Tantrix Strategy Game
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The World's Most Twisted Strategy Game challenges players to manipulate the hexagonal-shaped tiles together to form the longest loop or line of continuous color.
But each player has the same objective, so skillful moves and a competitive spirit are needed to play, and to conquer, this award-winning strategy game.
Get caught up in the fun--let Tantrix knock you for a loop!
I imagine that every games collector has a fund of lucky stories. Well, one of mine is Tantrix. You all know those unsolicited mail-order catalogues that wear out the doormat. Usually it's first stop: recycling bin. Just before Christmas, though, I was idly leafing through one called Brainwaves when I spotted what appeared to be an interesting tile laying game. And I'm glad I did.
There are a number of good tile laying games: Maestro, Spectrangle, Die Schlangen von Delhi, Kunst Stücke, etc. A subset of such games can generically be termed 'dominoes'. These are characterised by a set of individually distinct tiles with abstract patterns--either geometric or numeric. Scoring is for clearing one's hand and/or playing one's tiles to form specific patterns. Purists might also insist upon a 'free form' playing surface, ie no underlying board. Tantrix belongs firmly to the dominoes family.
Each Tantrix tile is a regular hexagon with a trio of different coloured tracks joining the edges in 3 pairs. With 4 available colours, mathematicians may like to verify that 64 different tiles are possible. Tantrix omits those whose tracks connect three pairs of opposite edges and thus a complete set is 56 tiles.
The game is for 2-4 players, each of whom selects one of the track colours. Their aim is simply to form (when all possible tiles have been laid) the longest continuous track in their own colour. Length is measured in units of tiles traversed and there is a double score bonus for closed loops. Naturally, each player scores for their best line or loop. The size of each player's hand is six tiles, visible to all players (like Spectrangle). Tiles may only be played adjacent to another tile (except the first tile, of course!) and track colours must match at every common edge.
Central to the game mechanics is the notion of a 'forced space'. This is a vacant space adjacent to precisely three tiles. There are three constraints on tile play: you are not allowed to
At a macroscopic level, strategy seems a bit limited. I've experimented in several games with different building techniques, but they all failed dismally. There's only one sensible thing to do: choose a track and concentrate on extending it as far as possible. However, the closed loop bonus entails some interesting mid-game decisions. "Do I fancy my chances of reaching 23 tiles enough to force opponent A into a closed loop of 11?" or "Should I threaten a loop worth 20, my opponents will be forced to collaborate to ensure that none of them has to fill the gap and this will occupy them sufficiently for my 19 tiles to win?" Typically, winning scores are in the low to mid-twenties.
There are a number of tactical considerations. The most rapid way of propagating a track is indirectly, leaving gaps which the forced move rule causes other players to fill. The immediate counter-tactic is for the opponents to create matching forced spaces elsewhere. Whoever then has to play a particular tile obviously chooses the least damaging option. Similarly, if any opponent has what appears to be a highly useful tile, it can be diverted from the desired destination by creating a forced space to match it--great fun, though very annoying for the owner!
Due to the random nature of drawing tiles from stock, these tactics are only practicable intermittently. Rather like Bridge, a lot of the play is fairly routine. Nevertheless, again like Bridge, one must be constantly alert to the possibility of any tactical finesse. Games are always close and it is precisely such details which make the difference between winning and losing. The chance element is emphasised by replenishing one's hand throughout each turn. This is not totally satisfactory but could conceivably be a blessing in disguise. If four dedicated players are presented with complete information for the next round ahead, the calculations become extremely complex and it's easy to imagine how long a game might take!
Summarising, the merits of Tantrix are very much dependent upon one's expectations. It is not going to provide a highly original or especially new concept in tile laying. Nor is it a profound intellectual challenge. On the other hand, if you fancy trying what essentially is a dominoes variant, then Tantrix ranks very easily with the best of the genre. The quality of the Bakelite tiles is excellent and they come with a zip-up cloth storage pouch.
Finally, if the local highways department has just severed your internet connection, or if you have the black bits in the middle of three rock-solid Anglo-French, Austro-Italian and Russo-Ottoman alliances, then Tantrix has an additional attraction. The rules booklet includes a number of solo puzzles. These are graded 1 to 10 for difficulty and range from simple matching of six tiles to forming double closed loops across 44 of the 56 tiles. And no, I haven't done the latter yet!