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Subject: Advanced Noughts & Crosses - a 'long' review for a short brilliant game rss

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Teik Chooi Oh
United Kingdom
Chorley
Lancashire
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This is the 2nd game from Andy Hopwood, a genuinely nice guy. He told me 2 years ago he was going to make a game, I politely nodded and filed that away as another ambitious gamer thinking they will make a game but never quite get there. Then last year, he showed me his first game, Niche which is nice little abstract card game for up to 7 players. Not just a good game but proceeds went to charity too.

Then, this year at UK Games Expo recently, I met him and jokingly asked, so have you made another game and he said yes! Not that I am surprised by him any more but after many futile attempts (and I am not exactly a huge fan of abstract games either), I finally got to play Mijnlieff. And it was really good. So good that I had to beg him to sell me a copy since it was hand made limited 1st edition of 25 and he only had 2 left! Luckily he was nice enough to sell me one of them (and got a lucky number '8' too).

So, what's the game then? well, advanced noughts and crosses is the way I see it (and way I 'sell it', figuratively anyway, to other gamers). The board is actually 'modular' and consists of 4 pieces of 2x2 squares. So the basic shape is a 4x4 playing board but once you are used to the game, any shape is possible!

Each player takes a Light side and a Dark side (yeah, I can imagine a Star Wars theme here too, especially considering some of the 'powers'). Light starts with any piece on the outside corner (I did not even play with this rule initially and it was fine) and I believe Andy said the Dark player should set up the board to be fairer (though this is not in written rules)

Players take turns playing pieces in attempts to form as many lines (straight or diagonal continuously) of 3 as possible at end of the game (which unlike basic noughts and crosses, this game does not end with 1st line of 3 formed). Pieces can be used to count multiple times for different lines eg 4 in a row would therefore score 2 points.

For each piece put down, it has a 'power' to force the opponent to put their playing piece according to certain restrictions. Each side has 8 playing pieces, 2 each of 4 types. They are:

- Straight (+ sign): Opponent plays to any empty square in orthogonal line from piece just played (this may skip other pieces already in play)

- Diagonals ( x sign): Ditto above except in diagonal lines instead.

- Pullers (square in a circle): Opponent must play into empty square touching (even by diagonal corner) the current piece. So if played in middle of board, opponent has 8 possible spots all around if no other pieces yet played.

- Pushers (square in broken circle spaced apart): Opposite of Pullers, ie Opponent may NOT put following piece around the current piece.

Sounds simple? it is! that is part of the beauty of it (not to mention the production quality which I will discuss further on).

These pieces only exert their 'powers' for the next piece being placed by opponent. The powers do NOT persist. The important rule is that if opponent is unable to play a piece due to the piece powers, then oppoent has to pass and you get to go again, being able to play any piece into any square! When the final piece is placed, opponent normally gets to place 1 last piece but if opponent has had to pass as above, they forsake this last go. Count number of lines of 3 and most lines win. Andy suggested players may play best of 3 but really anything is possible (I usually get others whom have been watching eager to give it a go and so don't play more than 1 at a time).

Why is this game good?

-quick short game and yet very satisfying to play (and perhaps, win!)

-easy to teach, people do grasp the concept once those easy intuitive symbols are explained (and noughts and crosses is a game nearly everyone has played before!)

-great production quality. lovely hand made engraved wooden pieces in a simple, small (and portable!) cool bag with the wooden tag. definitely a factor in drawing in people when playing. And I won't even mention the shockingly low price.

Andy is looking for a company to take this up and get it mass produced and more widely available, as I feel it should be. Apologies for the 'long' review for this simple, elegant and brilliant game but I just wanted to make sure I convey how I felt about it.

Disclaimer: I have gotten to know Andy just from meeting him at gaming conventions and really like him as a fellow gamer and admire how he has made his own gameS! However, this review is entirely on my own accord and I have no financial gain whatsover from it.
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Richard Dewsbery
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Nice review, Chooi. I'm not quite sure I know the point of the second post, though (spam?).

By the time I tried Mijnlieff - and it was the only new game I played at the Expo, believe it or not - Andy had already sold out. I'm not a big fan of two-player abstract games (they involve too much thinking and too much skill for me to find them fun), but I enjoyed Mijnlieff. For me, though, the acid test would be a computer simulation or AI, to see if the game can be "solved" (always a risk with a small number of pieces on a small board).
 
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Andy Hopwood
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Just played two sets together and I was surprised to find that it worked really well. I thought it would take too long to get going but it seemed to make you think from turn 1. Now I'm wondering just how big a game could get!!!???
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Teik Chooi Oh
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Chorley
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ooh 2 sets eh? you better get going getting more copies made then!
 
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George Leach
United Kingdom
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I figured two copies would not quite make a 3x3 square so I didn't buy a second one. Maybe an additional square could be sold!
 
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Andy Hopwood
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Hi George,

Interesting point. The publisher I'm in discussion with reckons we could sell individual game pieces either to replace lost parts or to expand board sizes.

It would be worth exploring whether an extra board piece (but no extra pieces) reduces the opportunities to block your opponent.

When I played with two sets we didn't stick to a square shape, it's one of the things I like best about the game. As soon as you change the shape the relative importance of the different pieces changes as well. On a big board the power of the pushers is diminished.

Your copy is in the post I hope you receive it soon.

Andy
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George Leach
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Andy I received it on Saturday, the production is great, there's the odd extremely minor niggle for me but I'm very happy. We played it 5 times yesterday.

An expansion piece idea for you; a piece that lets your opponents play a knights move away. This would be quite powerful as your opponent is immediately restricted from blocking the n-in-a-row you've just set up as they cannot play orthogonally or diagonally from you.

Two of these pieces pieces each plus a bonus square allows the combination of two sets such that a large square can be made and obviously a number of other orientations. Once you've got to that number of pieces you're approaching a portable checkers set too. Bonus!

Maybe I should just buy four sets... I'd need a fifth piece type for a portable chess set though... Hmm perhaps my Icebag is still the most portable. How easily could the production be scaled down in size?
 
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Andy Hopwood
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Glad you are happy with the game. Thanks for your kind comments here and on the ratings pages.

Interesting idea about the knights move. I wanted to avoid the pieces being too "chess"-like. I tried several other types of piece in playtesting (including a piece in your opponents colour which, once played, gave you a free move anywhere). All the alternatives never 'felt' right or were just downright silly. At some point you've just got to say that'll do and get on with making the game.

I like the idea of just 4 types of piece, it seems enough for most non-gamers to grapple with but I see no harm in playtesting the knights move piece. I like the idea of getting people who don't normally play games to give them a go so simplicity always scores highly with me.

For the record I've played over 200 times now and am still not bored, and that's coming from the biggest critic of my games, me.

Your scaling down idea is a good one, but it might be easier to buy a bigger bag.

Best wishes

Andy
 
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George Leach
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I agree Andy, I think your initial production with only four pieces was the right way to go, it is simple enough for non-gamers, short and quick for non-abstract gamers (due to the depth they will read too) and deep enough for a short abstract game for those with that particular penchant.
However, an expansion does always offer additional sales and potential for additional depth. If its picked up by strong abtract players the game may well be solved in a short time, obviously a larger board and additional pieces is an easy way to add depth, though not necessarily always successful.
 
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Andy Hopwood
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You're right of course. Expanding the pieces available increases the challenge of any game. One way I challenge myself is offer a novice player the chance to remove one of my pieces before we begin. It's amazing how much harder it becomes.

On the subject of "solvability", one or two people (a tiny percentage) have declared it is too simplistic and will be solved quite quickly. What is your take on this? I'm no expert strategy player but I have played over 200 times and not noted a "best" way to guarantee a win or a draw. I know I would quickly tire of such a game.

 
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George Leach
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Difficult, and unfortunately I won't be able to offer you a solution any time soon. I have promised my fiance that I will not play or study the game outside of our plays together and if I come to any particular realisations I should let her know after the game. So far I've recognised the difference in value between diagonal and orthogonal pieces, the value of the central four squares and that the style of play affects the value of pullers and pushers.
As it travels well and teaches easily and supports British design I want to ensure I continue to have a level-ish playing field with my fiance so we can develop a habit of playing good games together. I suspect that the more linear the board becomes, the more 'solveable' it becomes. I would suggest you get the game onto iggamecenter or published by nestor and hope it gets picked up by a quorum of strong strategists who are willing to test it to it's limits. Like I say, normally I would be willing to approach that problem but this game currently holds a slightly special spot for me.

Thanks again for a great package.
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torontoraptors
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I have a question concerning the non-square board.For example if we have(there are only 3 boards present but it's just for the purposes of this question):
------
|x1x2|
|x3x4|
-----------
|y1y2|z1z2|
|y3y4|z3z4|
-----------

where x, y and z are boards.
If we play a diagonal piece on x1 the other player may play on x4,z1 or z4,correct?
But if we play on x2, can the other player play only on x3 or can he play also on z2? My question is, do non-board spaces break a line or can we jump them?



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Martijn Althuizen
Netherlands
Helmond
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Hi,

You can't jump non-board spaces.

Cheers,
Martijn

torontoraptors wrote:
I have a question concerning the non-square board.For example if we have(there are only 3 boards present but it's just for the purposes of this question):
------
|x1x2|
|x3x4|
-----------
|y1y2|z1z2|
|y3y4|z3z4|
-----------

where x, y and z are boards.
If we play a diagonal piece on x1 the other player may play on x4,z1 or z4,correct?
But if we play on x2, can the other player play only on x3 or can he play also on z2? My question is, do non-board spaces break a line or can we jump them?



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