It looks like some kind of tic-tac-toe game. Nice wooden board. Nice wooden pieces. But it’s not tic-tac-toe. Nope, not in the least. It’s Chaos, from Mindware – a wonderfully addictive, two-player strategy game – easy to learn, and surprisingly subtle.

First thing you have to realize: you’re most definitely not trying to get anything in a row. Instead, you’re trying to be the first player to get rid of all of your pieces. That takes care of anything you might have thought you already knew about the game.

As in tic-tac-toe, the game is played on a 3×3 grid. Each player has 12 pieces. On a turn, you can play on any open space, or on top of any previously played piece. If your move results in the creation of a stack of 4 pieces, you must disassemble that stack, moving each piece in that stack to a horizontally or vertically adjacent stack (or space). This is done in a clockwise order, beginning with the space or stack directly in front of the stack you are disassembling, and proceeding in a clockwise fashion. When you dismantle a stack on any of the eight peripheral spaces, one of the pieces of the stack has no where go. That piece gets eliminated.

When a stack of three is adjacent to several stacks of three, your move causes a chain reaction – creating more stacks of four, each of which has to be disassembled, resulting in yet more stacks and yet more pieces to eliminate. If you’re not careful, you can easily help your opponent win.

Though the game is ostensibly for 2 players, we played it with four, in two teams of two. And there, yet another surprise awaited us. Because of the method of unstacking (always begin with the space or stack directly in front of the stack you are disassembling), where exactly we were each sitting relative to the board took on an added strategic significance.

There is nothing chaotic about the game of Chaos. It is a game of pure strategy. But there is a lot of surprise, and, surprisingly often, moments of sheer glee. All-in-all, most clearly Major FUN.

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