My Exploration of the Icehouse
Spencer C
Netherlands
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OK, so there are these really pretty pyramids and supposedly you can play 100s of games with them! ...but are any of these games worthwhile?

This geeklist tracks my journey into the Icehouse, the games I've played and how I felt about them.

I keep this list updated as I try new Icehouse games and am always willing to try new ones, so suggest your favourites!
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1. Board Game: Hextris [Average Rating:6.07 Unranked]
Spencer C
Netherlands
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This was the very first Icehouse game I tried (with paper pyramids I cut out and taped together myself). I was enamored with the concept of icehouse, but skeptical of its success.

Turns out this is a really fun little game. Both two and three player games have their merits. There's not much to this game, but for fans of light, quick abstracts, it's worth a shot.

This game could be played with some tokens from another game or printed off, provided you have 5 tokens in each of three sizes for every colour player.

This game convinced me to buy my first Treehouse set, which brings us to...

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2. Board Game: Treehouse [Average Rating:5.82 Overall Rank:4353]
Spencer C
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There I am in my FLGS when I spy a solitary tube of rainbow Treehouse for 4 quid. I pick it up and excitedly bring it home, along with a cheap (box damaged) copy of Looney Labs's Zombie Fluxx (which I regrettably don't care for, but everyone else seems to love).

I have so much fun playing around with these little pyramids that I don't care that the game they come packaged with (Treehouse) totally sucks.

OK, to be fair, Treehouse isn't the absolute worst game I've ever played, but it's pretty bad. Two, maybe three, games in and we've extracted all the joy we could from it. No matter what you roll, there is almost always a very clear (after a game or two) best possible move given the board state. It turns the game into a robotic luckfest.

However, this game might be a good one to play with small children who are growing out of Candy Land but not ready for Chess or Checkers yet.

This game also showed a hint of a trend: Icehouse games by Andrew Looney tend not to be the best, despite it being his invention and obsession.

With just one Treehouse, there aren't very many games you can play, and I must confess I haven't tried many of the other ones.

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3. Board Game: Homeworlds [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:2202]
Spencer C
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So I've bought a single Treehouse stash and find I can't do much with them -- I can't even play Hextris without buying four more, and I'm uncertain about committing to that investment.

I decide to try out some of the multiple stash Icehouse games offered on Superdupergames.org. Homeworlds was one of the games I tried, and boy was it confusing.

However, from the get-go, I could tell that there was something to this game. I've since played maybe a further 10 or 12 games of Homeworlds, both in person and on-line, and while I've only scratched the surface of strategy available here, this is a runaway winner for me.

Homeworlds is a counter-intuitive game of space warfare in which your ships have various abilities dependent on the colours of your ships in the system and the colour of the star itself. There is a meta-game of resource-management which is the real heart of this gem.

The 2-player version, "Binary" Homeworlds, can be played with only three Treehouse sets (~20 dollar investment) and is arguably the strongest format of this game. With two players it's you or them and every move can be carefully watched and scrutinized without interference.

This isn't everyone's game and it comes with a steep learning curve, but if you're the right sort of person, it's well worth it.

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Addendum: I have been working on an Homeworlds related art/game project. More details when I'm further along/finished.
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4. Board Game: StarRunners [Average Rating:4.00 Unranked]
Spencer C
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Having played Homeworlds online, I tried out this single-Treehouse game which uses the same mechanic to determine which stellar systems are linked to which.

While it might be a good way to break someone into the fairly tricky Homeworlds, StarRunners is not in any way fun to play.

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5. Board Game: Pikemen [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:4401]
Spencer C
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This is another game available on Superdupergames.org, and the one that sold me on getting a further four sets of Treehouse.

Pikemen is a perfect information abstract played on a chessboard which makes full use of the Icehouse pyramids' directional nature. During your turn you move a piece as far as you'd like in the direction it's facing (perhaps to capture an opponent's piece), and subsequently reorient the piece to a new direction or to take up a defensive stance.

This game plays quickly (in person, ~20-30 minutes) and is very easy to explain. It is about as complicated as Checkers, but has a more tactical bent.

I can't help but think that this game would benefit from an extra little something -- perhaps an objective other than "get 12 points", but it's still a very fun game if you like the sort.

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6. Board Game: Blam! [Average Rating:6.38 Overall Rank:6735]
Spencer C
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This is another one I tried on Superdupergames.org.

It's a pretty simple concept and is also played on a chessboard. Players take turns placing pieces in empty squares, and pieces in adjacent squares get pushed one square away from the new piece toward the edge of the board. Pieces that are pushed off the edge of the board are captured (unless they're your own). The "overdrive" variant finds adjacent pieces pushed further by bigger pieces.

This game was purportedly made up in 15 minutes and it feels that way. It takes too long to get to the endgame, and not a whole lot of fun is had along the way. On-line the game is bearable, even enjoyable, but in person I've found it to be tedious and long.

It does get a fair amount of play on Superdupergames, though, so perhaps I just can't see its charm.

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7. Board Game: Penguin Soccer [Average Rating:5.76 Overall Rank:8489]
Spencer C
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In this single-Treehouse game you attempt to score goals by manoeuvring your three-man family of penguins on an icy playing field to where they might be able to kick the ball effectively.

I played on Superdupergames.org, and didn't enjoy this one at all. However, I suspect the slow pace of games on superdupergames hurts this one. I'd try it again in person to see if it improves, but with so many games out there, I feel no strong impetus to return to it.

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EDIT: I made the mistake of trying this one out again. This time with 4 players face-to-face. Absolutely miserable. I want to like this game due to its penguin theme and the good things I've heard, but the fact is I wouldn't wish this upon anyone. In play it resembles an interminable game of children's soccer.
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8. Board Game: Torpedo [Average Rating:5.88 Unranked]
Spencer C
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Andrew Looney's original game, Icehouse, inspired the game Lightspeed, which in turn was ported back to Icehouse pieces as Torpedo. ...or so I'm led to believe.

Regardless, this is a turnless game in which players place their pieces pointing at opponents' pieces. When one player has exhausted their supply of pieces, no more pieces are played and the "ships" simultaneously fire at one another. First all the small ships, followed by the mediums, and then the large ships. Ships in your colour left unscatched by the battle are added to your score and the winner is determined.

While this game offered a little fun in the initial playing phase, the cleanup and scoring phase is just finicky. Furthermore, I suspect a winning strategem might be to simply place all fifteen of your ships in a line on the table as quickly as possible.

We played it three times in a row to get a feel for it, and haven't tried it again since.

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9. Board Game: IceTowers [Average Rating:6.43 Overall Rank:3170]
Spencer C
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Well, between Homeworlds, Hextris, and Pikemen, I've discovered three games I enjoy enough to take the plunge and buy the extra four Treehouse stashes to play them -- plus I found a really good deal ($6.50 with free shipping per Treehouse) on-line. A total investment of $30 or so for three games I liked, cool playing pieces, and the possibility of other games, seemed well worth it.

I played a few games of Pikemen and Homeworlds face-to-face with my shiny new pyramids, and then decided to branch out.

IceTowers is a turnless game in which you vie to control the most points (by having a piece your colour on top of towers of icehouse pieces). You are only allowed to manipulate the towers/pieces in certain ways, which leads to a frenzied and fun game. The play is pretty light, but there is some strategy lurking under there. In a very Go-like move, the game ends when all players agree the game is over, which might seem impossible at times, but you really do reach this point of no [good] moves left.

As a quick, light filler that can be played on any surface and explained in a minute, it can be a lot of fun.

Despite being an Andrew Looney game, it's not just a random luckfest, and it certainly brings out the laughs.

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10. Board Game: CrackeD ICE [Average Rating:5.53 Overall Rank:8837]
Spencer C
Netherlands
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This game is a dexterity game in which you take turns placing pieces on a CD balancing on an icehouse piece. Whoever makes them fall off, loses.

This game looks pretty cool (with the silver side up, of course) but failed to work well enough to extract more than a couple minutes of so-so enjoyment from it. It's almost more fun as a solitaire game in which you simply try to balance as many of your Icehouse pieces on the CD as you can.

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11. Board Game: Drip [Average Rating:5.10 Unranked]
Spencer C
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This is about as simple as an Icehouse game can get: Alternately drop pieces into the tube that Treehouse comes packaged in, and whoever plays the piece which first sticks out the top is the loser.

It's obviously an extremely light filler, but we had good fun with it.

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12. Board Game: World War 5 [Average Rating:6.13 Overall Rank:5574]
Spencer C
Netherlands
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In an attempt to Looneyfy Risk, Andy Looney created World War 5. It's an icehouse game that is played on a board with a map of the world.

The goal of this game is to completely occupy another territory while maintaining a presence in your starting territory. You have four options every turn: move a piece to an adjacent empty place, attack an opponent's adjacent piece (resolved by dice rolls; if the defender loses, they simply withdraw their piece to an empty adjacent spot), create a new small army in your home territory, or increase the size of a piece stationed in your home territory.

The game provides some fun, but Looney has removed any real conflict here. It plays more like an abstract than a war game. In fact, the theme is so lightly tacked on, that I feel it actually hinders enjoyment of this game.

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13. Board Game: Martian Chess [Average Rating:6.23 Overall Rank:4566]
Spencer C
Netherlands
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In this game, what pieces you control is determined by whether they're on your side of the board or not, rather than if they're your colour.

Large pieces move like queens in chess, medium pieces like rooks with a range limited to two spaces, and small pieces like kings. Capturing an opponent's piece may seem like a good idea, but you must be careful that the piece you captured with won't be used by your opponent to capture a more valuable piece of your's.

I enjoy this game alright, and my girlfriend really enjoys this game.

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14. Board Game: Zendo [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:498]
Spencer C
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Arguably the breakaway "hit" of Icehouse, Zendo is a game of inductive reasoning with a Zen theming which can be a lot of fun.

Basically, one player is the master who comes up with a secret rule which governs whether or not arrangements of icehouse pieces (or "koans") possess the "Buddha nature". The other players take turns constructing koans to gather more information about the rule which the master marks as either having the Buddha nature or not. Ultimately, the game ends when a student correctly guesses the secret rule, at which point they become the master in the next round.

I wouldn't recommend playing this with fewer than five, but with the right atmosphere and group this game can be a lot of fun. Between commiserating with your fellow students about the seeming randomness of the Buddha nature, giggling on the inside as the Master when the students can't guess your fairly simple rule, and just generally having a good time with the zaniness of the theme, there's a whole lot of fun to be had here.

Also, it's great fun to bring out bowls of stones and begin explaining this game to new players: "Right, so if it's your turn and you've assembled a koan and declare 'Mondo', every player holds out a stone to signify whether they believe the koan to possess the buddha nature. The Master then awards guessing stones to students who intuited correctly." Some of the looks you get are priceless!

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15. Board Game: Zark City [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:5465]
Spencer C
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Having had my curiosity piqued by descriptions of Gnostica, but unwilling to spend the money to buy a Tarot deck for one game I might not even like, I tried out Zark City.

We played one, maybe two, games of this and it hasn't seen the light of day since. I haven't ruled out Gnostica, but Zark City struck me as high in randomness and low in fun.

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16. Board Game: Martian Coasters [Average Rating:6.17 Overall Rank:4372]
Spencer C
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We played a 2-player game of this on a homemade set of Martian Coasters. I was excited about the prospect of using the Treehouse die (which I now have five of), but neither of us enjoyed this game. I suspect this game might improve with more than two players, and again this game could likely be a hit with children and non-gamers, but it wasn't for us.

I love the idea of drinks coasters as playing pieces, but until I come across a better game that uses these colourful coasters, I'm glad I saved my self the $6 they cost.

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17. Board Game: RAMbots [Average Rating:6.72 Overall Rank:5396]
Spencer C
Netherlands
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RoboRally was my induction into the world of boardgaming beyond Monopoly and Pachisi, introduced to me by my cousin back when they still made it with little metal robots. When Avalon Hill started producing new copies of the game, I was given one as a birthday gift and had many hours of fun playing it. However, for all the fun I've had, there is no denying that there is a LOT of down time. Each player frenetically races to place their cards down, and then you sit as the programs are executed painstakingly and slowly and then the massive deck is reshuffled and re-dealt.

RAMbots has a lot of what I like about RoboRally, with very little of what I dislike.

It's a purer, less random game in which you almost always know what movement instructions you'll have available to you. There is a lot of player interaction in a four person game (which often is lacking in RoboRally depending on number of players and factory layout).

The basic premise of RAMbots is to tag four colours in a certain order by programming your bot with up to five instructions. The instructions take the form of icehouse pieces placed in a line behind a player screen, pointing in the direction you wish your robot to move (that's right folks, no Robot Dance :/). All players reveal their program and the programs are executed instruction by instruction according to precedence -- the upside of which is that some players might finish their entire turns before others play their first instruction, provided the first player's instructions always have a higher precedence. Furthermore, you can add pieces to your "code pool" by ramming into other players -- and incidentally, you can tag colours by ramming into players of the right colour, as well.

All in all, it's a fun game which doesn't have any of the fun art and theme of Robo Rally, but benefits from a distillation of RoboRally's core mechanic.

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18. Board Game: Subdivision [Average Rating:6.11 Unranked]
Spencer C
Netherlands
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At the suggestion of Kaelistus, I tried out Subdivision.

This is a nifty placement game with a real estate theme. You want to keep your development grouped while avoiding having slums near your high rises, all the while trying to disadvantage your opponents.

I played it with two players and it was good fun. I suspect it's a game that scales well to three and four players.

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19. Board Game: Tic Tac Doh! [Average Rating:5.80 Overall Rank:8147]
Spencer C
Netherlands
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This is an Icehouse take on that childhood classic Tic-Tac-Toe (Noughts & Crosses). I was hoping that it would be more similar to Quarto than to Tic-Tac-Toe, but was disappointed. That said, I'm considering attempting to "port" Quarto to the icehouse system.

Tic-Tac-Doh! is a single-stash game in which each player vies to be the one to place a piece which creates a three in a row of a particular size pyramid. Adding further intrigue to the game are the facts that when more than one pyramid is played on a square any and every pyramid that has a part of its sides (so, stacked pyramids but not nested pyramids) exposed is simultaneously occupying that square, and the 3x3 grid on which this game is played is defined by the played pieces.

Overall, this game does what it says on the tin: It's Tic-Tac-Toe with an icehouse twist. The gameplay is interesting for a couple games, but it ultimately comes off as a slightly more convoluted version of the original. However, I can't shake the feeling that this mechanic has promise to be turned into a much heavier game (perhaps simply by the inclusion of a larger playing grid).

thumbsup with the caveat that one should bear in mind that this really is just an icehouse tic-tac-toe
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20. Board Game: Undercut [Average Rating:6.37 Unranked]
Spencer C
Netherlands
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In this game you try to having point-scoring piece configurations in your hand by carefully bidding away pieces to acquire pieces. It's a sort of reverse auction in which it pays to have the least.

Played a 4-player game and it took forever. It was a very interesting game, but I don't see it coming to table again any time soon.

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21. Board Game: Volcano [Average Rating:6.82 Overall Rank:2039]
Spencer C
Netherlands
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Great game! Satisfies the desire to line up all the icehouse pieces and play with them while being a reasonably deep perfect information abstract.

I see this one getting played a lot.

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22. Board Game: Ambush [Average Rating:6.75 Unranked]
Spencer C
Netherlands
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This game is something like an Icehouse version of Pentago. During each of your fifteen turns you may either play one of your pieces or rotate a coaster. You capture an opponent's piece by flanking it with two pieces of combined greater value. Whoever has the most points in captured pieces at the end, wins.

This game is solid. Much like Subdivision,* I can respect the quality of play yet I don't think this game will see the table often. It plays quickly and has some substance, but the type of strategising involved just doesn't mesh with me.


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*I haven't played Ambush again, but I've played Subdivision many more times both in person and on SuperDuperGames.
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23. Board Game: Edges [Average Rating:5.65 Unranked]
Spencer C
Netherlands
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This Icehouse game is a little off the radar (as if you could be any more off-the-radar than by just being an Icehouse game), but is simple and interesting.

Basically, this game plays like an Icehouse version of Dots and Boxes. In the default layout, you and your opponent take turns playing a piece from your stash onto the edges/paths (not the vertices) of a 3x4 grid. The object is to gain the most points by controlling [having a higher pip-count surrounding] more squares than your opponent. For every square that you have the highest pip-count around (even the one that will have an empty edge at game end), you get one point. You acquire an extra point if you are the only player on the edges around a square. Ties net points for no one.

This game feels simple but doesn't play that way.

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24. Board Game: Logger [Average Rating:6.77 Unranked]
Spencer C
Netherlands
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This game makes me wish I had five stashes' worth of green Icehouse pieces.

We enjoyed this game, and it's nice to finally play a game that actually uses the "tree" configuration of pieces as trees. The object of the game is to chop down the most mature trees. Trees start as a seedling and grow into saplings and then mature trees by virtue of being on the same row or column as a lumberjack. Players can move their lumberjack piece up to two spaces, at which point the trees grow, and the players can subsequently plant a new seedling, put a protester in a tree (thereby stopping it from being cut down directly), or chop down an adjacent mature tree (and any mature trees directly behind it, regardless of protesters).

While we had fun with this game, it felt very cramped -- the lumberjack can only move 2 squares and will often get boxed in, leaving you with a very small, uninspiring decision tree. I will have to play a few more times to really tell, but I'm not convinced that this game has much depth. EDIT: Having played it a couple more times, I came to understand the strategy a bit more and neither of the players got boxed in unless they chose to. There were also fewer trees on the board at any given time.

EDIT 2: I've played this with 3 and 4 players and it's scaled well. As with most abstracts, I think the "purest" experience comes face-to-face, but this has definitely become a go-to pyramid game when there are more than 2 players.



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25. Board Game: Twin Win [Average Rating:6.24 Overall Rank:6824]
Spencer C
Netherlands
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In this game you move pieces around a 3x3 grid in an attempt to make one of your two secret winning configurations before your opponent(s) makes one of their's.

It's a solid little game that plays deeper than the short, simple rules might suggest.

If I were still a single stash man, this might be my icehouse game of choice. I'd certainly be much more likely to play this game than Treehouse -- easier to teach, better to play.

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