I was inspired by Stas Kurlin's Nim game to write my own. I'm new to Haskell, and quite unfamiliar with monads, do notation, and -- in general -- functional design patterns.

In the game of nim, two players begin with a number of sized piles, e.g. piles of stones. Each player moves by taking a (non-zero) number of stones from one pile. The winning player is the one who takes the last stone (i.e. the one who makes every pile size identically zero).

In my game, a NimPosition is a Map from Word64s to Word64s, where the keys are distinct pile sizes, and the values are the number of piles with that size.

The user interacts with the game by entering space-separated pile sizes, which are then parsed into a list of Word64s, and these Word64s are converted to a NimPosition using the fromList function.

The goal of this Map implementation is to ensure that each NimPosition has a unique representation without making the user have to think too hard about how to enter a position during play. However, I'm not too Data.Map is necessary; it makes more sense to me now to have a NimPosition be a list of Word64s, and ensure that each NimPosition is unique by having fromList be a sort function.

The function nextMove (which I realize now is not a terribly descriptive name) calculates the optimal move to make from a given NimPosition. In the case that the bitwise-xor (aka nim-sum) of all the pile sizes isn't zero, then the optimal play is the (not necessarily unique) move that makes the nim-sum zero. If the nim-sum is already zero, there is no way to make it zero, so there is no optimal move.

(In this case nextMove reduces the size of the largest pile by one; I don't have any good reason why, except that it probably makes it inconvenient for the human opponent, who must calculate the nim-sum to play optimally, but probably can't calculate the bitwise-xor or a list of large integers as fast as she could a list of smaller integers.)

(See this)

Like I said, I'm unfamiliar with Haskell and design patterns in general. But this is my first Haskell program of any length, but I guess ya gotta start somewhere.


import qualified Data.Bits as Bit
import qualified Data.Map  as Map
import Data.Word       (Word64)
import Data.List       
import Data.Char

data NimPosition = NimPosition (Map.Map Word64 Word64)
                 deriving (Eq)
-- A NimPosition is constructed from a map from Word64 to Word64. The
-- keys correspond to the distinct pile sizes, and the values
-- correspond to the number of piles with that size.

data Player = Human
            | Computer

data GameState = Game
                 { player   :: Player
                 , position :: NimPosition }

data Bit = Bit Bool
         deriving (Eq, Ord)

data Binary = Binary [Bit]
            deriving (Eq, Ord)

insertWithCounts :: Word64
                 -> Map.Map Word64 Word64
                 -> Map.Map Word64 Word64
-- Insert an Word64 into a map as a key. If that Word64 is already present
-- in the map as a key, then increase the value by 1. If the Word64 is
-- not already present, give it the default value of 1.
insertWithCounts pileSize oldMap =
  Map.insertWith (\_ y -> y + 1) pileSize 1 oldMap        

fromList :: [Word64] -> NimPosition
-- Construct a NimPosition from a list of Word64, where each Word64 is a
-- pile.
fromList xs = NimPosition (foldr insertWithCounts Map.empty xs)

toList :: NimPosition -> [Word64]
-- Convert a NimPosition into a list of Word64, where each Word64 in the list
-- corresponds to a pile.
toList (NimPosition position) = 
    let pileSizes = Map.keys  position
        pileQtys  = Map.elems position
        pileLists = zipWith replicate (map fromIntegral pileQtys) pileSizes
    in foldr1 (++) pileLists

instance Show NimPosition where
  show = unwords . map show . toList

instance Show GameState where
  show (Game Human position) = "Computer's play....=> " ++ show position ++ "\n"
                               ++ "Your turn..........=> "
  show (Game Computer position) = ""

toBit 0 = Bit False
toBit _ = Bit True

instance Show Bit where
  show (Bit False) = "0"
  show (Bit True ) = "1"

toBitList :: Integral a => a -> [Bit]
toBitList 0 = []
toBitList n = let (q, r) = n `divMod` 2
              in (toBit r) : toBitList q

toBinary :: Integral a => a -> Binary
toBinary n = (Binary . toBitList) n

instance Show Binary where
  show (Binary bitList) = concat $ (map show) . reverse $ bitList

positionSum :: NimPosition -> Word64
-- Compute the bitwise xor of the pile sizes.
positionSum position = foldr1 (Bit.xor) (toList position)

winning :: NimPosition -> Bool
-- According to Bouton's theorem, a position in nim is winning if the
-- bitwise exclusive or of the pile sizes is exactly zero.
winning position = (positionSum position == 0)

losing :: NimPosition -> Bool
losing position = (sum . toList) position == 1

terminal :: NimPosition -> Bool
terminal position = (sum . toList) position == 0

findNumWithLeadingBit :: [Word64] -> Maybe Word64
findNumWithLeadingBit xs
    | maxBinaryLengthIsUnique = lookup maxBinaryLength lengthValueAlist
    | otherwise               = Nothing
    where binaryExpansions        = map (show . toBinary) xs
          binaryLengths           = map length binaryExpansions
          lengthValueAlist        = zip binaryLengths xs
          maxBinaryLength         = maximum binaryLengths
          numsWithMaxBinaryLength = filter (== maxBinaryLength) binaryLengths
          maxBinaryLengthIsUnique = length numsWithMaxBinaryLength == 1

isValidMove :: NimPosition -> NimPosition -> Bool
isValidMove prevPosition nextPosition =
  let prevPiles              = toList prevPosition
      nextPiles              = toList nextPosition
      pilesNotInPrevPosition = nextPiles \\ prevPiles
      pilesNotInNextPosition = prevPiles \\ nextPiles
  in case (pilesNotInNextPosition, pilesNotInPrevPosition) of
      (originalSize:[],resultantSize:[]) | resultantSize < originalSize -> True
                                         | otherwise                    -> False
      _ -> False

nextMove :: NimPosition -> NimPosition
nextMove prevPosition =
  if winning prevPosition then
    let prevList = (reverse . toList) prevPosition
        nextList = (head prevList - 1) : (tail prevList)
    in fromList nextList
  let prevList = toList prevPosition
  in case findNumWithLeadingBit prevList of
    Just bigPile -> fromList (newPile:otherPiles)
      where otherPiles = delete bigPile prevList
            newPile    = foldr1 (Bit.xor) otherPiles

    Nothing -> head possibleMoves
      where remainingPiles   = zipWith delete prevList (repeat prevList)
            remainingNimSums = map (foldr1 Bit.xor) remainingPiles
            candidateLists   = zipWith (:) remainingNimSums remainingPiles
            candidateMoves   = map fromList candidateLists
            possibleMoves    = filter (isValidMove prevPosition) candidateMoves

readIntListFromString :: String -> [Word64]
readIntListFromString input = case readIntFromString input of
  (Nothing, _)              -> []
  (Just intRead, remainder) -> intRead : (readIntListFromString remainder)

readIntFromString :: String -> (Maybe Word64, String)
readIntFromString string =
  let (_, newString)         = span (isSpace) string
      (intString, remainder) = span (isNumber) newString
      numberRead             = case null intString of
                                True  -> Nothing
                                False -> Just (read intString)
  in (numberRead, remainder)

getIntList :: IO [Word64]
getIntList = do
  line <- getLine
  let intListRead = readIntListFromString line in
   case null intListRead of
    True  -> do
      putStrLn "Parse error: can't read list of integers"
    False -> return intListRead

getNimPosition :: IO NimPosition
getNimPosition = do
  intList <- getIntList
  return $ fromList intList

getValidNimPosition :: NimPosition -> IO NimPosition
getValidNimPosition oldPosition = do
  newPosition <- getNimPosition
  case isValidMove oldPosition newPosition of
   False -> do
     putStrLn "Player error: not a valid position"
     getValidNimPosition oldPosition
   True  -> return newPosition

takeTurns :: Maybe GameState -> IO (Maybe GameState)
takeTurns Nothing = do putStrLn "Game Over!"; return Nothing
takeTurns (Just currentState) =
  let currentPosition = position currentState in
  do (putStr . show) currentState
     case (losing currentPosition) || (terminal currentPosition) of
      True -> takeTurns Nothing
      _ ->
        case player currentState of
         Computer ->
           let computersNextMove = nextMove $ position currentState
               nextState = currentState { player   = Human,
                                       position = computersNextMove}
           in takeTurns $ Just nextState
         Human -> do
           playersNextMove <- getValidNimPosition $ position currentState
           let nextState = currentState { player   = Computer
                                        , position = playersNextMove} in do
             takeTurns $ Just nextState

data YesNo = Yes | No

getYesOrNo :: IO (YesNo)
getYesOrNo = do
  input <- getLine
  case input of
   "yes" -> return Yes
   "y"   -> return Yes
   "no"  -> return No
   "n"   -> return No
   _     -> do putStr "Please enter 'yes' or 'no': "; getYesOrNo

introduceGame :: IO ()
introduceGame = putStrLn
  "Welcome to Nim! To get started, enter your initial position, e.g. '1 3 5'"

main = do
  putStr "Initial position   => "
  startingPosition <- getNimPosition
  let initialGameState = Just Game { player = Computer
                                   , position = startingPosition }
    in takeTurns initialGameState
  putStr "Would you like to continue? (y/n): "
  shouldContinue <- getYesOrNo
  case shouldContinue of
   Yes -> main
   No  -> do putStrLn "Goodbye!"; return ()
  • \$\begingroup\$ This won't build due to a dependency on Data.List.Util, which I think must be a module the OP wrote. To build, remove that import and change the Show instance for NimPosition, I believe unwords . map show . toList is equivalent. \$\endgroup\$
    – bisserlis
    Jan 28, 2015 at 0:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @bisserlis Not only equivalent, but simpler too. I've edited the code to remove the dependency following your suggestion. (The library Data.List.Utils is in fact provided by MissingH.) \$\endgroup\$ Jan 28, 2015 at 2:45

1 Answer 1


Some ideas:

  • For Bit and Binary use newtype rather than data to get rid of data's run-time overhead.
  • Instead of custom Bits you could use the Data.Bits instance of Integer. This would simplify or remove a lot related code.
  • As you noted, for NimPosition you could either use just a list, or even a multi-set.
  • For findNumWithLeadingBit function maximumBy seems to be useful. Or perhaps even more simplified, something like (untested)

      withLengths = map (id &&& (length . show . toBinary)) xs
      maxBinaryLength = maximum . map snd $ withLengths
      numsWithMaxBinaryLength = filter ((== maxBinaryLength) . snd) withLengths
      maxBinaryLengthIsUnique = length numsWithMaxBinaryLength == 1
  • Rather than if it's often more readable to use guards, for example:

    nextMove prevPosition | winning prevPosition = ...
                          | otherwise = ...
  • Code that tries various options, to eventually find one that matches some criteria, can be often nicely expressed using the [] or Maybe monad using MonadPlus functions. Package monadplus has more useful functions, for example mfromList.
  • It's strongly recommended to include types for all top-level functions.

Otherwise nice program! I also like that you meaningfully named variables, this really helps reading the code.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @peter, so grateful for your comments. I did this project this a year and a half ago when I was new to Haskell, and I would have done so many things differently (e.g., including a cabal file!). I'll definitely take your suggestion on MonadPlus. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 19, 2016 at 3:20

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