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Subject: [Voice of Experience] Beautiful and treacherous rss

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David Bush
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Alex Randolph was a very prolific game inventor, and Twixt is often referred to as his crown jewel. It's among the most tactical and confrontational of all two sided abstracts. As such, it isn't everyone's cup of tea. A game can be hard work, which may run contrary to the notion of what a game is in the first place. But if the work results in the ability to see what was not seen before, a sense of power is gained which can be addictive.

Twixt is a connection type game. The board is a 24x24 square grid of holes, minus the corner holes. The rows around the four edges are called border rows. With a 3M set, the sides are red and black. The "top" and "bottom" border rows are red, and the "left" and "right" borders are black. Each player tries to construct an unbroken path of their color which connects their borders. Since paths may not cross, the only way to win is to block the opponent. This object is very similar to Hex, which is played on a "beehive" grid of regular hexagons, in the overall shape of a rhombus. But whereas Hex uses simple tokens of each color, Twixt employs two types of pieces, pegs and links. Pegs fit in the holes, and links are placed to connect pairs of pegs. Each move consists of placing one peg, and then adding as many legal links as desired. Links must be placed only between pegs which are the same color, at opposite corners of a six-hole rectangle (like a knight's move in chess,) and must not be blocked by any other link on the board. You are allowed to remove your own links as desired on your move, prior to placing any.

3M sets do not mention the pie rule, but Randolph was convinced by fellow players to add it in later editions, to make the game more balanced. After the first player places the very first peg on the board, the second player has the option, at that moment only, to swap sides, which could be indicated with a 3M or AH set by turning the pieces box end for end. This is called the pie rule because it is like when two people want to share the last of the pie. One cuts the pie into two slices, and the other decides which slice to eat.

Beginners to the game may feel lost trying to determine where to play, especially in the opening phase, and most especially on the first move, when using the pie rule. Here is some statistical analysis based on over 40000 games played on the Little Golem server, very kindly provided by Alan Hensel: http://www.mindspring.com/~alanh/twixt/first.html In brief, the data suggests that the most balanced initial moves, looking at the first quadrant of the board, are at the holes indicated below. But past performance does not predict future results.


This isn't really much help for a beginner. What comes after that? Should I swap such a move or not? How do I block my opponent? The only way to find an answer to such questions is to study the game, and the best place to begin such study is to look at the tactics. You can discover the tactics for yourself by playing lots of games. You can also look at some puzzles, such as http://www.ibiblio.org/twixtpuzzles/

It seems that as a reviewer, I may have fallen into a trap here. I want to convince you to check this game out, but I have already provided links to information which both require some work on your part just to understand what's going on. So, I may have already tuned you out. All I can say is, for myself and many others, the hard work is worthwhile. So, what awaits you if you undertake this journey? For me, a position like this is most appealing when it is my move (as purple):


Okay that may not be much help either. Look, this is a tough game. It's not for the faint of heart. It's about as direct a mental battle as you can get. Draws are possible but rare. More than 99.5% of the time, one player is victorious and the other is dog meat. Games often end with less than 15 moves played by both sides. It can be truly painful to see your best ideas laid waste so quickly. But once you begin to get a handle on the basic tactics, you may find that the learning curve never becomes impossibly steep. There are always new tricks and methods to learn.

An experienced player can scoot past a beginner seemingly as though the beginner's pegs and links weren't even on the board. But a well granulated handicap method is available, to give players of different strengths the opportunity to both enjoy a challenge. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twixt#Variants

Handicapping is not mentioned with any published edition. This is a relatively minor improvement I hope will be added if the game is ever offered again. But all you need to implement row handicapping is a pair of pieces which fit in the holes, which look nothing like Twixt pieces, to indicate the location of the two new corners of the handicap board. Feudal pieces might do the trick, for example. Another minor change I would like to see is the addition of diagonal guide lines, as shown above. This is not a rule change. These lines are simply intended as a visual aid, to help you read the position more easily on this huge grid of holes. This is similar to the nine emphasized dots on a 19x19 Go board. All of the virtual Twixt boards available, either downloadable software or online servers, provide these guide lines as an option. A commercial board could be given a guide lines tattoo. All you need are a straight edge, clamps to hold the edge in place, pieces of wood to keep the clamps from damaging your table, an awl, a neutral color pencil, and patience. Well, fanaticism might also help.

With the handle twixter, it is hardly surprising that I give Twixt a top rating of 10. The rules are straightforward, The board is- well, the board is rather dull, but would look much better with guide lines. (Actually the blue Schmidt international board looks nice.) The pieces are cool, whatever set you have, and the game play is just awesome, especially between two experienced players. This may conflict with what you have heard from those who tried the game a couple times. They may tell you, the game is decided in the first few moves, and there is no way to recoup after that. It's not surprising that without a clue what to do, both players could miss the depth and beauty the game has to offer. Believe me, an experienced player could give a large handicap to a newbie and still win. There are lots of ways to hustle when you are behind, but it takes experience to learn.

So, without that experience, the choice is yours whether to take the plunge and make the effort to learn or not. I have to say, as far as finding an opponent is concerned, you are more likely to be able to play lots of people with a more popular abstract, such as Chess or Go. If you can tolerate turn based play, there are lots of online opponents available on Little Golem. You may even find Twixt opponents for real time play from time to time on Game Center. But face to face opponents can be few and far between. Even within the genre of connection games, Hex opponents might be easier to find.

This feedback dilemma is common among many great abstracts which deserve greater popularity. No one plays them because, no one plays them. But this is arguably separate from a game's intrinsic value. With all the copies available on eBay and elsewhere, Twixt is not likely to go away for a long time. There will always be places to play, in virtual space if nowhere else. If you enjoy solving the puzzle positions that Twixt offers, I hope you continue to seek out opponents. SOTO!

I should add that I have played this game thousands of times, and hope to play thousands more. I have won four face to face tournaments, three in England and one in Lancaster PA. Here are links to some session reports:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/382583/spin-control
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/362459/im-not-proud-ill-...
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/277716/twixt-is-hard-and...
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Nick Bentley
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I love this, not in the least because it illustrates why it's so hard to talk about the great abstract games. So much, so hidden.
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Lee Massey
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I have seen your posts about Twixt and I think this one is the most informative. I played the game years ago but I want to relearn it now. What advice would you give someone relearning the game? Thanks!
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Russ Williams
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twixter wrote:
I have to say, as far as finding an opponent is concerned, you are more likely to be able to play lots of people with a more popular abstract, such as Chess or Go.

On the other hand, for a beginner, it is convenient that the rules are so extremely simple to explain. If you have any gaming buddies who are open to trying abstract games, it's easy to explain Twixt and start learning it together and have fun bumbling about in the early stages of discovery. (I'd played the game maybe twice many years ago, so I was basically a newbie, then my wife and I started playing it together a couple years ago when we saw it in a boardgame cafe, and later won our own set in a games for geekgold auction.)

But yeah, you're unlikely to find an established local group of Twixt players, compared to an established local group of Chess or Go players.
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David Bush
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JackFlash wrote:
I have seen your posts about Twixt and I think this one is the most informative. I played the game years ago but I want to relearn it now. What advice would you give someone relearning the game? Thanks! :D

A common mistake I make, when trying to teach newcomers, is to slip into lecture mode. Despite the hard work, Twixt is fun to play for those who find the concept appealing. So, have fun! Play a lot. Try the puzzles and then crush your opponents with the sneaky tricks you learn. I welcome any questions. My email is twixt atsymbol cstone period net.

EDIT I have a new email, twixtfanatic atsymbol gmail period com
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Nate K
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Sounds like chess in that it is an abstract and very intense battle of mental acuity and practice. Not my kind of thing, but a very valuable type of game, nonetheless.
 
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Richard Reilly
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twixter wrote:
Believe me, an experienced player could give a large handicap to a newbie and still win.


Oh, I believe you all right!

Years ago I played some live games on-line with David and was thoroughly humiliated by him. Only with an extreme handicap--me having to cross something like half the space that he had to cross--was I able to win.

Great game!
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Lee Massey
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Thanks David for the info. and your e-mail address! Happy gaming!!
 
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Kojak Cadillac
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My email is now twixtfanatic atsymbol gmail period com
 
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