My popular series of election games continues with a paper and pencil game for any number of player. It’s called Copycat. Let’s play the multiplayer version first. Each player grabs a sheet of paper and a pen, draws a rectangular grid of agreed size (I use 4×4 below, 6×6 to 8×8 is better for actual play), and marks an agreed number (I use 1 below, two or three is much better) of intersections with a nice, fat dot.
One player decides to go first and announces one of the four main compass directions. Now all players have to mark a segment beginning at any one of their dots and heading that way one unit. Above, the first player (left) decided NORTH (where else?), and all players had to follow. A player who can’t follow is out.
Now it’s the second player’s turn (middle), and she decides EAST. All players have to mark a segment that begins at the endpoint of any one of their paths and moves east one unit, thereby neither retracing steps, nor leaving the grid, nor ending on intersections that have already been visited by any path. The third player (right) has now only two options left (NORTH or SOUTH), and decides NORTH. This eliminates the middle player, who is out of moves.
Left takes revenge and moves EAST, which is impossible for the right player. This leaves left as the winner. In an (unrealistic) cooperative play, left and right could instead have continued on for eight more moves. The game becomes more interesting when the players begin with more than one dot, because then they can choose which path they extend at each turn.
To make puzzles for single players, start with a board, place a couple of dots, and draw legal paths like so:
Record the directions along each path as a sequence of letters, namely WNENESSSWWSEE and NESSWSESW in the case above.
Randomly splice the sequences into one, for instance into WNNEENESSSSWSSWWESSEWE. Then draw a new board that just includes the dots, and hand it together with the letter sequence to your best friend. She then needs to trace non-intersecting paths, following the letters as compass directions. Her only choice at each step is which path she wants to extend. This is an excellent example of an easy to make puzzle that is ridiculously hard to solve.
There are many variations: For single players, you can use an eight sided compass die or a spinner to determine the direction at each step.
Several players can also share boards, as long as they can agree on where north is. They would then use pens in different colors and could only extend their own paths, avoiding any crossings of paths.