun Liang
License: Freeware

Name: WPente
Author: Mark Mammel
License: Freeware

Renju and Pente are similar abstract strategy games. Players alternate placing stones on the intersections of a grid. The goal in both games to get five in a row before your opponent does. Pente adds certain captures to the mix. This week, I am going to review the best computer opponents which I have found to play these two games.

Renju is played on a 15x15 grid. The first player plays in the center. Player then alternate placing one stone at an unoccupied intersection. The first one is get five in a row vertically, horizontally, or diagonally wins. Renju Master is a very nice computer implementation of Renju. It has a clean and simple interface. One feature which I like is that it warns you with an audio chime when the computer player forms four in a row or an open three in a row.

Renju Master plays a strong game. I have not played much Renju in my life and am not a strong player myself. So, I cannot say if this program would be a challenge for a world-class player. However, it was more than a challenge for me. It has 10 levels. However, in order to play against level i, you have to beat the computer in a challenge match, best two out of three, at level i-1. I have only made it to level 4, but have enjoyed learning about Renju by playing Renju Master.

Pente is played on a 19x19 grid. Captures are possible in Pente. If an adjacent pair of stones is capped at both ends by the opponent, they are captured and removed from the board. You can win by getting five in a row or my making five captures. Pente was released around 1980 and was somewhat popular. I played fair number of games as a kid back then. The equipment had a quality feel to it which added to the enjoyment. I do not know if current Pente sets are still of such quality. It has been a while since I have seen a Pente set available in a store.

WPente is the best computer implementation of Pente I have found. It lacks polish. For example, if you hit F1 for help, a error message comes up instead of the help window. And you have hunt around a little with the menus to set the computer opponent, but these complaints are cosmetic. The important thing is that it plays a strong game. There are 18 levels which represent how many moves ahead it looks. On the higher levels, it beats me soundly, and I was a reasonable player once. But, it can be painfully slow. On level 10, it takes about a minute a move which I think is a good compromise. Wpente is a good game for any Pente fan.

Both Renju and Pente suffer from the fact that the first player has a huge advantage. To balance this, both games have "tournament rules" which restrict the first players later moves. In Pente, the first player's second move must be a certain distance from the center. In Renju, the rules are much more complicated. The first player is not allowed to make a "double three", "double four", or "overline" (see the official rules for definitions) at any time. This is a serious restriction which in my mind indicates that Renju is a fundamentally flawed game. In any case, both programs implement their respective tournament rules correctly.


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