Arimaa/Distribution of Force

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Right next to the silver camel and far away from both silver dogs, the gold horses are poorly positioned. (Game)

An important element of Arimaa is the overall distribution of pieces. One basic concern is efficiency: a strong piece should not be wasted on a job a weaker piece could do. At right, Silver would gain no further advantage by having a horse on g3, so the silver dog is efficiently placed there. Another basic concern is activity: strong pieces should be kept flexible and available for duty. The b2 gold horse is passive due to being blocked in. The a3 gold horse is less blocked, but still poorly placed; Gold's position would be stronger if he had a horse in the east to fight the silver dogs.

Pieces are often passive because they are blocked in at home, but even a functional advanced piece is passive if it is not creating or furthering a threat.

Having the strongest local piece is often crucial. If a trap control fight pits two gold horses against a silver camel and dog, Silver might get full control of the trap, but Gold can't unless his elephant joins that fight. The strongest local piece can also help with goal attack, goal defense, mobility fights, etc.

The army which is better distributed overall will have the advantage.

Alignment[edit]

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Silver's camel and eastern dog mutually support each other; neither gold horse could easily dislodge the g3 dog, which defends f3 so that Gold could not get a camel trade. (Game)

Alignment refers to the general positioning of the army relative to the opposing army. Strong pieces should not be wasted; a good alignment is one where the friendly elephant neutralizes the enemy camel, the friendly camel neutralizes at least one enemy horse, and the other pieces take advantage of the freedom this provides.

In the diagram, Silver has a large alignment advantage: the silver elephant fights the gold camel, the silver camel fights gold horses, and the c2 horse fights a gold dog. The silver camel and c2 horse are both strongest local pieces, whereas Gold does not have the strongest piece in any area.

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The silver elephant and camel ignored the gold horse, letting it create a strong goal threat.

A poor alignment can lose a nearly won game. In this endgame, Silver had a camel advantage, but still let the one remaining gold horse beat her. When it went north on 36g, Silver took no notice. With nothing to stop the gold horse in the northeast, it created a one-turn goal threat on 38g. At that point, Silver had only one way to stop the goal, and that move left her elephant on the f3 trap square. The elephant was lost.

Balance[edit]

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Silver needs a dog on each wing.

It is usually best to have some strength on each wing. In the position at right, the strongest remaining pieces are the elephants, horse, and dogs. Gold has split his horse and dog, and may soon overload Silver. The silver elephant would like to fight the gold horse, but that could leave Silver vulnerable in the northwest. If the e7 dog moves west, however, it can counter the gold dog and delay any Gold takeover of c6. In the actual game, Silver left both dogs in the east, and soon got into trouble. Had Silver balanced his dogs, he would have had time to counterattack in the east.

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The silver elephant is stuck defending a horse and dog, but the gold elephant is stuck defending goal. (Game)

It is also often important to balance weak pieces, which are vital to home defense and to goal threats. Gold's hybrid frame–hostage–partial elephant blockade may appear strong, but it leaves Gold very weak in the west. The gold elephant is currently stuck defending goal, so the silver camel is free to disrupt Gold's eastern position. Using one's elephant to defend against rabbits is extremely inefficient.

Centralisation[edit]

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The gold camel cannot safely advance without the support of the gold elephant. (Game)

Ideally, an elephant should be able to quickly get anywhere it might be needed. Thus it should stay fairly centralized, until it has sufficient reason to go to the outskirts.

The diagram at right illustrates the tactical dangers of elephant decentralisation. The gold elephant has gone far away from f3, allowing Silver to start an attack there despite the gold camel's presence; until the gold elephant comes east, the gold camel cannot safely chase the g3 horse. If Gold played Me2n De1n Me3e De2n, Silver could push the gold camel to f4 (De3s ee4s Mf3n ee3e), where it would be doomed to capture in f6. This would not work for Silver were the gold elephant in the centre.

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Gold pieces can move through the center. (Game)

Control of the center itself is also important; pieces which can't move through the center will have a harder time navigating the board. The side with greater elephant mobility will tend to have better central control. In the diagram at left, Silver is limited by potential capture threats in c3 and f3. Gold is freer in that regard, due to the respective positions of the elephants.

Shared control of an away trap may improve one's central control; if the opponent owns only one trap, pieces in the center are safer. It is sometimes even possible to blockade the center.

Development[edit]

An army develops when it advances in a way that gains space and thus limits the opponent. Advanced pieces might be threatened in away traps, but can often support each other even when their elephant is elsewhere. It is usually good to have development on a wing where one is strong—for instance on one's camel wing if camels are on opposite wings. Advances are riskier on a wing where one is weak, although it is sometimes necessary to block development by the opponent. After strong pieces are exchanged, weaker pieces will face fewer threats, and can thus advance more effectively.