The Symbol Game

The Rules of Play

The basic rules are very simple, and the software helps by showing which symbols can be played at each step. These instructions explain how to interact with the software and how to play the game.


The game consists of two areas. Firstly, there is the play board on the left of the page. This starts empty and fills up as symbols are played. Note that, like Go, symbols are played on the junctions of the lines and not in the squares. Secondly, on the right of the page, is the symbol table. This shows all the symbols that are available for play. This starts full, with all the symbols from the Yijing, and gradually empties as symbols are played.

Starting the Game

You can either have the computer make the first move at random or allow the first player to make the initial move. This is controlled by the the check box: either check or uncheck the box, depending on your preference and then click on the "New Game" button.

You will then be asked how many players there are. Enter a number between 1 and 4. You will then be asked for the name of each player. Once you have completed this step, a score board will appear in the top right corner of the page. The colour used to highlight the players in the score board will also be used to highlight their moves on the playing board.

If you elected to allow the computer to start the game, the computer will now place a symbol on the board. This will be the only symbol in the game that does not have a player colour.

If you did not elect to allow the computer to start, then the first player places the first symbol. This is done by first selecting a node on the playing board and then picking a symbol from the symbol table.

Making a Move

Each player takes turns to place a symbol on the board. Once the first symbol has been played, all subsequent moves must adjoin an existing symbol.

A move is made by first clicking on a vacant board position. The system will then highlight the symbols that can be placed in that position. If the player decides to play at that position, they can select an appropriate symbol by clicking on it. If they decide to play at a different position, they can simply click on a different board position without selecting a symbol.

The rule that determines which symbols can be placed is very symbol. A symbol can only be placed in a position if it differs by exactly one line for each of the adjoining symbols. Don't worry, the software keeps track of this for you.


A players gets points for the following circumstances, given the rule of placement described above:

If, by placing a symbol at a given position, it becomes logically impossible to place a symbol at some other position on the board, because there are no logically consistent symbols that could ever be played in that position, then the player gets 2 points for each position so affected. This is called a logical capture and is indicated on the board by colouring the position with the player's colour and removing the grid lines from the position.

If, by placing a symbol at a given position, it becomes impossible to place a symbol at some other position on the board simply because all the possible symbols have now been played, then the player gets 1 point for each position so affected. This is called a contingent capture and is indicated on the board by colouring the position with the player's colour but leaving any grid lines in place.

Notice that the software reconfigures the board after each move to make the grid consistent with all the contingent and logical captures that have been made.

Building the Narrative

The game can simply be played as a competitive board game, simply trying to accumulate the most points. However, to play this way is to miss the main purpose of the Symbol Game.

At the outset of the game, the players should chose a theme for the game. This could be something as far reaching as the global economic situation or something as personal as your relationship. The latter being a good potential theme for a two person game.

If the computer has placed the initial symbol, then the first move of the first player should say something about how the initial symbol relates to the theme and also how their own symbol relates to that symbol and the overall theme. Each subsequent move by a player should describe how the symbol just placed relates to all adjoining symbols and how it relates to the overall theme of the game.

The placement of symbols allows players to comment on the previous moves of other players or, indeed, their own previous moves. Thus, as the game is played, a symbolic narrative is constructed around the original theme of the game.