Cameron Browne

Spargo is similar to Go on a small 4x4 board, but played with marbles which may stack upwards. A special capture rule means that pinned pieces survive capture.


Equipment: The board consists of a 4x4 square grid of holes. Two players, White and Black, each have at least 15 marbles of their colour.

Play: The board is initially empty. Play is the same as for Margo:

  • Players take turns adding a piece of their colour either at an empty board hole or stacked on four existing pieces of any colour.
  • Any group with no freedom (adjacent empty board hole) is captured and removed. Enemy groups are captured first.
  • Captured pieces that support any enemy piece(s) are not removed.

Other: Overpasses cut underpasses. The last turn's board position cannot be repeated (ko rule). Suicide moves are not allowed. Passing is not allowed.

Aim: The game ends when a player has no legal moves. The player with the most marbles in play wins.


The example on the right shows a capture by White x.

Note that the two Black pieces that support the central White piece are not removed. Such pieces are called zombies as they are technically dead yet remain active in the game, often to devastating effect.



Spargo is exactly 4x4 Margo. The reason for distinguishing it as a separate game is that the 4x4 grid imparts some interesting properties that give Spargo a significantly different nature. While the 4x4 grid was initially tried in an effort to dismiss this small board size as trivial, expectations were overturned when the 4x4 version came alive as a game in its own right!

The most obvious difference is that players have very little room in which to make two eyes for any group, hence group safety is difficult to achieve and capture is always imminent. Spargo is a fast moving game that does not involve long passages of cold filling-in moves as may occur in Margo.

Secondly, the fact that pinned pieces are not removed means that most captures will leave some enemy pieces behind. This can have surprising repurcussions as the small board size means that such pinned survivors may constitute relatively large forces, and their pinned status makes them temporarily safe; it is not uncommon for pinned survivors to unexpectedly swing the game in the enemy's favour (as shown in Puzzle #1). Spargo games tend to involve cycles of capture and recapture until the board stabilises to a solution, and it can be difficult to gauge who will win from a given board position.

Freedoms exist only at the board level! This is the most common question about the game. If you have trouble visualising freedoms then the following analogy by Daniel Shultz might help: each group is tree rooted on the board, and if its roots are suffocated (surrounded) it dies.

15 marbles of each colour should suffice for most (all?) games. A complete stacking of the 4x4 board requires 30 marbles but no game of Spargo will ever reach this limit.

Puzzle #1

White to play.

What is White's best move and who will win?

Click here for the answer. You might be surprised!

Puzzle #2

Who will win, regardless of who plays next?

Click here for the answer. Another surprise.


Spargo by Cameron Browne (c) 2011 based on Margo (c) 2006.

The "SP" prefix denotes that Spargo is a Square Pyramidal 4x4 or SP4 game.

Margo can be played on Richard's PBeM server - check out the help file for more details (specify -size=4 to play Spargo). Please challenge me (camb) to a game any time.

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Site designed by Cameron Browne © 2011.