Tic Attack Toe

Tic Attack ToeTic Attack Toe is, as you might have guessed, based on Tic Tac Toe. That tells you that it’s a two-player strategy game and very easy to learn.

It doesn’t tell you that, unlike everything you know about Tic Tac Toe, there’s no one winning strategy, the game never ends with a tie, there’s just enough luck in the game to keep it interesting for adults and kids alike, it’s significantly more fun, and brilliantly designed – from package to play.

You get a plastic box. Each corner of the box is extended just a bit – as if it were the center square in a game of tic tac toe, with the adjacent squares partially erased. Which is exactly what it is. And once you lay it on the table you realize the design is just enough to make box function, rather perfectly, like a whole tic tac toe board.

You open the lid to find 60 cards. 25 cards are X-shaped (strategically notched, rounded-corner rectangles), 25 O-shaped (corners also rounded, the rest strategically un-notched). Of these, both players get two sets of cards numbered 1-12, and one wild card. There are 9 cards used to keep score (you get to take one every time you complete a tic tac toe). And one rule card.

You take all the cards of your chosen symbol (as in X or O), shuffle them, and deal yourself six. From then on, you take turns placing cards on the board (the center square and 8 adjacent indicated squares). You can place any of your cards anywhere as long as they are higher than any card already played – yours or your opponent’s. That part, the having to play a higher card part, is where the game takes on much of its uniqueness, strategic interest, and fun. You can get very strategic about it all – strategic enough to merit serious contemplation. Since you only have two cards of each value, playing your highest is something you can only do twice in each game. The wild card, interestingly enough, beats any card. And even more interestingly, any card beats a wild.

Every time you win you get to pick up a score card (from the pile of 9, which you have perhaps chosen to stack in the conveniently provided box lid). The game doesn’t stop there, naturally. You go on playing until someone has collected 5 score cards.

Everything about this game reflects what some people might call “intelligent design.” Very intelligent: The minimalist board which doubles as a carrying case. The well-written, concise, comprehensive, and admirably brief rules – simple enough to invite the development of house rules for those who wish to take the game more or less seriously (try playing with partners – like bridge, reduce the number of score cards needed to win, increase the number of cards in your hand). The design of the cards, making it very easy on the eyes, very clear what each card is worth and to whom it belongs. The elegance and depth of game play. It’s only a little game – like one of those games you’d expect to see hanging on a supermarket endcap. But it’s a paradigm for what a Major Fun game should be.

The PB&J Toy company produces toys and games, most of which are just being introduced this year.  The concept of playing Tic Attack Toe came to them by way of By George! Inc, but the packaging, the final rules, the refined game play all came from PB&J. If Tic Attack Toe is representative of their games, this is a company we will be wanting to play very close attention to.

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