Spectrum is a strategy game played amongst the nobility of the realm of Astrum. It has been adapted from a game played by the people of the island for many generations. In a game of Spectrum, two or more players compete to form the highest valued pattern or structure. When a certain value of pattern or structure has been created, the game ends. Players are then ranked according to the highest value pattern or structure they have created.
Spectrum is played using a set of geometrical shapes of various colors. Both the color and the shape of the piece are significant to the play of the game. Color and shape are used to denote the relative value of the piece, as well as how the pieces are played in relation to it. The number of colors and shapes vary according to the skill level of the player. Inexperienced players us a set of pieces that contain only six colors and six shapes. Advanced players add more colors and shapes as their skill level increases. At the highest levels, Spectrum games can consist of over a dozen colors and a similar number of shapes.
In addition to the colors addition of colors and shapes, the pieces of advanced sets of Spectrum pieces are generally made of more expensive materials. The sets used by less affluent players are generally of carved wood, and simply dyed or painted. More affluent players will use lacquered woods, or polished stone. The truly rich players have sets made of semi-precious stones, or even precious metals. Tales have even been told of fabulously wealthy nobles who have commissioned sets of Spectrum pieces made from gemstones. Such a set of pieces would be worth a King's ransom.
The variety of colors and shapes, as well as the requirement that there be multiple pieces for each combination of size and shape, means that there are many pieces in even a basic set of Spectrum pieces. A basic set contains at least 80 pieces. Sets used by masters of the game have several hundreds of pieces.
The color of a piece denotes the relative value of the piece. Patterns made of higher value colors are worth more than those made of a lower value color. The basic colors used in Spectrum are the following six, in decreasing value:
- Violet (highest value)
- Red (lowest value)
At higher levels of play, colors such as white at the bottom end of the value, and black at the top end are added. Even higher levels of play include shades of the colors that fit in between the scale. At the very top of the scale, used by only the best players, the edges of the pieces are colored with a second color. The added color denotes the colors of other pieces that may be played near that piece. Take, for example, a yellow cube with blue edges: only a blue piece may be played on top of it.
The shapes of the pieces range from flat disks, pyramids, cubes, all the way up to a dodecahedron. Additional shapes used by advanced players include bridges and rods. The value of a piece increases with the complexity of the piece. The basic pieces used in Spectrum are the following six, in decreasing value:
- Dodecahedron (highest value)
- Pyramid (tetrahedron)
- Sphere (lowest value)
When players are proficient with the basic set of shapes, they add more shapes. The shape most commonly added first is the bridge. The bridge is used in building more complex structures. Following that, pieces added by expert players include rods, rings, multi-sided pillars, and variations of the basic shapes.
The sphere is a special shape. Like the ace in a deck of cards, the sphere can represent a shape at the top or bottom of the range of values. The value depends on the context of its placement in a pattern or structure. This is due to the nature of the sphere being the mathematical equivalent of a polyhedron with an infinite number of sides.
Before a game of Spectrum begins, all players must agree as to the colors and shapes that will be used in the game. This is usually determined by a combination of who has the least number of colors, and who has the least number of shapes. A game cannot be played fairly if one player uses 8 colors and the other only has 7. While advanced players generally prefer the higher number of colors and shapes, they occasionally will intentionally limit themselves to the basic size shapes and colors to enjoy a more casual or social game.
The game of Spectrum starts when the first player selects a piece and places it on the playing field. Players then take turns placing pieces on the field, either by themselves or on top of other pieces. As play evolves, each player attempts to build patterns or structures with the pieces.
There are many rules that govern the placement of the pieces. These rule involve the color and shape of the piece on which it is placed, and the proximity of other pieces of the same color or shape. The rules are quite extensive, and it takes many years for players to learn them, and thus advance to the higher levels of play.
Ending the Game
Players continue to place pieces in succession until a player assembles a structure exceeding a certain value, determined prior to the start of the game. When this is accomplished play ends. The final ranking of each player for the game is determined by the highest value structure or pattern they have completed.
It is not uncommon for players to agree on alternate ways to declare the end of the game, such as the completion of the first Greater pattern, or the first structure.
Scores in Spectrum are awarded for creating one of two things: Patterns and Structures. Similar to many card games, there is no absolute numerical value assigned to a pattern or structure. Rather, the patterns and structured are ranked so that, for example, a Small Structure beats a Lesser Spectrum, while a Greater Structure beats them both. Structures and patterns need not be composed entirely of the player's own pieces. Instead, whoever has more pieces in the pattern or structure is the owner of that structure, and receives credit for it. For example, a Lesser Spectrum is formed of five pieces of the same shape, of different colors, in order of the color rank: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet. (While there are six colors, only five are needed for a Lesser Spectrum.) If one player owns three of the pieces and another owns the other two, then the player with the three pieces owns the pattern.
Patterns are formed by arranging a series of pieces in a specific order, all on the same level, so they form a progression. Most patterns consist of both a Lesser and Greater variety. For Lesser patterns the pieces may be of the same color and differing shape, or of the same shape but differing color. Greater patterns are formed by a progression of both color and shape.
Patterns can only be formed when all pieces of the patter are on the same level. This does not need to be the table level. Patterns can be formed by pieces higher than table level, so long as all of the pieces of the patter are at the same level. For example, if a series of five pyramids are each placed on top of one other piece, they are all on the second level, and so can form a Lesser Spectrum.
Some of the patterns are listed below:
- Lesser Spectrum - Five or more pieces of the same shape in a row, with colors in ascending order of value
- Greater Spectrum - Eight or more pieces in a row, with either the color or shape ascending, and the other descending. For example, the patter starts with a red dodecahedron, and ends with a blue sphere. This pattern cannot be created with the basic set, as it requires the addition of at least two colors and two shape.
- Grand Spectrum - Eight or more pieces in a row, of both ascending color and shape. For example, the patter starts with a red Sphere, and ends with a violet dodecahedron.
- Queen's Spectrum - Ten or more pieces in a row, of both ascending color and ascending shape, in a manner similar to a Grand Spectrum.
Structures are formed by stacking pieces in a specific order. As with patterns, the structures are often, but not always, built by arranging a progression of colors or shapes. Unlike patterns, structures can consist of a group of identical pieces. For example, one of the simplest structures, and thus lowest value, consists of a stack of five identical disks. As with patterns, all the pieces of the structure do not need to belong to the same player, and the player with the most pieces in the structure "owns" the structure. Structures are harder to construct than patterns, and are therefore generally of higher value.
Simple structures generally consist of single stacks of pieces. The pieces either progress along the spectrum of colors, or from complex to simple shapes. Structures usually, but not always, consist of the more complex structures on the bottom. This is due to the fact that pieces such as the Pyramid or Sphere cannot have any pieces stacked on top of them. Simple structures always consist of a single stack of pieces. The stack can contain other pieces underneath it that are not part of the structure. For example, a structure of five cubes can be built on top of a dodecahedron that is not part of the structure.
More complex structures involve the use of additional, advanced pieces such as the rod and bridge. Bridges are placed on the top of two stacks of the same height to connect them together. Rods are placed on the table top level to connect the bottom of two stacks, or on the top of a "middle" stack to connect two stack on either side of it.
Some of the basic structures are listed below:
- Lesser Stack - The Lesser Stack is a simple stack of five discs of the same color.
- Knight's Tower - A Knight's Tower is a stack of five cubes of the same color.
- Star Tower - A Star Tower is a stack of five pieces of the same color, and descending shape. For example, the bottom piece would be a yellow dodecahedron, and the top piece would be a yellow disc.
Above the basic level of play, the use of the bridge piece aids in the formation of structures. Bridges are used to connect two stacks of the same height, causing them to be considered as a single stack. For example, assume a stack of five blue cubes, next to a stack consisting of two blue cubes on top of an octahedron. The bridge may be placed to connect the two stacks, thus forming a Knight's Tower. No pieces may be placed on top of a bridge.
Similar to the bridge is the rod. The difference with the rod is that the rod may be placed at any level, including directly on the playing field. It connects the two stacks on the ends of the rod. Rods may also be placed on top of a "middle" stack, and thus connecting the stacks on either side of it. As with the bridge, pieces may not be placed atop a rod.
Mutability of Values
The value of a pattern or structure in Spectrum is not a set thing. The value can shift depending on the context of the pattern or structure in the overall game. As a result the value of any particular pattern or structure will vary from game to game. The value will generally be apparent to the players as play progresses. In a case where the value is not apparent to all, it is the responsibility of the player claiming a non-standard value to use logic to convince the other players of the perceived value. For example, a player may need to demonstrate that the context of a Greater Spectrum allows him to use a Sphere as a high ranked shape, rather than it's usual low ranked position.
Although Spectrum is normally played with at least two players, it is not uncommon for it to be played as a solitaire game. In this mode, the object is generally to create aesthetic patterns. The player will generally set some object or theme for the game, and then set about to fulfill that goal.