Trax is a game that comes with several variants. These variants enable players to enhance their experience and to explore aspects of the game they find interesting.
For example, 8x8 trax challenges player to win the game within space restriction; it also guarantees faster termination of the game for those who desire shorter bursts of competition. Supertrax, now played as standard trax, satisfies players who prefer no-draw games. In addition, it tests mental endurance and strength of visual perception. Similarly, a player who feels distracted by burden of balancing between loops and lines can choose to play loop Trax where lines don’t matter for winning.
But no Trax variant was designed to explore its deeper strategic potential, the feature it certainly has, or enhance experience of players who are after strategically more complex, slow, and large-scale games.
Absence of such variant is easy to see; all current variants are highly tactical appealing to gamers who prefer short and precise games. In tactics-heavy variants game terminating win is always within few moves, mistakes are often unaffordable, and waiting for opponent’s blunder is usually rewarded. Put it another way, variants do not encourage building long-term plans comparable to schemes of chess or go. If you want to play Trax like those two by building long-term plans and using short-term tactical means for that purpose, alas, you would have difficulty; no variant would meet your need.
So, the question is could a variant of Trax be designed to meet that need? I believe so and in this essay I will demonstrate it by offering a new variant of Trax. From here on I call the proposed variant Shape trax and assume that the reader is experienced player of other variants. After describing the new variant I argue why the shape Trax would most probably allow deeper strategic play.
Shape trax is played as any other variant but with two specific win conditions.
The first win condition is to capture opponent’s loop which means winner’s loop surrounds opponent’s loop. In other words, the player who creates the position where opponent’s loop is located inside her own loop wins the game. The second win condition is to connect with one another in loop(s) as many tiles as it takes to capture a loop. More precisely, if a player connects sixteen tiles with one another in loop(s) she wins the game because for the capture at least sixteen tiles must be used; four for opponent’s loop and twelve for winner’s loop.
Notice that the second win condition is defined not by quantity of tiles required to create surrounding loop (which is twelve tiles at least) but by quantity of tiles required for a capture position to exist at all (which is sixteen tiles at least). Also, the ‘s’ in parenthesis at the end of the word ‘loop(s)’ means that players are free to connect all sixteen tiles with one another in one large loop or in many smaller loops spread all over the playing field.
With regard to the first win condition reader may ask whether it is practical. Indeed, only narrow loop could relatively easily be captured because it is small and no track crosses narrow perfect circle. Capturing one large loop of opponent is impossible without capturing one of your own loops too - altogether winning player must capture two loops. That would require very specific position and many more tiles! For example, to capture six-tiles large loop player has to use no less than twenty five tiles. Therefore, it seems the first win condition is impractical.
However, to counter this line of thought players need to remember that narrow loop is the fastest way to victory so both players would tend to make few of them sooner or later. Just four of them would end the game. In addition to that, player may make a narrow loop in opponent’s color and capture it on the same turn. In such cases the player whose loop captures wins the game even if the narrow loop he made and surrounded in the same one turn is the fourth narrow loop of the opponent.
Another argument of impracticality to the first win condition would be that the position where one loop is located inside the other does not seem to come up in other trax variants though other positional combinations of loops come up often. Since loop-within-loop position is extremely rare or never appears as a by- product in other trax variants, it is impractical.
To counter this argument, one need to remember that in other variants players never specifically look for capture positions. When they have stimulus to do so as in shape trax, then those positions will appear.
The more nuanced way of looking at first win condition, and shape trax in general, is that it balances out relative easiness of second condition and creates room for various strategies.
Unlike other variants, in shape trax players would consider size, number, particular shapes of loops and their positions as factors contributing to their overall plan; these considerations broaden strategic scope of the game. Say, first player may let his opponent to make a narrow loop so that he, the first player himself, could make much larger loop few moves later. One player may scramble for making enough narrow loops faster, while the other may build slowly a plan to capture one of them within his limited number of attempts. Shape trax also allows players to slow down and play contemplatively without worrying about potential loss within every turn.
So, try shape trax! Perhaps you will discover new depth of the game that you never knew it had. If you try shape trax, post your feedback online for other trax enthusiasts. Good luck and happy traxing!