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NoMess Maxims

by Tobias D. Robison
tobyr21 at gmail dot com

The Cookie Game

Basic Skills  -   In Praise of The Long Game

The Cookie game requires you to understand the basic maxims of playing NoMess, plus the special handling of framed pieces, smileys and bombs. The Cookie game is certainly more difficult to play, but you can definitely get higher scores than you can in the regular game at every level of difficulty. You must have a registered version of NoMess - the unregistered version does not let you play with with cookies.

The first page of basic maxims was written for the basic NoMess game, but the maxims also apply pretty well to the cookie game. Here are some maxims for the Cookie game. Like all my maxims, these are based on experience, and better players may have more accurate advice than mine. You may find surprises among these maxims. If you disagree with me, I'd like to hear from you.


*  Get rid of framed pieces as fast as possible
A board with 20% of its pieces framed is much harder to deal with than a board with only one or two frames. Whenever you have a close decision to make among alternatives, choose the move that can lead to getting rid of a frame. I even think it is better to use three moves to make a five including a frame, than three moves to make a line of six without a framed piece.

*  Don't be afraid of falling frames
You never know when one or more of the next three pieces to drop will be framed, but it's better to assume that the piece you need will drop without a frame.

*  Bomb frames
Occasionally a well-planned bomb detonates no framed pieces, but this ought to be rare. Try to take out at least one frame with every bomb.

*  Build up from two frames
Whenever you see a chance to make a five that includes two or more framed pieces, try hard to justify going for it.

*  Undo disastrous frames
Occasionally a framed piece will drop in the middle of several of your builds, blocking the board and creating a real disaster. Save your undo moves for these disasters if you can.


*  Hasten to make three; Smile to make four
This basic NoMess maxim changes when you have a smiley available. You can make the four in a row without prospect of an immediate five. You might leave four open for a turn or two to see if the needed piece drops. You can always use the smiley to complete it. One smiley can help you to play several fours this way before you actually use it.

*  Use smileys in place
Look very carefully for opportunities to make a five with a smiley, without moving it. It's easy to overlook the fact that a smiley is already part of an open three in a row.

*  Avoid moving two smileys to make one five
Sometimes this is a good play, but it is usually better to use two smileys to make two separate fives.

*  Avoid using one smiley to make two fives at once
You may have noticed that if you place a smiley so that it forms, say five X's and five trees at the same time, all nine pieces are removed at once. This is great, but if you have a tree and an X, it is better to use them to make the two fives, one at a time. That way you have removed ten pieces instead of nine, and you still have the smiley.

*  Unblock your smileys
A smiley that is surrounded and can't move has less value.

*  Don't let smileys block important lines
If you have to choose between making a five in a row with an X or a smiley, you will almost always use the X and save the smiley. But what if the smiley is blocking an important move that would really help you?

*  Above all: Be laid back about smileys
They are nice pieces, they help you a lot, but it's not worth agonizing about exactly the best way to use them. Save your agonizing for the bombs…


I believe that moving bombs is one of the two most challenging aspects of playing NoMess well. (The other is strategically avoiding the build up of messes and clogged boards.) Bombs present many tricky decisions of timing and balance. The maxims for using bombs must be weighed against each other to decide which is right in each situation. The bomb maxims contend with each for attention other all the time. Here we go:

*  Don't bomb too quickly
Save bombs to get you out of the worst situations in NoMess. And if you wait, you can generally take out more pieces with a single bomb. See the long game maxims, for the extreme approach to using bombs slowly.

*  Don't wait too long to bomb
A clogged board will just require you to use more bombs to clear it. A bomb can get surrounded and become useless for awhile. That juicy opening to explode six pieces may disappear if you wait.

*  An open board creates opportunities
When in doubt, bomb and don't wait. On an open board, piece drops randomly create lots of ways to make fives. On a clogged board, piece drops create problems.

*  Learn bomb arithmetic
After you drop a bomb, three new pieces fall on the board. You want a bomb to tend to clear the board, so you want, at least, to destroy three pieces plus the bomb itself. I hate to use a bomb on less than four other pieces.

*  Learn bomb cascade arithmetic
Suppose you have three bombs close together. You can explode one bomb so that it explodes the others and takes, say, seven other pieces with it. Or, in three turns, you can explode one bomb at a time, taking four pieces with each bomb. Which is better? In the first case, you remove 10 pieces and then three are dropped, for a gain of seven. In the second, you remove 15 pieces, and 9 are dropped, for a gain of six. But the first case allows you to use a bomb to fix one board problem, and three separate bombs might fix three problems. But the first case adds less entropy (see the next maxim). It's not easy to decide…

*  Bomb drops increase entropy
Some of the pieces you explode will be pieces you have moved, or pieces you tried to use to make fives. They will be in relatively sensible places. The pieces that fall after a bomb of course drop at random, so entropy increases a little. If you set off, say, one bomb in three straight turns, nine pieces will fall at random. (If you were not bombing, you would move a piece each time three were dropped, and the result would be more organized, less random.) But the APPEARANCE of increasing entropy is even worse than that. After staring at board for awhile, and getting used to where everything is, you drop a few bombs and replace those well known pieces with unfamiliarly placed ones. The board will look especially random until you spend some time looking hard at the changed board.

*  Be objective about bombing pieces after you move them
I really hate to bomb these, because it means I wasted a move (or more) entirely. But you should judge each position on its merits, not on how you got there. A new framed piece may force you to change your plans and blow up your work. Here's an extreme case – sometimes you have no constructive move on the board; you just want to mark time and see how the next three pieces will drop. In this situation, it sometimes pays to move a piece next to a good bomb-hole, so that if you use the bomb next turn, you will take out one more piece with it.

*  Bomb more pieces
Try to take out five or six pieces, including one or two frames, with each bomb. Try!

*  Make bombs count
A bomb can remove a frame, open a blocked line, clear the center of the board to give you more movement, open a path to other blocked bombs and smileys, and remove more than the three pieces that will drop after it. A well-placed bomb can do ALL of these things, or at least most of them.

*  Diagonal lines and bombs don't mix
If a lot of pieces are lined up in diagonals (with open spaces next to them) then your bombs will have a hard time blowing up more than two other pieces. Find good reasons to move pieces out of these diagonals, to increase your bombs' potential.

*  Use Surgical Bombing judiciously
When I use a bomb to remove just one or two pieces that are really in the way, I call it "Surgical Bombing." In general, this is not as good as using each bomb to remove a lot of pieces, because: an open board creates opportunities! But sometimes it will look really good move to bomb an inconvenient piece or two. You will know your judgment is correct if your surgical bombs usually (not always, of course) lead to a long series of easy moves after the bomb.

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