Alan Kwan (HK) sent a glossary for strategy discussions
to the GIPF newsgroup. Even if the terminology would not be brought
into use, he has put together a very good list with aspects that
matter when playing DVONN - and, as such, he wrote a good introduction
to its strategy. I assume not all the terms will be clear to everybody
when reading the respective explanations, but exactly that is why
it is a useful list. So, if you are a beginner (having had a couple
of games yet!) and you want a bit of help to get better in DVONN,
then read the glossary attentively. Play a game or two and read
the list again - and again. The mixture of facing what happens on
the board and reading through the glossary will make you aware of
what you have to keep in mind. That doesn't mean that you'll be
able to put it into practice yet, but it will for sure make it more
easy to recognize what happens on the board and that is where good
For he time being the glossary has been left like
Alan wrote it (with a few additions). Don't spend too much time
having seconds thoughts about the terms he came up with. They are
not important right now; the explanations count! In due time, the
glossary will be tuned and structured.
Folks, Alan says:
I've found DVONN strategy to be a combination of
two contrasting aspects: melee and settlement. Melee is important
in the early game, and settlement is important in the end game.
The game is very interesting because the two aspects involve very
different concepts, in particular the values of stacks. If one player
can outdo the other significantly in melee, he can easily win ("melee
victory"), but otherwise the player who has managed to develop
a stronger settlement position while fighting the melee will win.
And all this talk is about the phase 2 strategy; phase 1 placement
strategy has to be based on an understanding of phase 2 strategy
and the anticipation of what will happen.
In the follow descriptions, "stack" includes
both a single piece and a stack of pieces.
There are two primary aspects to the strategy of DVONN. One is "melee",
the mobility race. It involves mainly the neutralizing and blocking
of the opponent's young (low and mobile) stacks, and the unleashing
of your own. In the early stage of phase 2, when there are lots
of young stacks on the board providing lots of move options for
the players, melee is usually one's primary strategic concern; in
this stage, old (tall and less mobile) stacks are often not as useful
as young stacks, since the stacks are still quite likely to change
hands in the future. One's objective in melee is to eliminate the
opponent's "melee strength" (mobility) while preserving
his own. Marked success in melee may lead to a "melee victory".
The other aspect to DVONN strategy is settlement. As play progresses
and mobility is lost as young stacks either age or get neutralized,
the settlement aspect gains growing importance since there are fewer
possible moves and the end-of-game positions become more predictable.
When this happens in one part of the board around a DVONN piece
being more or less isolated from the rest of the board, this is
called a local settlement; the last few moves of the game is called
the global settlement. From the perspective of settlement, it is
the control of older stacks at specific locations which is most
important. A local settlement is vulnerable to intrusions, so the
player has to stay on guard. One's objective in settlement is to
end up with better payoff - that is the victory condition of the
The "payoff" of a settlement refers to the relative count
of the number of pieces in the forseen end-of-game position. For
example, if white stacks contain 12 pieces and black stacks contain
7 pieces in a local settlement, it gives white a +5 payoff. The
payoff of the global settlement is the victory condition of the
A synonym for "mobility". The movement options open to
your stacks, and the usefulness of those moves, especially towards
neutralizing your opponent's melee strength. (Yes, this is a circular
definition. ^_^ )
A stack with at least one adjacent space vacant.
A stack surrounded on all six sides. Such a stack cannot move until
A low stack, often with many useful possible moves, providing good
A tall stack with few or no possible moves, providing good settlement
payoff for the player who controls it. In the melee stage, it is
often better to disarm or immobilize an old stack (while neutralizing
a opponent's young stack with the same move), than to take it over
(and age a young stack of yours into an old stack).
A disarmed stack that risks to get cut off.
A group of stacks without a DVONN piece that risks the get cut off.
A disarmed stack is one which can move only onto friendly stacks;
such a stack loses most of its melee strength. Disarming is the
melee tactic of rendering an opponent's stack less useful by evacuating
all your stacks from the spaces it can move to. This is useful,
but not as good as immobilizing the stack entirely or cutting it
off, as it can still contribute some control to settlement, or it
can help in sharpshooting. A disarmed stack is especially vulnerable
to cut-off threats: moving it away before it is removed often does
its owner little good (see Amputation). It is sometimes advantageous
to sharpshoot your aging stack at an inland enemy stack, because
the inland stack can't evacuate; you can then neutralize the enemy
stack as soon as your opponent unleashes it. The primary reason
that you should avoid placing too many of your pieces together in
phase 1 is because they are easily disarmed that way.
Immobilizing is the tactic of rendering an enemy stack unable to
move by evacuating all spaces it can move to. An immobilized stack
provides no melee strength, although its ownership can give a small
edge in settlement.
The concept of preventing an opponent's stack from making a certain
move by moving your stack away from the target space which it can
To spoil a move or prevent a lifting move by moving atop the enemy
stack. Even if the opponent has enough control to retake the stack,
he cannot move it because it has become taller.
To enable an inland stack to move by vacating one of the spaces
adjacent to it.
The concept of control over a certain stack includes both its current
ownership and the availability of stacks which can move onto it.
(This is similar to the concept of controlling a square in Chess.)
Control over old stacks is the key factor in settlement. However,
having more control than your opponent over a tall stack doesn't
necessarily guarantee that you're going to score its payoff: if
you have fewer moves than your opponent, you may be forced to waste
all your controls before your opponent plays his.
Two coastal stacks in opposing colors of same height spaced as many
spaces apart as their height. Thus, the stack which moves first
can go atop the other. This can be a key move in some cases.
To have much stronger control within a local region than the opponent.
The opponent should avoid moving things carelessly into the region,
because that can often lead to unfavorable payoff. Local dominance
around a DVONN piece can be a useful advantage. OTOH, having your
local dominance eliminated by cut-off is often disastrous.
Landing on top of an enemy stack, so that your opponent gets one
less stack to play with. The predominant move in DVONN.
To shut out a certain edge section of the board, so that you lock
a number of enemy stacks (especially young ones) inland behind a
line of coastal pieces of yours. This way, it becomes harder for
your opponent to unleash those stacks. The "depth" of
a blockade refers to the difficulty of unleashing the blocked stacks
(which is usually from another side). Keep in mind that single DVONN
pieces can be used to make up part of a blockade line (since you
can't move them). Beware that a blockade (or encirclement) can become
useless if it is too far away from a DVONN piece, because it can
be threatened by cut-off ...
To completely encircle a group of enemy stacks inland, so that they
can't move at all until you unleash them (or he is able to breach
the encirclement). Massive encirclement is hard to achieve against
a good player, but it can easily happen if an experienced player
plays to the best of his ability against a novice, leading to a
clear melee victory. A complete encirclement of maximum depth is
would be one or more stacks that remain inland until no more moves
can be made.
To break through a blockade or encirclement by taking over one of
the coastal blocking stacks. The breach can be successful if the
opponent cannot neutralize or immobilize the breaching stack without
unleashing one of the blocked stacks.
To leap a stack onto a critical spot over from another section of
the board, so as to turn around the payoff of a local settlement
or to breach a blockade or encirclement, or even to do a lifting
move. Sharpshooting is often a pre-requisite.
The concept of manipulating the height of a stack so that it can
land precisely on a critical space. It's a matter of counting and
one-digit addition. Notice that this doesn't necessarily mean putting
your own stacks atop one another - the best sharpshooting moves
are moves which also neutralize. To counter a sharpshooting move
is called "spoiling".
To cause a stack or stacks to be removed by cutting off their connection
to the DVONN pieces. As mentioned in the rules, sometimes massive
cut-offs are possible.
A move you make through which you lose one of you own stacks or
through which you clearely lose more stacks yourself than your opponent.
Most of the times an amputation concerns just one weak stack that
is linked to other stacks with only stacks of your own color. At
a certain moment you may want to amputate that weak stack, rather
than jumping with it atop of one of you own stacks and, by doing
so, weaking its melee strenght. When amputating a weak cluster the
reasons may be: (a) that your opponent - in spite of having fewer
stacks in the cluster - has local dominance, (b) to immobilize an
opponent's stacks that contains a DVONN-piece (i.e. to prevent him
from moving it to the cluster), or (c) to avoid unfavorable payoff,
(i.e. to avoid that you must move an old stack to another area and
onto a stack that is controled by your opponent).
Causing a dramatic change to the board position in connection with
the cut-off rule by moving either a DVONN piece, or a stack close
to a DVONN piece. Watch out for intrusions against low DVONN stacks
or adjacent stacks; try to keep some control over those spots.
A situation like diagram 4 in the rules, where a player is forced
to make a lifting move which hurts his own payoff.
The situation in the endgame where one player runs out of moves
early and his opponent gets to make a series of moves. A result
of a melee victory.
Winning the game by excelling in melee against your opponent, so
that you end up with significantly more melee strength than your
opponent. This allows you to run a one-man show, leaving your opponent
no chance to play for settlement. In extreme cases, a wipeout victory
Winning by wiping out all enemy stacks. An "N-to-zero"
win. Usually the consequence of a large melee victory. Not unusual
if a good player plays to the best of his ability against a novice
A settlement situation where the player who can wait longer (and
thus make the last moves) will be able to get better payoff. Because
in DVONN you can aggressively eliminate enemy mobility with your
moves, unlike Othello, the waiting game does not necessarily occur
every game, nor does it occur until a very late stage, so (until
then) make every move count! (As we know, GIPF project games are
typically very 'aggressive' and don't favor 'leisure moves'.)