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Subject: Looks simple - But 50 times more choices per move than chess rss

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dale walton
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The first impression of Outfox by appearance is that it is a simple placement game. This is intended to lure the unwary non-gamer....

First move, place a piece on the board, easy enough. Second move place a piece next to that one and then move the one already there... OK..
Third move: !!!!!!!!!!!

The search space in Outfox grows rapidly to thousands of options per move (compare this to chess with max around 100), so the game is interesting even though it is limited to 18 moves maximum (9 per side.) For example, placing the 4th piece on the board and moving already provides between 200 and 4000+ possible choices depending on the position, and most of the piece and board symmetries have been broken by that point.

On the other hand some of the three piece positions are forced wins (for move 5,) so trimming can be pretty extreme, and the nature of the game is to discover how NOT to let the opponent win on the next turn. One gets the hysterical feeling that the game is beating the players. The result is either lots of laughter and replays, or cooperative play to take the game as many moves as possible. Thus the game is a more test of mental stamina than a strategic battle. This can also be amusing for the spectators.

The non-gamer, the multi-taskers, and pattern recognisers stand as much chance as the strategic folk. The best part is that people prone to analysis-paralysis will go into deep sweats, get major headaches and not play (too many times) again. -- A good tactic against these players is to go get a cup of coffee, relax, and giggle at the absurdity of someone taking 15 minutes to place their 3rd piece on the board.

There are, however, more strategies than one might expect in a game with only twice as many turns as Tic-Tac-Toe. There are defensive and offensive styles of play. Forking formations are easy to set up. Other formations prevent play to adjacent intersections for one or both players. And it is important to keep track of and make use of resources not available to your opponent. In the long run, it is also important to create the correct number of unplayable eyes on the board so as to be the one who plays last, if both of players can avoid giving away a three in a row. But any players who make it to the last playable piece can truely claim a joint accomplishment.

Thus, with a forcing style of play between good players, there is indeed predictible strategy, and one learns to sort through the information overload. Please note that I am not saying this has the stategic depth of chess. In fact the usable choices per move are often fewer than chess, and harder to analyse. -- I am saying it takes more acute mental effort to stay in the game at a strategic level, because of the vastly increased chance of a blunder. This creates the contradiction that a brainburner plays as a light game. -- And as such, it is short and addictive.

You can guess that when we do shows (I work for the producer), I have a tendancy to demo this one a lot. At Essen, wives of gamers liked it for its simple appearance, and then frequently beat their gamer spouse in 3 or so moves, so they tended to like it even more.

I also played a very interesting game of it for nearly an hour with another game designer who had first shown me a delightfully feindish abstract of his own, so believe me about making analysis-paralysis addicts go into adrenaline shock and brain fever, or at least the drenched brow part. The game also elicited a wry smile from Reiner Knizia when he appreciated the implications of its mechanisn. (I pushed him to take a look because we were producing one of his games, Megalith, at the same time.)

Since I enjoy it so much, I can't properly restrain from adding it to lists here. My appologies if anyone is offended. If you give it a try, you may understand what I am talking about.
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dale walton
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Re: The complexity can be reduced by a few tactics
Here are a few tactics I use to focus on interesting moves.

1) Put the other player on the defensive by creating "no-play zones" That purposely line up as many pairs of pieces that share an attribute as possible, so that a placement will complete the triplet, but there will be nothing to move away.

Of course one must be careful to avoid the possibility of a piece on the board sliding in to complete the potential triplets.

The effect is to limit the positions that your opponent may drop a piece at or move a piece to, because once a position next to the potential completion site is filled then you can drop the piece that completes the triplet and move that other piece away.

This tactic is not necessarily best strategy, but is guaranteed to irritate the opponent and keep the game aggressive, and the tree reasonably trim.

2) Make sure in the above that you actually have the piece needed to complete the triplet.

3) Conversely, keep track of the pieces you have that your opponent does not (he has already placed them on the board) Set up pairs that can be completed with these pieces.

This forces the opponent to break, or block, the pair in a way that also does not create any new opportunities for you.

4) For a defensive style, play similar pieces as your opponent does, and play to bunch the pieces together, reducing there mobility, and block pieces that could be triplets in separate board areas. (the edges of the bunched areas should have similar pieces, and in general, similar piece should be kept near each other for defensive play.

When the board gets about 1/2 full this starts to get easier, and one must then start to consider how to force the creation of the correct number of eyes on the board in order to be last to play.

Knowing a few tactics such as these can allow players to sort through the possibilities in a reasonable amount of time, and feel a degree of controll over the game.
 
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