Games That Teach – Hive and Spatial Orientation

We’ve all played the classic abstract strategy games: chess, checkers and the like. But those are old games. In that last century board games became a family staple and became more colorful and extravagant. And in the last few decades they have advance tremendously in both fun and art design. The days of any new abstract strategy games coming out seemed to be over. Until, that is, Hive came out and opened up the genre again.

The Pieces of Hive
The Pieces of Hive

Hive has won tons of award and gotten some serious buzz (get it?). It’s an abstract that is even more abstracted because it doesn’t have a board. In theory it is played on an infinite grid of hexagons (which is how the game on the iOS and other devices is played) though this grid can only really be about 30 hexes in diameter because of the limitations of number of pieces.

It is also unique in the fact that it has no piece elimination. None of the pieces you play on the board can be eliminated. And you get to choose which pieces you put out first. The objective is to surround the enemy’s queen bee with six of any color piece. And it’s usually a very short game, the longest I’ve played being about ten minutes.

But in my opinion where hive really shines is in the spatial aspect. Each piece moves differently in the two dimensional plain. There are specific, but simple rules governing where you can and can’t move your pieces. It isn’t always obvious where your next move will be, and predicting your opponent’s move can be especially tricky.

Sample Game Unfinished
Sample Game Unfinished

Now I work with spatial things quite a lot, being a cartoonist and graphic designer. I also like to play chess a lot, though I’m not very good, which requires some spatial orientation. But even I can be baffled by Hive at times. It’s such a simple game, but it makes you think so hard, and that is what good games do. Of course you can play more casually as I and most people I play it with (they’re not very cerebral gamers, or even gamers) want to. But even then it’s still flexing your spatial brain muscle or whatever.

Now like, I said spatial resigning is only good in a handful of jobs (architect, graphic designer, artist) and this game really isn’t a teaching tool, it’s more of a practice thing. It helps you get in the zone for such things and it can really be quite relaxing in doing so. It’s one of those games where you marvel at how the other person won rather than being bitter about the fact that you lost. At least to me it is.

So if you already have one of the occupations I mentioned earlier, or are looking into one, try out Hive, it’s great and it can sometimes really help you and let you enjoy things you’ve learned. And you can brag to the people you beat about how your job actually gave you some skill.

“Ants that Count” or Not

Ants, they’re amazing. I read recently about how ants that don’t lay chemical trails get back to their nest by “counting” their steps. Though they don’t really count, they do know the relative size of their bodies and can determine how far they have gone and can return on a straight course. Then I read a Blog about how they don’t count, and how we are applying a non-human trait to them when they have the very human, or rather “higher”, animal trait of being aware of their size. This Blog post (which you can read on WordPress: it was freshly-pressed a while ago) said that by saying they “counted” we were making ourselves seem higher than the ants and that we should just recognize that ants have surprisingly higher abilities than we think they do.

However I would say the opposite is true. To me it seems like a fairly logical thing to assume that all animals are aware of their body size to some degree, otherwise they would do all sorts of stupid things, like run into walls. I believe that the majority of humans are afraid of ants. They organize, they specialize, they have a hierarchical system, and operate much like a single organism. I also believe that the average person is afraid of math. I personally like it and many of my friends are good or competent at it. But I know many more people who are bad at it and/or hate it. Many people are just mediocre at math, and that makes them not like it or be afraid of its existence.

Can you see where this is going yet? I think that the people who said that the ants were “counting” their steps were actually making them better than humans. A human couldn’t multi-task well enough to keep the number of steps they’d taken in their mind while doing other tasks. Thus the very notion that such a small creature as an ant can do it is terrifying, especially since ants act colonially as one big mass. If one ant can count better than a human, imagine what a whole colony could do! “Gasp!”

Anyway, I personally believe that them saying that ants count is a way to make people read their articles because it is a trait that humans seem to lack. Humans could never count that well without training and that fact that ants could do it from birth would be one other thing to add to the pile of why to fear our eventual ant overlords. The many things that ants do are alien and scary to us, which is why ant-like systems are employed by so many science fiction bad guys, the arachnids from the Starship Troopers novel, or the Buggers from Ender’s Game. Ants are scary, and awesome, and cool, but creepy, and the list could go on. In my humble opinion the truth is much more tame and obvious than the fiction in this case.