From the journals of DukeZhou:

As a kid, I loved playing strategy board games, especially the modern variety.  But the degree to which luck was a factor in games like Risk always bothered me.  You could play with superior strategy, but still lose the game if you got unlucky with too many dice rolls.  This was often a factor in early computer strategy games, but as computers got more powerful, the games games got complex, and I started to notice them becoming more deterministic.  There might still be random factors in terms of resource distribution, but the trend in mechanics has been decidedly in the direction of reducing luck as the computer strategy game genre matures.[1]

When I discovered Sudoku back in 2005, I was amazed at the mechanics of the puzzle, the way the constraints of Sudoku gave it a magical feeling, and the sheer number of combinations—for 9×9 Sudoku, there are about 6.7×1021.  Although I’m not a huge puzzle guy, it struck me that there was a game in there somewhere. (In the strictest definition, games are distinct from puzzles in requiring multiple competitors).  I started thinking about it obsessively, developing game mechanics based on Latin squares, without elements of chance, but the games always resulted in a win for the advantaged player or a stalemate.  At the time I didn’t realize I was designing from first principles.  This naiveté served me well in that I had no idea how hard a task I had undertaken.

The next big “aha” moment came when I got my first tablet.  It was quickly apparent that the tablet was a natural context for strategy games.  Strategy games are historically boardgames, and the tablet is a gameboard that can process. The opportunities of such an interface opened a world of possibilities. There is a certain stickiness to touch.  Less than a year later, in May of 2013, I’d cracked the [M] mechanics which form the basis for Mbrane.

The breakthrough was interesting.  After 8 years of banging my head against a wall, I decided to [redacted] off and started playing Fallout 3.  day.  How this was supposed to help matters I can’t say, but it  did the trick.  At the end of a week of roaming the post-apocalyptic wasteland of D.C., very little sleep, the rules of Mbrane dropped into my head, fully formed.  I booted up my workstation, printed out a gameboard and pieces, and called my buddy Connor, who always pwns me in Chess, to come test with me. (Luckily he’s not afraid of the wee hours, and tends towards them like me;)  To our surprise, the mechanics not only worked—the more we played, the more intrigued we became.  We quickly realized we were on to something special.

The goal had been to create a computer game that was simple enough that I could program it myself, with the caveat that it had to be wholly original.  That first part is easy, the second part not so much.  New games come out every day but wholly original games, not based on pre-existing mechanics, occur much more rarely. This is to say that a large number of new games are evolutions of existing games, with that process driven by generations of designers.  But truly new games, when new games do occur, can have the feeling of the miraculous.

Not only is Mbrane a game like no other, it belongs to one of the most esteemed classes of games played by humans: non-chance games of perfect information.[2]  The fundamental games in this class are few and among the most popular and long-lived games in the world: Chess, Checkers, Tic-Tac-Toe and Go.[3]

It’s my great hope that players of all stripes and preferences will enjoy this simple game.

—DukeZhou
The Creator of Mbrane

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[1] Richard Garfield, creator of Magic: The Gathering, talks about this phenomena in his Copenhagen Lecture.

[2] Technically these are zero-sum, finite, partisan, sequential, deterministic games of perfect information.  Such games are also deemed abstract and combinatorial.  [M] may also be referred to as “Multiplayer Partisan Sudoku”.

[3] There are a few other fundamental games in this class people play, such as Mancala and Domineering.  Many variants of these Ur games exist.  For Chess, there are variants such as Xianqui (Chinese Chess) and Shogi, and all Chess games are thought to derive from Chaturanga.  Tic-tac-toe forms the basis for all connection games, also known as m,n,k-games, and which include Connect Four and Gomoku. Modern connection games include Hex, co-invented by John Forbes Nash, which revolutionized modern strategy boardgames by introducing hexagonal maps, extending the proto-hexagonal triangular lattice of Stern-Halma. Even the famous Othello, aka Reversi, can be understood as a simplified version of Go, with less complexity, an added constraint, and flipping of enemy tokens instead of capture. More recently, there has been a whole new class of game known as graph coloring games.  [M] has graph coloring properties, but these arise naturally when the numbers are allowed value, distinct from the Sudoku puzzle or the impartial forms of the Sudoku game. These characteristics allowed us to become the first game played on a heatmap gameboard.