Lab 3: Minimax Search and Alpha-Beta Pruning
Due Oct. 3 by midnight

In this lab you will be writing agents that use depth-bounded Minimax search with Alpha-Beta pruning to play Mancala and Breakthrough. In Mancala, players take turns grabbing all of the stones from one house on their side of the board and sowing them counterclockwise. The objective is to end the game with the most pieces in one's scoring house. In Breakthrough, players take turns advancing pawn-like pieces on a rectangular board. The objective is to get a single piece to the opponent's end of the board. The examples below show a mid-game board state from each game.

 |    | 0 | 7 | 1 | 0 | 1 | 0 |    |
 | 13 |-----------------------| 14 |
>|    | 0 | 1 | 3 | 3 | 5 | 0 |    |<

|· · · · |
|· ·  · |
|·    |
|  · · ·|
| ·   |
|· ·   ·|
|· · · · |

The following Wikipedia pages have complete rulesets for each game. Note that Mancala has many, many variants, so if you have played it before, you might have used different rules.

Starting point code

As in the previous lab, use Teammaker to form your team. You can log in to that site to indicate your partner preference. Once you and your partner have specified each other and the lab has been released, a GitHub repository will be created for your team.


The objectives of this lab are to:

You will need to modify these files:

You should also look over the following files:

To see the available command-line options for game play try running:

./ -h
Then try playing Breakthrough against a really terrible opponent by running:
./ breakthrough random human --show
And try playing Mancala against your lab partner by running:
./ mancala human human --show
Try playing several games (and refer to the Wikipedia links above) to make sure you understand the rules of each game.

Review the Game Implementations

Open the files and to review the methods that have been provided. Notice that both games represent the board as 2-dimensional array of integers, but otherwise have different internal semantics. In Breakthrough, blank spaces are 0s, the first player's pieces are +1s, and the second player's pieces are -1s. In Mancala, the non-scoring houses are represented by one array, and the scoring houses are represented by another. Both games provide several methods and attributes that you should make use of in your search:

Open the files and to see how we will be implementing game-playing agents. The HumanPlayer and RandomPlayer classes are provided to make your testing easier. All players must implement a getMove() method that takes a game instance representing the current state and returns one of the legal moves from that state.

Basic Static Evaluators

In the file, implement the basic static evaluation methods for both Mancala and Breakthrough.

Your static evaluators should:

The comments within each basic method explain how you should evaluate the boards. At the bottom of the file there is a testing section. Some test code has been provided for the Mancala basic static evaluator. Add your own test code for Breakthrough.

Once you are confident that your basic static evaluators are working you can move on to implementing the search itself. Save the better Breakthrough evaluator for later.

Bounded Minimax

Next focus on the file, and complete the following steps:

In the file, implement the MinMaxPlayer.getMove() method which should run a helper method to conduct a bounded Minimax search (the pseudocode is given below). Minimax will return the best value found for the current player. However, we need to determine the move associated with the best value found. To do this, the Minimax search will update a class variable to represent the best move found. This move is what you will need to return from the getMove() method.

bounded_min_max(state, depth)
   if depth limit reached or state is terminal
       return staticEval(state)
   # init bestValue depending on who's turn it is
   bestValue = turn * -infinity 
   for each move from state:
       determine the next_state
       # Recursive call
       value = bounded_min_max(next_state, depth+1)
       if player is maximizer
          if value > bestValue
             bestValue = value
             if depth is 0, update bestMove to current move
       else # player is minimizer
          if value < bestValue
             bestValue = value
             if depth is 0, update bestMove to current move
   return bestValue

Thoroughly test Minimax. During testing, add print statements during single games to track the values coming back from recursive calls. Remember that positive values are good for the maximizer and negative values are good for the minimizer.

Once you are confident that Minimax is working properly, remove the print statements and do more extensive tests using a series of games. Even with a depth limit of 1, your MinMaxPlayer should win the significant majority of games against a random player. In general, an agent with depth D should lose or at best tie against an agent with depth D+2.

You can set the depth using the -d1 and -d2 arguments (for player 1 and player 2 respectively). By default the depths are set to 4. The following command plays a game between two minmax agents where player 1 uses depth 2 and player 2 uses depth 4:

./ mancala minmax minmax -d1 2 -d2 4 --show
You can also have your agent play several games (alternating sides) and report the results:
./ mancala minmax random -d1 2 -games 10
You should also try playing against it yourself!
./ mancala minmax human -d1 4 --show

Alpha-Beta Pruning

Next, you should implement Minimax search with alpha-beta pruning in the PruningPlayer class. Note that alpha-beta pruning should always return the same moves that Minimax would, but it can potentially do so much more efficiently by cutting off search down branches that will not change the outcome of the search. You should make sure that your agents are exploring moves in the same order and breaking ties in the same way so that you can check the correctness of alpha-beta pruning by comparing it to standard Minimax. You can run two games between your pruning and Minimax players as follows:
./ mancala minmax pruning -games 2
Note that these agents should be equally matched; pruning should just make decisions faster.

Better Static Evaluation Function

Come up with an improved static evaluator for the breakthrough game and implement it in the file

Your goal is to create an evaluator that will beat the basic evaluator function when tested using minimax players with equal depth limits.

Write a clear and thorough comment with your betterEval method to describe how it works. If you add helper functions, be sure to include comments describing these as well. You can tell your agent which static evaluator to use via the -e1 and -e2 command line options. The default is to use the basic evaluator. The following command plays 2 games with agents that both search to depth 3, but use different static evaluators:

./ -games 2 breakthrough minmax minmax -d1 3 -d2 3 -e1 better -e2 basic

Submitting your code

Use git to add, commit, and push the files that you modified.