/ Cory Doctorow / 1 pm Wed, Jan 6 2016
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  • Slideways: if Connect 4 was as sneaky as Go

    Slideways: if Connect 4 was as sneaky as Go

    Slideways is a tic-tac-toe variant that lets players occupy squares, change their opponents' squares, or move where the squares are relative to one another. It's a strategy game with more sneaky ways to win -- and lose -- than seems possible, at first.

    I got my Slideways set from Ivan Lerner, whose wife, Tricia McLaughlin, invented it, winning the Innovation Award at the 2015 Boston Festival of Independent Games at MIT. It looked simple enough to play, a variant on Connect 4, a game I used to play for hours in the car with my parents and brother on long trips.

    The board is a four-by-four grid of tiles that can be flipped to show blue, red or yellow. In two-player games, all the tiles start as blue, and players choose to play either red or yellow, flipping tiles and trying to get four in a row.

    But Slideways has two important variations on traditional tic-tac-toe. First, you can move the board itself: the four rows of the board can be shifted left or right, one position per move (they click in place using grooves and small rare-earth magnets after each move). Second, you can flip your opponents squares to your color. The only restrictions on these moves is that you have to wait at least one turn before undoing your opponent's move -- you can't get into a Wikipedia edit-war of simply toggling back and forth between two moves.

    The complexity introduced by these variations is mind-boggling. On the one hand, you want to maximize the number of squares you occupy so that you have more ways to get four in a row; on the other hand, you (or your opponent) can always simply move the board, forfeiting the chance to get another square, but fundamentally re-arranging the whole state of play in ways that can turn near-certain defeat into triumph.

    We've played this adult-to-adult, adult-to-kid, and kid-to-kid, and found it engrossing in all of those configurations. I taught a friend to play it in five minutes after Christmas dinner, and then proceeded to lose to her twice in a row! It's fun sober, and fun (but nearly impossible) when a little tipsy.

    There's also a three-player mode in which the board starts with alternating red, yellow and blue squares, and the players proceed as normal.

    At $15, this pocket-sized game represents a great value for days and days of play.

    Slideways [R&R Games]

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