There's just a lot to learn here, and since I play games to learn, I'll play Dots and Boxes pretty much any time. (On paper, of course. The way I figure it, when I mark a game as owned, I'm saying if you come over my place, we might play this. So while the same pencil might be used, Boxes is owned, but Tic-Tac-Toe isn't.)
What makes Dots and Boxes attractive is that is has both strategy and tactics. The "chain rule" tells you how many chains you want to make in order to have control at the end, but it doesn't tell you how to make them, so there's still some tension. And since chain-counting is based on parity, you might change your goal midstream, going for say two chains instead of four.
Of course, since chain-counting is based on parity, the game has little clarity, which is its greatest drawback, and why it is often described as dry and boring. Nobody's going to peek over your shoulder while you're playing and note thoughtfully that it looks like there's going to be an odd number of chains. But so what. It's still a very interesting game.
I found two quotes in David Parlett's The Oxford History of Board Games
, in relation to the game of Go
, that describe what I like so much about Dots and Boxes:
David Parlett wrote:
To the non-player, the opening moves of a game between experts appears baffling in its inconsequentiality, each in turn placing a stone on the board apparently at random and with no discernable pattern or logic. Gradually out of the mists of formlessness, there begin to crystallize suggestions of small chains or groups...
(Unfortunately, most players of Dots and Boxes are "non-players" in this sense. And the crystallization process happens much quicker in Dots and Boxes, especially on the 5x5 grid that I'm used to from online play, but being less subtle than Go can hardly be considered an indictment.)
The skill of the game, to experts, and its mystery, to non-players, lies in recognizing which areas are safe and which unsafe, and concentrating on the latter.
Possibly this is even greater an issue in Dots and Boxes, since at that stage of the game, the snippets of territory into which the board is divided do net yet belong to one player or the other. Sacrifice
is incredibly important in Dots and Boxes, but this takes 50-100 plays to figure out.
I suspect that most variants, such as having different boxes carry different point values, are going to boil down to the same thing mathematically. I suppose once you've mastered a lot of openings, a little Hey-That's-My-Fish-style randomness in the setup could keep things fresh. Nowhere near there.