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Subject: A classic modern abstract rss

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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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1. Introduction

I bought my copy of Twixt, the 3M bookcase edition, a few years back. When building my collection, I had heard that this was one of the classic modern abstracts and that it could not simply be played easily with DIY equipment. Even though I received it as part of a bundle obtained in an auction, this was the game i most wanted in the bundle, and this was the game I broke out immediately to play that same night-- now a few years ago. This game has had a special fascination for me ever since.

So, naturally enough, after I married my wife who is also a huge fan of abstracts, I introduced her to Twixt. While I don't think that I'd go so far as to say she hated the game, she certainly wasn't impressed. This thread resulted in which I tried to get some help addressing my wife's concerns about the game. My conclusion is that simply I did not know the game so very well, and so when my wife had some initial bad experiences with the game, I was not really able to show her where and why thing's had gotten off to a bad start. Yet, I did my best to stick to it, and this past shabbat, my wonderful wife saw that the game did not have the flaws she thought-- although she had perfectly valid reasons for thinking otherwise at the time.

The point of this review therefore is in part to address the concerns a person, even a fan of abstracts, might have with this game initially. The issue lies perhaps in the fact that Twixt looks deceptively simple. One can and in some sense should jump right in and start playing the first chance one gets. The draw-back to that approach is that one mayn't necessarily understand the depths of the game this way.

2. Rules and components


Rules are fairly simple. The board, a 24x24 grid of holes (although the outermost row of holes along any edge is behind a line), starts empty. Two parallel edges are marked with a red line which sets off the last row of holes, and the other two parallel edges are marked off similarly with black lines. Pieces consist of pegs and connection pieces which look like double-ended spanners, and these pieces come in two colors (red and black) for the two players.

The connecting pieces can link any two pegs a knight's move apart. The object of the game is to link parallel edges of the board.

Pegs can be placed in any empty hole on the board except behind the line of the opponent's color at the edge of the board. Connecting pieces can be placed on as many or any pieces as desired.

Red goes first. Some other rules exist but rarely come up, apart from the fact that the second player has the option of switching sides after the first move in order to minimize first player advantage.

3. Gameplay

The board itself introduces the first level in tactical play. To borrow a diagram from a response by BGG user molnar in the earlier thread I linked to, albeit the diagram uses black and white in lieu of black and red, one can see the natural positions of strength for each side.

Within the triangle whose base is a side, the player who controls that side has a natural advantage. This lets a player know where to try to establish a connection with hopes of being able to make it to the desired side of the board.

Tactics then enter play because both players are trying both to link their own sides of the board and to block the other player's attempts to do similarly. Herein lies another less obvious level of play. If the portion of gameplay mentioned above can be thought of as offensive play, then this aspect can similarly be roughly described as defensive play. Suppose for example that black has started a path well within the appropriate areas of the board to make a potentially winning drive to the edge, but red wants to stop it. The best response I have been able to find, is if in this example red were to first place a peg at least two moves ahead of black in continuing its path but along the same row as where black last placed a peg. Then to whichever side of that row black places its next peg, red also places its next peg so that red creates a barrier across the projected path. The difficulty lies in identifying and stopping the path soon enough.

I do not yet consider myself an expert at this game, although I have played many times. This is one of the simple but elegant and endlessly deep abstracts. For those who like abstracts, the game is a must-have. One should just not expect to plumb its depths easily-- only with lots and lots of practice.
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whac3 wrote:
For those who like abstracts, the game is a must-have. One should just not expect to plumb its depths easily-- only with lots and lots of practice.

I realize "must-have" is figurative, but it raises a question I've often asked myself: How many games, or even just abstracts, are really must-haves, considering how much practice it takes to get good at just one of them?

Part of me has always wanted to pick just one game and stick with it long enough to master it--or get as close to mastery as my aptitude and remaining years will allow. But then there's that restless other part of me which won't sit still for any such thing.

Largely against my will, I've ended up dabbling at games all my life and sometimes collecting them (yes, I have a copy of Twixt on a closet shelf). I really wish I could find a gem that shines especially bright for me so that I could spend the requisite time plumbing its depths.

Just musing aloud.
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Russ Williams
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
I realize "must-have" is figurative, but it raises a question I've often asked myself: How many games, or even just abstracts, are really must-haves, considering how much practice it takes to get good at just one of them?

Since you know it's figurative, you know that the answer is that of course NO GAME is truly "must have", since for every game X, billions of people successfully live their lives without X...

I've always understood "must have" in the context of reviews to mean "this game is a classic; it is unusually well worth checking out". But for every "must have" game, plenty of people might play it and sincerely explore it and ultimately decide that they don't actually have to own it.
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George Leach
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Not to mention that pencil and paper is an excellent way to play the game, hence ownership isn't really required. I don't feel bad about suggesting this either as it's no longer available new. The minor difference in gameplay is only apparent after plumbing a significatn proportion of the depths...

Great game (and I now own it).
 
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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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Jugular wrote:
Not to mention that pencil and paper is an excellent way to play the game, hence ownership isn't really required. I don't feel bad about suggesting this either as it's no longer available new. The minor difference in gameplay is only apparent after plumbing a significatn proportion of the depths...

Great game (and I now own it).

The reason this is not actually a pencil and paper game is because connections can always be modified on one's turn. Namely one could in principle remove all links of one's own pieces and entirely rearrange them on a turn if one so desired.

In practice though, this has never come up in my games.
 
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George Leach
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As I pointed out.
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Twixt » Forums » Reviews
Re: A classic modern abstract
Standard Twixt on a physical set is not exactly the same game as Twixt on pencil and paper, but they are close enough that they are usually both referred to as Twixt. If games on the Net are counted, there may now be more Twixt PP (paper & pencil) games played on the Little Golem turn based server than all the games ever played with a board. In PP, links are never removed, but your own links are allowed to cross each other. A winning path might loop across itself, which could never happen with a physical set. Some players prefer PP rules, as draws are even more rare, but IMO they are plenty rare enough with standard rules, and much greater complexity can ensue with link removal, which I regard as a plus.

According to the history as I have been told, Twixt originated as a paper and pencil game played by school children in Bavaria around 1953. Alex Randolph developed the board game version around 1958, and Klaus Munro independently developed "Imuri" around 1959. Munro became rich and rather famous for writing song lyrics, and lost interest in defending any rights he might have had for Imuri. His version was on a 30x30 grid, but the production quality was not as good as it was for Twixt.

Back in the days before the Internet, some players in Europe decided to play by snail mail. They all agreed to modify the rules, without Alex Randolph's approval. In their games, links could be removed, but links could be added only to the peg just placed. The only way to add a link to a peg of yours already on the board was to spend a turn without adding a new peg to the board. Instead, you could remove your peg, place it back in the same hole, and then you could add links to it. The players felt this modification was necessary to avoid "abuse of the system" where a player might superfluously remove links and add them back on a later move. Nobody plays by those modified rules today.

I'm glad to hear your wife does not despise Twixt as much any more.
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