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Stop-gate is a pencil and paper game for two players; it can also easily be played with a checkerboard and a set of dominoes. The game has very simple rules, is very simple to set up, and plays very quickly, but it requires a substantial amount of strategic thought to come up with a winning strategy.

The game is perhaps best described at first with use of a set of dominoes and a checkerboard. Each player sits down at the board with an infinite set of dominoes; it doesn't matter whether they're identical or differently colored and shaped. For this example, a 4x4 checkerboard is used, as follows:

-----------------------------
|      |      |      |      |     ---  ---  ---
|      |      |      |      |     | |  | |  | |
|      |      |      |      |     | |  | |  | |
|      |      |      |      |     | |  | |  | |
-----------------------------     ---  ---  ---
|      |      |      |      |     player #1's dominoes
|      |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |
-----------------------------
|      |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |     player #2's dominoes
-----------------------------     ---  ---  ---
|      |      |      |      |     | |  | |  | |
|      |      |      |      |     | |  | |  | |
|      |      |      |      |     | |  | |  | |
|      |      |      |      |     ---  ---  ---
-----------------------------

The first player moves by placing a domino vertically on the checkerboard, as follows:

-----------------------------
|      |      |      |      |     ---  ---  ---
|      |      |      |      |     | |  | |  | |
|      |      |      | ---  |     | |  | |  | |
|      |      |      | | |  |     | |  | |  | |
-----------------------| |---     ---  ---  ---
|      |      |      | | |  |     player #1's dominoes
|      |      |      | ---  |
|      |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |
-----------------------------
|      |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |     player #2's dominoes
-----------------------------     ---  ---  ---
|      |      |      |      |     | |  | |  | |
|      |      |      |      |     | |  | |  | |
|      |      |      |      |     | |  | |  | |
|      |      |      |      |     ---  ---  ---
-----------------------------

The first player can only lay dominoes in a vertical direction. As you can see, this domino lays in two squares in the upper right corner of the board; for the rest of the game, nothing else can be placed in these squares. Player number two then goes, and can place his dominoes only horizontally. An example move for player two is as follows:

-----------------------------
|      |      |      |      |     ---  ---  ---
|      |      |      |      |     | |  | |  | |
|      |      |      | ---  |     | |  | |  | |
|      |      |      | | |  |     | |  | |  | |
-----------------------| |---     ---  ---  ---
|      |      |      | | |  |     player #1's dominoes
|      |      |      | ---  |
|      |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |
-----------------------------
|      |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |     player #2's dominoes
-----------------------------     ---  ---  ---
|      |      |      |      |     | |  | |  | |
|      |  |-------|  |      |     | |  | |  | |
|      |  |-------|  |      |     | |  | |  | |
|      |      |      |      |     ---  ---  ---
-----------------------------

The two middle squares in the bottom row are unplayable, and now the first player goes again. This repeats in turn until a player cannot place a domino on the board to cover two adjacent squares; at that point, the game is over and the other player wins.

This game can be played on a checkerboard of any size, though the game seems to play best when the board remains a square of squares (meaning it has the same number of squares on each edge). A game on a regular checkerboard of eight squares by eight squares takes roughly five to fifteen minutes.

Stop-gate can also be played on a piece of paper. Simply draw a large grid, and then players alternate drawing dashes across the gridlines, simulating the dominoes as above, alternating between slashing horizontal and vertical gridlines. Another way is to simply color in the boxes, though this can take longer.

The strategy of the game mostly revolves around domino placement that maximizes your future moves and minimizes your opponents. Placing parallel dominoes with an empty square in between is usually the first strategy that is uncovered, but there are several tactics that can be employed in this game, each with worthwhile counter-tactics. The game is amazingly good at providing a lot of strategy inside very simple rules in a manner reminiscent of the classic boardgame Twixt.

This is a very effective game for providing some simple but enjoyable strategy. The rules are simple enough that they can be taught to very young children (I have played this game with my three year old niece), but it has more than enough strategy brimming under the surface. Given that the game can be played out of game parts that most households have, or on a piece of paper, and that it plays very quickly, it's a game well worth learning.

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