Keywords: Variant

VertiGo is a go variant using common area scoring rules, but played on a special vertical goban. It is optimized towards tactile rather than visual sensation, which should allow blind people to do their best in the game.

To my knowledge, due to the lack of required hardware, it hasn't been realized anywhere yet.


The players sit face to face with the board standing between them lengthwise, like a harp. Thereby, the player to move may finger a position with both hands simultaneously, one at a side each. The three possible states of points are represented by three state snip-snap buttons that can be pushed through the board. A point that reads "high" at one side is "low" at the other, and vice versa. The intermediate state flat stands for empty points, left for own, and right for the opponent's stones.

To play a move, a player pushes a flat point with his/her right digit, to make it stand out on the left side (wich is right to the opponent). To remove a captive, s/he pushes a right point with the right digit, so that it becomes flat.

For better orientation, the grid lines and hoshi points should be detectable. The buttons must be moderately fixed in each particular state, to make switching neither too easy nor too hard. Nevertheless, they need slight play, such that both hand's impressions can be coordinated through touched points.

Some Characteristics

For a person who already has been playing go for years when losing eyesight, "thinking go vertically" probably would be quite a difficult change of mind (as it would to most seeing people). To understand a game, we usually need to see the surface of a goban rather than to look at the board from the table's edge perspective :). But if you never learned to look at things the "flat to face" way we do, your three-dimensional imagination might adapt to different views with less effort.

Aside from the whole board, there are no parts to lose, and counting captured stones isn't necessary anyway with area scoring (e. g. chinese or AGA or New Zealand rules). Therefore, even two blind players can enjoy VertiGo without other people's help.



  • (Sebastian:) Interesting idea - you would hold it like a harp. Maybe you could build it with Lego? A little technical problem would be that the "stones" need to be easy to place, but they have to be absolutely safe when you feel the board. -- 2003-11-01
  • SnotNose: Very nice idea. A plus for kids: stones cannot be lost or eaten :)
  • blubb: In my guess, 19x19 may be difficult to survey, though. Perhaps it's possible to play serious 13x13 games with some practice?
  • axd: How about having a vertical board with pegs that can be pushed into the board, extruding at the other side? An empty point would be filled, feeling flat; an own stone would be represented by a hole, a peg sunken in the board; an opponent's stone would stick out.
    • blubb: Hmm, what's the difference? As I understand you, you're thinking of the same kind of board, but set up like a wall between the players? I'd consider that the more familiar way for seeing players (or possibly blind ones who once learned the game visually).
      On the contrary, the "harp" placement allows to use both hands concurrently, which considerably widens the perceptive bottleneck of tactile sensation. This is supposed to be an improvement for blind players who are not bound to visual habits anyway. The right side then means the same to each player as, with the "wall" placement, would the frontside.
      Such an unusual playing interface might even be enough a challenge for seeing people to counterbalance the blindness handicap of the opponent, at least partially. If so, that would allow pretty fair games, regardless of eyesight. One could try a tournament where blind and seeing people would equally participate and compete at VertiGo.
    • blubb: axd, considering your comment again (however you meant it), I think that we can simply drop the either-or. Why not leave it up to the players whether they prefer to sit at the harp position or to face the right side? It shouldn't even be a problem if one opponent plays the harp and the other pushes buttons in the wall.
  • Alex: Not being blind or having any close friends who are blind, I don't know much of the perceptive psychology of the blind, so I don't know whether this would be easier or harder for them than a regular "goban for the seeing impaired." Certainly, being able to scan the same area of the board with both hands simultaneously would be more efficient, but is that advantage enough to compensate for the confusion generated by the fact that a protrusion felt by one hand means the same as an indendation felt by the other and vice versa?

    Does anyone know any blind people they could consult for opinions, or even test it out with? It wouldn't have to be with a working board... you could just drill a board with holes and insert little sections of dowel to create a small, say, 5x5 grid, then do tests with the visually impaired test subject feeling either just a single side (with one or both hands), vs. turning it "harp-wise" and trying to use both hands. See how long each way takes before the subject has a sufficiently good awareness of the position to recreate it accurately (either on a second, similar setup, or on a traditional goban for the seeing impaired). You could even run the same tests on a blindfolded, regular-sighted person to test the "equalisation" theory.
    • blubb: I agree, such a test would be worth doing before an actual board is made. An important facility is the slight play of the dowels, though. If they were totally fixed, it'd be just twice a single hand's perception, without the synergy "feeling through the board" could provide.

      Given I can conceive a mechanical solution, I'll try to find some probands.
      • Alex: True enough. What you need is something that clicks into one of three "valleys," and needs a certain amount of force to be pushed out of one and into the next, while being able to be shifted slightly in its current valley with a considerably lesser amount of force.
        • blubb: Yeah. Using an appropriately shaped magnetic potential would be most elegant, but I'm afraid, quite tricky to construct. However, for the mere perception testing, a single state would suffice.
          • Alex: Yup, you've invented the $100,000 goban for blind people. Kaya, eat your heart out. ;)
  • Alex: Actually, another thought... aside from ruining your clever name and not looking quite as sci-fi like and cool to non-blind spectators, why does it even have to be vertical? You could just have a regularly-oriented goban on legs like a floor goban (but meant to sit on a table), but with the top surface made like your VertiGo setup, with enough space between the table and the underside of the top surface to slip one's other hand, for two-handed feeling, and for the player playing "up" to make his/her moves.
    • blubb: Hehe ... indeed, that would be possible, too. Would you like to be the "under" (i. e. "up") party? Sure, if the players really do, why not. The vertical placement however (cool or uncool, this doesn't really matter here) allows a symmetric feel, so frequent players may familarize themselves very deeply with the pattern "left is mine, right is thine".
      Blind people usually have a preferred hand just as seeing do, so changing sides could be quite an issue. If the board was placed horizontally and they nevertheless wanted to use the right hand at whatever side their own moves are made, that would still imply possibly disturbing changes: the more skilled hand would be sometimes beneath the board, sometimes above. One could argue that beneath needn't be the more awkward position where the board is raised a bit, but you'll probably agree that consistent left-right for both parties is inherently equal in the first place.
      • Alex: Clearly, the only way for the game to be truly equal is for it to be played in zero-g so conventional geocentric notions of up and down, horizontal and vertical are not an issue. Then players can orient themselves however they like with respect to the board. Of course, this means spending hundreds of millions of dollars to send players to space for tournaments, but since we're already spending hundreds of thousands of dollars per board for custom-designed magnetic potentials at each intersection, why the hell not? :-D
        • blubb: Wow, I didn't know you were so serious about it. Please, contact me at KGS asap, and I'll give you my PayPal account. We can also discuss the details over there. ;-)
        • Steve: And as an added bonus, the game name can become an awful pun for some of the players who don't like traveling to space.
  • yuri?: you don't need to put magnets in the pins, just turn them in a lathe using a round profile cutting tool to make three indentations. in moderate volume you could make them out of aluminum for $0.50 each. to build the board, drill a 19x19 grid in a piece of sheet with a cnc mill. each hole then gets expanded for most of its length with a larger drill. the remaining material at the bottom of the hole is cut into four quadrants will with small endmill. the board is flipped and realigned, and each hole has a ring cut around it. now the pins will snap into place in three positions at each intersection of the board. the first one could be fabricated for <$1000, the next 10 at $500, the next 100 at $200

VertiGo last edited by on February 15, 2013 - 06:43
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