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Subject: TwixT -- a twisting, winding road... rss

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K. David Ladage
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TwixT
By: Alex Randolph
Published: Avalon Hill (3M Bookshelf Series)
Web: http://www.gamerz.net/~pbmserv/Twixt/puzzles.html

===

A Brief History
If you have been reading my reviews, you know that I was a member of my High School Chess Team. One of the things we did as a part of that team, outside of Chess, was look for other games that were of the same ilk; meaning that they were generally abstract with no luck elements. We found a few we liked, a few we did not. And some became a part of our normal routines: TwixT was in this later category.

In chess, all of the pieces start on the board, and they start in fixed locations. In Go, the game board is a blank canvas. TwixT is like Go in this respect, and this can be intimidating to new players. In fact, to date, my wife has played about three moves of one game before she pushed the board away and said she would never do it again. :)

But if you can get over that dread-feeling of having to place a piece onto that vast field that is the board and hoping that this one thing is not going to doom you for the entire game... TwixT is a great, fun little two player game.

Bridging the Gap
Knight Move: Before you start playing this game, you should probably understand the concept of the 'knight move'. A 'knight move' is the L-shaped movement made by a knight in the game of chess. Bridges in this game are placed between pieces that are on the board and, if one of those pegs were a knight and this were the middle of a chess board, it could move to the another peg the player controls.

TwixT starts you off on a 24x24 grid of holes with the four corner holes 'filled in' (missing). The holes along the edges are called "border spaces". One player has sole claim to the north and south border spaces; the other player has sole claim to the east and west border spaces.

Players alternate placing pegs into the holes. A player cannot place a peg into a space that is occupied, or are a part of the border spaces his opponent has claim over. Other that this, a peg may be placed anywhere on the board.

Anytime a peg is places into a location where it is a 'knight move' away from another peg that player controls, they may place a bridge between those two pegs (assuming that the path of that bridge is not blocked by a previously placed bridge). A single play of a peg can result in the creation of multiple bridges.

If a player forms a continuous bridge that connects both of their collections of 'border spaces' then they win the game.


Simple Rules, Subtle Strategy
What I have posted in the previous section is, quite honestly, all there is to the game. The board seems large, but games between veteran players will last between 20 and 30 moves generally.

The 'knight move' element of the bridge connections makes for amazing strategic choices at all stages of the game. Setting up lines of pegs that offer multiple roads to connection and victory; getting ahead of a line your opponent if forming so that you have a couple of moves to form a wall to stop them. Lots and lots of choices. the game will have you learning about it for a long time. And just when you think you have the game figured out, it will surprise you and have you learning things anew.


Conclusions
If you like abstract games, and enjoy games without luck elements; if you are a fan of the game of Chess, Go, Hex, Hive, etc... Then this game is perfect for you. I cannot imagine someone in that set of people not enjoying this game. Unfortunately, to get it these days, you need to look overseas, to places like eBay, or thrift stores... as, sadly, nobody in the US produces it any longer.
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I'm one of those weird people then. I love abstracts, but loathed this game.
However, your review and description of the game were well executed.
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K. David Ladage
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ejtracer wrote:
I'm one of those weird people then. I love abstracts, but loathed this game.


May I ask what it was that you did not like? Just curious -- I love this game; and if you are a fan of abstract games, I would bbe very interested to know what aspect of it you didn't care for.
 
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Nice review. I have my original copy and it is one of the last games I'll ever part with. Glad to hear a new generation is discovering it. Lobby Hasbro for a reprint, they have the rights to Avalon Hill catalog.
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KDLadage wrote:
ejtracer wrote:
I'm one of those weird people then. I love abstracts, but loathed this game.


May I ask what it was that you did not like? Just curious -- I love this game; and if you are a fan of abstract games, I would bbe very interested to know what aspect of it you didn't care for.


I don't know why, but no matter how the game was played with my opponent and I, the first person to move always won. It really seemed to always come down to a race to place pieces, and the first player has the advantage in that case. In short, it really seemed a pointless exercise in sticking pegs into holes. I played the game with three different opponents, and watched others play it, thinking maybe it was just me playing badly and without developed strategy, but in every case the end "race" result was always the same.

It might just be one of those inexplicable cases where you just don't click with a game without a really good reason, other than you did not like it.
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K. David Ladage
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Fair enough. Thanks for sharing. meeple
 
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Andy Andersen
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Good review. I've had my copy for years and still enjoy playing it once in awhile.
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Skip Maloney
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This game actually made it to the tournament tables of the World Boardgaming Championships a few years ago. There was some very lively play that was predictably dominated by players with years of experience; an older crowd, generally.

It should be noted that first-timers with this game, when facing experienced players are going to get trounced. The experienced player, being aware of the OP's 'subtle strategies' involving the 'knight's move' will start placing pegs in strategic locations, while the newbie will just start placing pegs and connecting them, one at a time. The next thing you know, the experienced player has an unassailable line of fences, and the game, for all intents and purposes is over.

A common phenomena for the newcomer is that in reacting to a move by another player, he/she moves to counteract. First player extends his influence in his chosen direction, opponent reacts again. The next thing you know, one player has established a line of bridges moving in the direction he needs to go (north/south or east/west) while the reactionary opponent finds himself with a bunch of isolated pegs generally in a line, opposite to that he needs to move.

Basically, you want to force your opponent to react to your moves, instead of constantly reacting to his. The latter course of action is a recipe for disaster.

There is generally one area of vulnerability to a player's line of fences. There are sometimes two. Rarely, unless a player is, for whatever reason, working on two separate chains of links, are there more.

The end of a line of a player's linked pegs is always vulnerable, assuming that he is not close (say within three or four peg holes) to one of his borders. This end of a player's linked pegs is defined by an existing set of these linked pegs from one point to another. The point at which this continuous set of links stops (assuming that it's not behind his border, or, as noted, very close to it) is vulnerable; in other words, his current set of links can be stopped from further advancement (by you).

You need to back away. and you generally need to do so by the length of what's known as a 'setup.' This a number of spaces away from one peg that will allow placement of another peg, and then, by placement of a third peg between the two, allows two bridges to be built on one turn.A straight, horizontal or vertical setup can give your line of links control over five, vertical or horizontal spaces on the 24-space board, with the use of only two pegs. Get five setups in an absolutely straight (with a slight, diagonal tilt from link to link), horizontal or vertical direction, and you've just about won the game.

You want, in effect, to a) deny the opponent a space to create this two-bridge setup (you won't be able to do this completely with one peg, because there are a number of directions and potential setups from the point of a single peg) and b) from the point of your placement, start building your own setups and series of links, thereby forcing your opponent to react to your moves; in other words, going on the offensive.
So, look at the end of your opponent's set of links, and count in a straight, horizontal or vertical direction (depending on which way your opponent's set of links is moving), four spaces away and place your peg right in the straight path of your opponent's line of links.

Immediately, this prevents an opponent from placing a peg there, and foils a common, horizontal/vertical set up, which would be accomplished if he were allowed to place a peg there, and then, on his next turn, place a peg one hole up and one hole over (the knight's move). This this would allow him to connect the two pegs, four straight holes away, with the placement of a single peg (this is hard to visualize without diagrams, but bear with me).

In effect, you are forcing an opponent to move his planned set of links, either to the right or left of his initial plan, and when he does this, you counter. If he decides to place a peg and bridge toward the right, you connect in that direction, as well (which would be left to you, if you're sitting across from him, which you should be). The point is, by placing a peg a distance away, you can react to which way he moves. Place it too far away though, and he'll be able to create a further setup between his links and your defensive peg. You want to put it right in that sweet spot between the end of his line and where you place the peg.

If an opponent has a setup (an unlinked space, in an otherwise solid line of links), and he has solidly connected pegs on either end, the connection between the two unconnected pegs is impossible to stop. Take away one of the opponent's two possible placement holes (by placing a peg in it), and he'll just grab the other one (there are always two ways to complete a setup).

If, however, one end of a given setup is NOT connected to an established link beyond it, then that setup, and/or the link beyond it is vulnerable (two vulnerabilities; the potential setup link and the potential link beyond it.

This is precisely where the game can turn. You place a peg, either by itself, or connected to one of your own established set of links that forces your opponent to make a decision. This is an up-close tactic, not the 'four away' discussed before. You place a piece which threatens both the setup and any links your opponent might be thinking of placing beyond the setup. You do this in such a way, that if your opponent places a peg that completes the set up (a third peg between two allowing two bridges to be placed), then you place a peg and a bridge in front of the peg at the end of the setup, blocking direct forward movement, forcing him to move backwards or laterally, to get around you.

If the player chooses to make a link to the peg at the end of the setup, you place a peg and bridge that prevents him from completing the setup. He's stuck in an either/or situation, that gives you the upper hand, at least temporarily.

The point,for beginners and veterans alike,is to determine your opponent's vulnerabilities, and exploit them. You should be doing this right from the placement of your first peg.

Say red's goal is a chain of links moving east to west. Black (you) has to establish links moving north to south. Red places a peg somewhere in the center (generally a good idea; placing a starting peg, even slightly near a border, gives you that much less space to manuever). As black, count four spaces away from where red placed their peg, either to the east or west of it, and place your black peg there. At this point, your positions are dead equal. Red can link east or west, and you can link north or south.

If red places a second peg and then links it to his first (the link will always be the diagonal of six-holed rectangle), it will have a three-hole, generally eastern or western direction, with a slight diagonal tilt to the north or south. (red could place a peg, creating a generally north/south set of links, with a slight diagonal tilt to the east/west, but it's counter to his objective). If the chain is moving slightly north, counter with a peg and bridge that begins to cut off the northern route your opponent appears to be pursuing. If he creates a setup, challenge it with the up-close move described above.

As with the game of Go, you place pegs and links in positions away from your opponent's activities at your peril, and if your opponent is smart, when you place a piece away from any immediate action, he'll respond by placing a peg near you, to counteract whatever devious plan you might have in mind.

Always be aware of your goal. Keep your moves (peg placements) restricted to ones that move your chain of links in the direction of either your north/south or east/west goals. This can't be emphasized enough. If you're on the defensive all the time, you'll find yourself making placements that create lines in a direction opposite to that you really wish to pursue.

Do not waste time or peg placements. Don't give up on a challenge that needs to be faced, until its conclusion is assured, one way or the other. If your opponent has clearly won a small territorial battle, abandon it quickly and look, again, for any vulnerabilities. If none seem to exist, do the 'back away' thing and create them. This is why you start in the middle; so that if an opponent does 'get around' you, in one territorial battle, you have ample opportunities to 'back away' and regroup.

I've brought this game to bars with me, which is always something of a hoot. The instructions are so simple, that even (with apologies to the Geico guy) a caveman could follow them. Place a plastic peg, place another peg on a slight diagonal away from the first one. Link them with a plastic bridge. Keep doing this until you've created an unbroken chain of links between your borders; either red or black. Then, men or women with perhaps a little too much alcohol in their system (or on their way) try to accomplish it, with me, as their opponent, and find themselves going "Huh?" Look up 'baffled' in the dictionary, and you're bound to find the picture of a barfly, looking down at a Twixt board and trying to figure out how he could be losing as badly as he is.

While it's true that the game can't be found on the shelves of a game store anymore, you can actually play it with a pencil and paper, using x's and o's. A rule which allows you to remove previously placed bridges might require your pencil to have an eraser. It can also, as a first-time experience, be reduced in size; say, down to a 10 x 10 grid, which will generally, in the hands of a veteran player, turn it into a five-minute experience. Better to start out with 24 x 24 and give the newbie a ghost of a chance.

Explain the subtleties to a newbie. Point out the idea of a setup. Explain the 'vulnerability' scenarios. Playing it against someone without a clue is boring. Playing it against a worthy guy or gal with a brain in their head is a fun challenge. Always has been, which has why it's been around since 1962, and how it made it to the WBC a few years back. Didn't get enough player support to get it voted in a second time, but abstract strategy games are rare at the WBC, anyway (Chess isn't played there, neither is Go).

It is a terrific little game, with a tendency to favor the start player (who gets to initiate, causing opponent to react; this is common with abstract strategy). I've often been surprised that, like Go, it hasn't developed something of a handicap system; allowing less skilled opponents to start with pegs already on the board, or in a straight-up game with experienced players, with the second player allowed one on the board in a central location.

Anyway, this has gone on long enough, but it's so rare to see Twixt on the Geek's front page, I couldn't resist.

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Dana More
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Thanks for reviewing on oldie but a goodie. This is a deep game, one that rewards experience and careful play.

It's the best of the 'connection' abstracts that I've tried. I'm big fan of the GIPF series, but when I tried PUNCT, my impression of it was, oh, a connection game like Twixt, only not as well done. Sold it, with no regrets. Twixt is cleaner, more elegant, IMO.

Finally, a quick search just now on ebay for Twixt shows 39 currently for auction, some under $10. So while it's not currently in production, it is readily available.
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David Bush
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Thanks to KDLadage for the review. I like to read how other players choose to convey the beauty and depth Twixt has to offer.

As you probably have a 3M set, I cannot fault you for not mentioning a couple more rules. After the 3M release, some fellow players convinced Alex Randolph to add the Pie Rule. After the very first peg is placed by red, the opponent has the option to either respond normally as black, or swap sides. With a 3M set, this is accomplished by turning the pieces box end for end. If sides are swapped, the player who moved first as red is now black, and makes the next move. Sides may be swapped only once per game. If the second player chooses to move as black after red's first move, then sides may not be swapped at all that game. This is called the pie rule because it is like when two people want to share the last of the pie. One person cuts the pie into two slices, and the other decides which slice to eat.

Without this rule, the advantage of the first move is certainly a winning advantage for a strong enough player. But beginners are rarely so strong. I have heard user ejtracer's complaint many times. My pat answer is, this is frequently what happens when two newcomers play. It's very difficult, without prior experience, to have a good idea where you should play on this huge grid of holes, especially in the opening. Twixt is not a race. It's a blocking game. I invite anyone to a handicap game on Game Center, www.iggamecenter.com My email is twixt@cstone.net

Another rule, which is less important but can affect the game outcome, is link removal. You are allowed to remove as many of your own links from the board on your move as you wish, prior to placing any. Strong players could play dozens of games without ever removing a link, but sometimes you need the elbow room to create a continuous chain. Also, on your move you are allowed to place as many legal links between your pegs as you wish, not just links to the peg you just placed. For example, this may happen as a consequence of link removal, which could unblock a link or links between pegs of yours already on the board.

Depending on which 3M edition you may have, the rules might not mention link removal at all, or they might mention it in an awkward and confusing manner. Please ask if you have any question about this or anything else related to Twixt.

For those who don't know, I ran and won the WBC tourney Skip mentions. Unfortunately I ran out of money to sponsor more. Twixt needs a rich patron. That nice wooden plaque was worth the money though. In terms of aesthetics, It's far nicer than the little marble things I got for winning in the UK. Too bad I can't afford to go there again this year either.

Skip, I appreciate your comments also! It's not easy to communicate how to play Twixt well, and you make many useful points.

But I have to take issue with one thing you said:

SkipM624 wrote:
...Say red's goal is a chain of links moving east to west. Black (you) has to establish links moving north to south. Red places a peg somewhere in the center (generally a good idea; placing a starting peg, even slightly near a border, gives you that much less space to manuever). As black, count four spaces away from where red placed their peg, either to the east or west of it, and place your black peg there. At this point, your positions are dead equal. Red can link east or west, and you can link north or south.

As a proponent of the pie rule, which apparently you do not use, I would not call the position you describe as equal. Red has a powerful advantage, although it is not easy to describe how to turn this advantage into a win. I refer you to a chart of opening moves, based on games played on Little Golem, which does use the pie rule: http://www.mindspring.com/~alanh/twixt/first.html Only the top left 12x12 corner is shown. The left side border row, column A, is not displayed since the first player may not play there. If the bottom value in a cell is close to 50, that indicates that each side has won the game about the same number of times. Brighter squares are based on more data. So based on this, it would seem that an initial move such as C3, D3, C12, or G5 would offer roughly equal chances for both sides. My personal favorite these days is 1.H4.

Some other resources on the Net are:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twixt
http://www.ibiblio.org/twixtpuzzles/
http://twixt.wetpaint.com/
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themore5@earthlink wrote:
It's the best of the 'connection' abstracts that I've tried. I'm big fan of the GIPF series, but when I tried PUNCT, my impression of it was, oh, a connection game like Twixt, only not as well done. Sold it, with no regrets. Twixt is cleaner, more elegant, IMO.


The funny part is that I own PÜNCT and I love it. Its one of my favorite abstracts.

I traded away Twixt without regret. Just goes to show you that you never really know what game will strike your fancy, despite your tendencies in taste.
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George Leach
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ejtracer wrote:
themore5@earthlink wrote:
It's the best of the 'connection' abstracts that I've tried. I'm big fan of the GIPF series, but when I tried PUNCT, my impression of it was, oh, a connection game like Twixt, only not as well done. Sold it, with no regrets. Twixt is cleaner, more elegant, IMO.


The funny part is that I own PÜNCT and I love it. Its one of my favorite abstracts.

I traded away Twixt without regret. Just goes to show you that you never really know what game will strike your fancy, despite your tendencies in taste.


Moreso than with many games abstracts can strike you differently depending on your opponent. I think it's always worthwhile were possible to try a new game both with another beginner and against a strong player. That way you get to see some of the subtleties and the blind fun of the game.

For example I've played Twixt against weak players and against Twixter who posted above. I had alot more fun playing against an experienced player in this case (probably because I 'get' Twixt). A few weeks ago I played ZERTZ with mrraow (Stephen Tavener) who is a very strong ZERTZ player. I didn't 'get' it and consequently really didn't enjoy the game. I do suspect that playing the game with my wife I'll probably really enjoy it. Once we improve then perhaps a game vs Stephen will pose an enjoyable challenge in future.
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Drew
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Connection abstracts are my least favorite of the genre, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for Twixt. (And have rescued several of them from thrift stores.)

I do enjoy Punct as well, if only because misdirection is such a huge part of it. I also seem to do pretty well at ConHex.

I'm curious what the Twixt fans think of Ponte del Diavolo, which was designed as an homage to Alex Randolph and Twixt.
 
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George Leach
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Have you tried Akron. I think that may well be the most 'different' (while remaining elegant) connection game I've played in recent times and therefore you might enjoy it.
 
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Tom Duensing
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A very simple but fun game. I haven't played it in years, but when cleaning out my old games from when I was a kid, this is one that I kept. I bet my daughters would enjoy it.
 
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