Three-in-a-row games date back to ancient Egypt with the earliest boards dating back to 1300 BCE. Three millennia later, have we figured out how to take a fundamentally simple game and make it complex? Yes, yes we have. Tic-tac-toe still has the benefit of requiring no actual components: fingers and sand work fine, as does a pencil and the back of a restaurant receipt. The other great benefit of tic-tac-toe is that it’s on the very, very easy side of complexity: So simple you can teach a chicken to play the game (and win!)
Like every game, though, tic-tac-toe can be a springboard for something more deep and complex, and that’s exactly what designer Brandon Simmons II said when creating the fun wallet game Tic Tac Slash. At its most basic, it’s a deck of 16 cards, each divided into four quadrants or “spaces”: Two players take turns placing their cards to cover up a minimum of one space, maximum of three spaces, atop the existing tableau: Attain three-in-a-row for your symbol and you win!
BASIC SETUP: IT’S EASY
There are two special cards in the deck, one with two X’s, another with one O. They’re the center two cards, below. Every other card has a different arrangement of the two symbols and two sprites, as shown:
Randomly deal out one of the X/O starting cards to each player, then all subsequent turns are chosen from a hand of 3 cards which you refill after each turn. The only rule to remember is that you must overlap 1-3 spaces and that you can rotate cards 180º but not horizontally. The sprites are for a variation which I’ll talk about momentarily: for the base game you can safely ignore them.
The deck also includes two quick reference cards, one that details How to Play (and card placement rules on the flip side), while the other offers the two primary variants: Origins, and Magic Portal:
Note: This is a prototype and the rules changed subsequent to the How to Play card being printed. It doesn’t mention the 3-card hand limit, but will in the final production deck.
BEGINNING A GAME OF TIC TAC SLASH
The first few steps involve placement of the X card, then overlaying no more than half the card (you can’t possibly overlay 3 but not 4 spaces without using scissors!) with the O card. Then you alternate placing cards and refilling your hand. Here’s “X”s hand choices, it’s move #3:
Remember you can rotate the card you place 180º to get a better placement. Your goals are to both set yourself up for three-in-a-row while simultaneously blocking the other player from achieving the same. (do I really need to remind you of the rules of tic-tac-toe??)
Here’s how X decided to play their card:
You can see the logic here: If O doesn’t block things, X can win with their next card placement, overlapping the top left space and the one immediately below it. A few more turns with cards laid out and O tricks X into looking in the wrong spot, freeing them up to have a 1 space overlay on the top left and win the game:
The “??” space has meaning if you’re playing the Magic Portal variant: It is a space that cannot be covered up by any other card. The graphic will be finalized in the production cards, the “??” is just a placeholder.
ANOTHER GAME OF TIC TAC SLASH WON/LOST
Games go quickly. Once you both master the basic card placement rules, you can play a full game in just a few minutes. Here’s another end game setup, with O again winning:
Adding the Magic Portal variant won’t slow you down, but the Origins variant will: If you can line up three of the same sprite or characters, you gain a one-time boon, as detailed:
|Ashwoken:||Change the rotation of your opponent’s next card after they’ve played it.|
|Blue Elf:||Discard a card from your hand and one from the game board that isn’t covered by any other.|
|Dwarf:||Your opponent must pick one of the cards in their hand and play that on the next turn.|
|Faefolk:||You may switch symbols with your opponent.|
|Human:||Choose a space on the board and your opponent must cover it with their next move.|
These are fun and interesting variants – particularly the Faefolk! – but getting three of these symbols to line up while not losing track of the required blocking of your opponent’s symbols is non-trivial and when we played with the Origins variant, neither of us ever actually got three of the same symbol in a row!
FINAL THOUGHTS ON TIC TAC SLASH
I play a lot of really, really complicated games with rule books that sprawl into the dozens of pages with addenda and clarifications in BGG discussion forums. Tic Tac Slash is a refreshing alternative, a game I can explain to a friend in just a minute or two and have us playing just a few seconds later. A few quick games while chatting or sharing beverages is often just what’s needed for a fun interaction, and while it’s going to be a bit too big for an airplane tray, it’s great for coffee shops, bars, even train commutes. It’s also delightfully affordable too, with a target MSRP of $12 for the cards and a slim vinyl holder.
Having said that, this is a really simple game, one that might not hold your attention for very long too. I can’t imagine people play tic-tac-toe for more than a half dozen quick matches either, however competitive they may be. Still, an easy game you can literally slip into your wallet or a corner pocket of your purse has a place in many game collections, so it’s worth checking out Tic Tac Slash, particularly while it’s on Kickstarter!
Disclosure: The Wilderforge sent me a pre-production copy of Tic Tac Slash in return for this candid review.