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Subject: DisX: An in-between abstract rss

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Michael Cheong
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DisX is an abstract strategy game based on the scientific phenomenon of chain reactions. Described as “the game of avalanche”, the gameplay of DisX is based heavily on ripple effects and the ability to manipulate such potential ripple effects to your own benefit without creating an overly beneficial situation for the next player.

While it seems bizarre to go into the aesthetics of an abstract game, humour me this once. Well, right, it’s not so much “aesthetics” as it is the visual quality of the game. First of all, the discs are big, bright and clear. That’s important in DisX, so that every player can clearly see the number of discs and can play them even if they have rather clumsy big hands as myself. Secondly, the spokes on the gameboard are grey, but coloured dark blue and turquoise on their tips in an alternating fashion. This is an important game feature, which I will come back to later on. On to the rules, then.

DisX consists of a square game board with spokes equidistant from each other in a 6x6 layout, and a bag full of bright yellow discs. Players are given 3 discs every turn, which must be played on the board by slotting them into the spokes, in any order and position of their fancy.

Every time any spoke reaches the limit of 4 discs, a spill-over occurs. Basically, the discs spill-over orthogonally (i.e. not diagonally) with one disc from the original spoke moving to each of the 4 adjacent sides. The player whose actions cause this to happen scores one point, and takes one disc from supply to keep as his score. If spokes at the side of the board spill-over, the discs first move to the 3 sides available as per normal. The final disc, which spills off the board, is added to the player’s score, and the player still receives his one disc from supply. This means that spilling over spokes at the side score 1 point for the spillage and 1 point for the “off the edge” disc, for a total of 2. Corner spill-overs follow the same rule, except that the player scores 3 points because 2 discs fall of the sides instead of 1. The game ends when all the discs have been used up, either scored as points or on the game board. It goes without saying, the player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

As with most abstract games, a plain description of the rules makes the game seem dry and uninteresting. However, play a game of DisX and you’ll realise very quickly that there’s a lot more that meets the eye than is obvious. As you might already have seen, the “avalanche” portion of the game occurs when a disc spills over onto an adjacent spoke with 3 discs, making it 4. This next spoke then spills over onto the adjacent spokes and, if the spoke adjacent to that has 3 discs before, we’re in for some fun! After a while, players will start to acquire what my friend calls “disc vision”, where they are able to imagine the spill-over effects of the 3 discs they are allowed to play and maximise the points scored from their action.

While the game starts off slowly, as the board begins to fill with discs, avalanches become inevitable as the spokes become more and more filled with discs. Due to the nature of the game, it is possible to score over 20 points in just a single turn with a good formation of discs on the board and the right placement of your own discs. As a result, gameplay becomes increasingly intense as the game goes on. The only downside to this is that a player who takes too long to decide on his action, which becomes more possible as the stakes get higher, can bog down the pace of the game badly with his analysis paralysis.

DisX also has the double-edged sword of being extremely reliant on inter-player effects and dependence. Every player’s turn significantly alters the gameboard, meaning that tactical decisions are the order of the day, rather than a strategic master plan. While this does reduce the brain drain of the game, it also means that a weak player can greatly benefit the next player unfairly since his ill-advised disc placement can cause the next player to reap extreme rewards. Although some adjustment in the order of play can temper the extent of this problem somewhat, it is essentially a danger that is inherent to the game mechanics. The only way to solve this pitfall is for all players to be generally uniform in their understanding and play of the game, which makes the game all-round more enjoyable for all because it becomes more balanced.

Coming back to the aesthetics I mentioned earlier, the nice big, bright discs mean that players of any age and almost any kind of ailing vision can play the game. More crucially, the differently coloured tips make the game even more visually understandable. Every dark blue coloured tip is surrounded orthogonally by turquoise tips, which helps to demarcate just where the discs will spill over onto. Little, minor features, I know, but when you’re playing the game, they are wel-appreciated.

Overall, DisX is a pretty decent abstract. It plays in a short span of time of 20-30min, is easily understood and feels far less dry than Chess, which makes it good to play with less intensive gamers or to use as a filler game. Its only drawback is the overly heavy player interdependence that spoils its abstract strategy, in my opinion. I give it 6/10; a fun game to play once in a while but not one you’d get maniacally passionate about.
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