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Richard Bogle
Richard Bogle

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Minefield Game in F#

Here's a small console game, Minefield.fsx, that illustrates, succinctly, some useful features of F# when designing in a domain driven fashion.

The game can be played from the terminal:

dotnet fsi .\minefield.fsx

The Brief

An engineering company is using the Minefield game as a screen for their software engineering hires.

"In the game a player navigates from one side of a chessboard grid to the other whilst trying to avoid hidden mines. The player has a number of lives, losing one each time a mine is hit, and the final score is the number of moves taken in order to reach the other side of the board. The command line / console interface should be simple, allowing the player to input move direction (up, down, left, right) and the game to show the resulting position (e.g. C2 in chess board terminology) along with number of lives left and number of moves taken."

They aren't looking for the game to be developed so much as to give a framework to show that the software engineers can apply a full test harness with dependency injection, etc.. This naturally leads to a lot of "Enterprise FizzBuzz" code that is quite horrible to see. The company in question asks the developers to post their efforts on Github in public repos so if you want to you can easily find examples of just how terrible this code looks.

Why F#?

F# has a number of features that makes it much easier to model a domain, with events, in a safe manner. This code illustrates these features in places.


Elements like the Player, the Board and the Mines can be created as F# Records. The whole of the Game can be a Record, too.

type Game =
    { Player: Player
      Mines: Mine list
      Board: Board
      History: Moved list }
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The state changes can be modelled as Discriminated Unions. For instance, the player's move will either be safe, result in a bang, or be off the board (i.e. not allowed).

type Moved =
    | Moved of Player
    | Exploded of Player
    | OutOfBounds of Player
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The whole game state can be easily tracked with another Discriminated Union (DU):

type GameState =
    | Active of Game
    | Won of Game
    | Lost of Game
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These states are things that would normally be tracked with flags in your code, like isGameOver or hasWon. The advantage with the type system is we can use the compiler to check that we've handled all the cases.

Once we've thought through a few Records and DU types with which to model our domain we have a clear framework to hang our code on.

Pattern Matching

When we want to update the game with the player's move we can use the GameState type:

let update (gameState: GameState) (direction: Direction) : GameState =
    let hasDied player = player.Lives = 0
    let hasEscaped board player = player.Position = board.Limit

    match gameState with
    | Active game ->
        let game' = move game direction

        if game'.Player |> hasDied then Lost game'
        elif game'.Player |> hasEscaped game'.Board then Won game'
        else Active game'
    | Won _ -> gameState
    | Lost _ -> gameState
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Note that Won and Lost here aren't doing anything but returning the game state. They wouldn't be called if the game was won or lost but the compiler is checking for them. We could just ignore these other elements of the DU but that's giving up an advantage of the language. So why have the Won and Lost cases at all?

let display gameState =
    match gameState with
    | Active game -> display' game
    | Won game ->
        display' game
        printfn "You Won!"
    | Lost game ->
        display' game
        printfn "You Lost!"
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The domain logic isn't coupled to the UI logic but the UI, such as it is, can still use the different cases.

This code example also shows the simple power of pattern matching. We can rest easy knowing that all of the cases must be handled or the compiler will flag the error. We can also simply decompose the type to use the sub-types, for instance, to get the Game from the GameState.

It may be taking it a little far but I've even created types for a column and a row for each position on the board.

type Row = Row of int
type Col = Col of int

type Position = { x: Row y: Col }

    let addRow (Row row) (Row n) = Row(row + n)
    match direction with
    | Left -> { position with x = addRow position.x (Row -1) }
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Now we have to explicitly use row and column types when we create a position. It's a good example of how the type system can help us guard against silly errors.


When we need to update the game state, say when the player has exploded and lost a life, we have to create a new game state:

    elif isMine position then
            { player with
                Lives = player.Lives - 1
                Position = position }
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We have a guarantee that no part of our code can reach into, for instance, the Lives field and change it without our being aware of it. You can also see from the above code example that in using the with keyword we can easily create a new record with only the values updated that we explicitly want updated.


It's the basis of a great deal of game code to have a game loop. If this were in an imperative language we'd have a while loop that would run until the game was over. In F# we tend to use recursion to achieve the same thing. We can even have inner loops by having recursive functions inside other recursive functions.

      let rec getDirection () =
              let key = Console.ReadKey().KeyChar

              match key with
              | 'w' -> Up
              | 'a' -> Left
              | 's' -> Down
              | 'd' -> Right
              | _ -> raise (InvalidDirection "Invalid direction")
          with e ->
              printfn "%s. Try again!" e.Message
              getDirection ()

      let game' = getDirection () |> update game
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In the above code we even have our own custom exception, InvalidDirection, that we can throw and catch to handle an error. The recursion, in this case, can continue.

exception InvalidDirection of string
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F# is a concise language. You may prefer its ability to see a large amount of meaningful code in each paragraph rather than a lot of punctuation.

    let player' =
        direction |> nextPosition player.Position |> moved player <| game.Mines
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A mixture of pipelines and function composition makes for very succinct code that's easy to hold in your head.


The above code is no more than excerpts from a trivial script for a console game. It does illustrate how efficient F# is when you choose to model your domain first and foremost. The type system and the compiler will help you ensure that you've covered all the cases and that you're not making any silly mistakes. Hopefully you'll want to try and use F# for your next project and hopefully you'll avoid writing the next Enterprise FizzBuzz.

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