Zillions of Games
Zillion (n): An extremely large, indefinite number.
So, how many games can "Zillions of Games" play? Well, like its title implies, a very large number of them, although it would be difficult to say precisely. Given the fact that anyone can create their own unique games with this product, in a very flexible and powerful way, I'd say that the product is appropriately named.
The game installs from CD-ROM, and has nicely produced, professional looking packaging. There is no users manual, although the sleeve in the CD-ROM jewel case does have installation instructions. The program runs under Windows 95 and 98. I did try to install it under Windows NT, but, unfortunately, it didn't work out very well (I had to get out the emergency repair disk!). Whether this is a limitation of the product, or a stupid mistake on my part, I'm not sure. (Comment by Hans Bodlaender: installing under Windows NT is possible. On the Zillions-of-Games website, this is explained. It has to do with different versions of DirectX.)
The interface is simple and easy to understand. There are many user configurable options dealing with sound effects, and music, etc. Each basic game is represented by an icon, which the user can select by clicking on. Once a basic game is selected, its board is displayed and the player can then either start playing the game, look at the game description which summarizes the rules, or choose a variant of the basic game. The artwork is very nicely done.
Games in progress may be saved, and the file they're saved in is a nice plain text file suitable for publishing and/or annotating. You can play against the computer, against another live player (on the same computer), against another live player (on a remote computer), and also have the computer play against itself (and presumably, have the computer play against a remote computer?). I have not tried out the remote playing capability of the product.
Double move and progressive move variants seemed to result in very weak play from the program. I'm not sure why that is, but it's one of the few things in this product that could use some improvement.
Many, many chess variants are supported both ancient and modern. The most exciting thing about this product is the ability to create your own games and variants. A game is completely defined by a "rules" file, along with some image files for drawing the pieces and the board, and sound files for sound effects and music. The rules file contains instructions for the program on how to play the game, but they're written in a language that looks similar to the LISP computer language. So, there's going to be a learning curve for many people. But on the bright side, there's incredible flexibility in defining your game. You can create various topologies by linking various positions and directions, create gaps in the game board, create special zones were certain unique rules apply, specify what the winning (or losing) conditions are, etc. The manual that describes how to create your own games currently resides online, and once downloaded can be displayed using the standard Windows help display.
To test out the new game creation functionality of this product, I decided to invent my own little chess variant and then implement it as a Zillions game. So, I invented Knight-Tac-Toe, a combination of chess and tic-tac-toe, on a 5x5 board, using just chess knights and kings. For a more complete description of the game see the Knight-Tac-Toe page.
Everything was very easy to set up except for specifying the winning conditions. Unfortunately, there's no way to specify that any friendly piece in a certain position contributes to a win. One can only indicate a specific piece. So, I had to specify 32 different win conditions (see my rules file if you'd like the details). Something of a pain, but not insurmountable. However if my variant had six different pieces instead of just two, then it would become a real problem (512 different winning conditions!). (This is actually not correct. Read the addendum.)
This is a wonderful product for those interested in exploring and creating chess (or other board game) variants. For those interested in creating variants, be prepared for some learning curve for the rules language used in this product. The large number of rule files for existing games, and the online help should offer a great starting point.
The $30 price tag is reasonable, and the company offers online ordering. My only suggestion in this area would be for them to offer a demo version of the program.
AddendumIt looks like I'll have to retract my statement about having to specify too many winning conditions in Zillions for Knight-Tac-Toe. Jeff Mallet of Zillions Development informed me that multiple pieces may be specified for a single "absolute-config" winning conditions. This reduces the number of winning conditions for Knight-Tac-Toe down to a mere 8, which is certainly much more reasonable. A new, improved version of Knight-Tac-Toe has been posted.
Of course, no good deed shall go unpunished -- now that I can specify this kind of winning condition I'm free to inflict Chess-Tac-Toe on the world! ;-)
Written by David Howe. An additional review by Hans Bodlaender can also be read.
WWW page created: January 4, 1999. Last modified: February 16, 1999.