Spatial state-action features for general games

Dennis J.N.J. Soemers, Éric Piette, Matthew Stephenson, Cameron Browne

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In many board games and other abstract games, patterns have been used as features that can guide automated game-playing agents. Such patterns or features often represent particular configurations of pieces, empty positions, etc., which may be relevant for a game's strategies. Their use has been particularly prevalent in the game of Go, but also many other games used as benchmarks for AI research. In this paper, we formulate a design and efficient implementation of spatial state-action features for general games. These are patterns that can be trained to incentivise or disincentivise actions based on whether or not they match variables of the state in a local area around action variables. We provide extensive details on several design and implementation choices, with a primary focus on achieving a high degree of generality to support a wide variety of different games using different board geometries or other graphs. Secondly, we propose an efficient approach for evaluating active features for any given set of features. In this approach, we take inspiration from heuristics used in problems such as SAT to optimise the order in which parts of patterns are matched and prune unnecessary evaluations. This approach is defined for a highly general and abstract description of the problem—phrased as optimising the order in which propositions of formulas in disjunctive normal form are evaluated—and may therefore also be of interest to other types of problems than board games. An empirical evaluation on 33 distinct games in the Ludii general game system demonstrates the efficiency of this approach in comparison to a naive baseline, as well as a baseline based on prefix trees, and demonstrates that the additional efficiency significantly improves the playing strength of agents using the features to guide search.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103937
Number of pages32
JournalArtificial Intelligence
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


  • AI and games
  • General game playing
  • Ordering propositions
  • Pattern matching


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