Icehouse strategy

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Icehouse is a lot like Othello: Easy to learn, hard to master. On this page you'll find some useful tips that can help you win more games. However, it is suggested that you know the basic rules before you read any further.

Basic Strategy

Fortressing

As much as possible, you want to fortress both your attackers and defenders -- playing defenders such that they cannot be attacked (or better yet, such that a single attack on them is squandered and incorporated into the fortress) and playing attackers such that the attack cannot be either intercepted or over-iced. This is done by using other defenders and attackers -- even opponent's defenders and attackers -- to build a wall around the defending pieces through which a successful attack cannot be made.

The risk, however, is twofold. Firstly, opponents may steal or incorporate parts of your fortress for their own (when done in a large scale, this is known as the Snowball, as all or most players build a common fortress out of their defenders and attacks on them.) Secondly, while a fortress around a successful defender prevents that piece from being iced, one around an iceddefender prevents it from being saved via restructuring (naturally, this is the intended result when fortressing your attackers).

You always want to fortress your attackers if you can, since this unless the fortress can be broken via restructuring, this permanently takes points away from an opponent while guaranteeing that your attackers will be successful.

Defenders are sometimes best fortressed, and sometimes best played in the clear, perhaps a piece's length away from your own pieces, but not adjacent to any other pieces.

Restructuring

When you have, or can be sure of getting prisoners, you are often better off playing your defenders out in the open (especially large and medium defenders), so that any attacks on them are difficult to fortress and can be restructured with your prisoners. When restructuring, you first over-ice your piece, then retreat the attackers such that their attack lines come very close to one another (or even cross). Then retrieve the overicing piece and place one that blocks all the attackers, thus saving the defender. The blocker can your own small defender (allowing you to Trade Up), or can be another attacker, ideally over-icing yet -another- of your iced pieces while blocking the attackers with it's tip and/or tail. If you have at least a large prisoner (or equivalent; a medium and a small will do nicely), you can generally restructure (and save) all attacks on your defenders played out in the open by use of forced retreat, trading up, and tip/tail blocking. If, however, you run low on pieces, you can also use your own defenders or attackers to help restructure -- defenders can be played to squander a retreated attacker (large defender played in front of a large attacker == squandered attacker, with a prisoner to restructure the attack further if someone completes it), or attackers attacking opponent's defending pieces can block attackers on your pieces, or you can even just play low-value defenders to block attacks on your high value pieces (if you're blocking mulitple attackers, this is really trading up).

Diplomacy

It's oft been said that Icehouse is a diplomatic game. Oddly enough, this is true, with skill at diplomacy being almost as useful in the game than the skills at moving the pieces around. A few ways they apply:

  1. Attack choice
  2. Defense deflection
  3. Sharing attacks
  4. Advice
  5. Prisoner choice
  6. Trading Prisoners

Attack Choice

In theory, your should attack everyone in an Icehouse game you can get away with. In practice, however, this isn't always the case -- leaving a player alone (or at least making sure all your attacks on them are well-fortressed) will allow you to trade prisoners with them -- simultaneously over-icing one another's pieces and thus each gaining a lot of points.

Defense Deflection

There's no right or wrong way to do this -- but if you can keep players focused on one another, and not attacking you as much, you'll do very well. Good luck with that.

Sharing Attacks

This is an easy one. If you share your attacks with other players, a number of useful things happen. First, neither of you are inclined to give the defender any prisoners (this is known as Sharing the Pain). Moreover, you can often take advantage of this to make a fortress between the attackers. Finally (but not at all unimportantly), sharing an attack with another player can effectively give you two plays at once -- making it much easier to fortress off your attack without risking having squandered attackers.

Advice

If someone's doing something you want them to to -- attacking a third player, or breaking a fortress you want broken, or even building their own fortress so they can't be put into the icehouse -- you can often help this out usefully (and earning good will in the doing) simply by giving them pointers on how to do it. In so doing, you can often discommode an opponent without even risking any of your material in the process. (particularly important when you don't -have- any material to risk).

Trading Prisoners

This, of course, is a purely diplomatic move. When you've got a lot of defenders that are iced and clear (thus restructuable), try to identify another player also in the same situation. If the player hasn't attacked you much nor you them, you can often work out a deal, icing one another's pieces. If you often find yourself in this situation but without someone to trade with, you may want to alter your strategy to fit your game (though there are other ways to get prisoners).

Prisoner Choice

Often, who you give your prisoners away to (after crashing) will determine how well you do in a game. The first way to handle this is not to crash, but that's not always possible. Beyond that, the best person to give a prisoner to is the person who owns the piece -- that way, it's not a prisoner at all any more, just an ordinary piece. But if you can't do that, the best person to give one to is either someone who promises they'll play your piece for you (and is likely to keep their word) or someone who you haven't iced much (thus only squandering other players' pieces.

Advanced Strategies

Cheeseball

The cheeseball is a method of constructing a fortress using the table edge or a stashpad as a barrier.

Snowball

Snowballing is a defensive strategy where a player utilizes part of an existing fortress to build another fortress for his or her own defender. By adding to this new structure a several times, the overall structure just gets larger and larger but is still fairly confined. This is analogous to how a snowball is made, thus this strategy's name. The advantages to having a fortressed defender are obvious, but the risk of the snowball is that attacks on snowballed defenders can also be fortressed, preventing over-icing of defenders (and subsequent restructuring) and locking the attacks in place.

Shotgun

The shotgun method is an aggressive strategy based on the ability to restructure attacks rapidly. Defenders are quickly placed widely apart to prevent a snowball from forming. Early on, a shotgunner will avoid making attacks and avoid taking prisoners except as necessary to prevent other players from building a fortress. Using fast and precise manipulation of attacking pieces, a shotgunner's common focus is to try and put as many players in the icehouse as possible.

Other Tips

  1. Pay attention: Try to keep your eye on everyone's pieces. If someone melts down, call it on them and play a piece to take advantage of the call. If someone doesn't have a fortress, see if it's worthwhile to put them in the Icehouse -- if you're clever, you might be able to get someone to help you without tipping them off. If someone crashes, do call it -- but in truth, you should call your own crashes -- don't wait to see if someone else noticed them, or you'll just ruffle feathers (remember, this is a diplomatic game), and possibly ruin the game. And if you don't have a fortress, keep an eye on your stashpad to make sure you don't get into the Icehouse. Finally, look for opportunities to steal prisoners from other players -- when a player starts restructuring, a well timed pawn play can often let you trade a single point for that very valuable 3 point prisoner.
  2. Save your Prisoners: Your prisoners are your most important asset -- giving you ways to save your own defensive pieces, save your squandered attackers, or even attack someone without fear of having your pieces squandered. Don't play them as soon as you get them -- instead, wait for a good time to use them -- and if possible, try to find a way to use them that gives you back the same number of pieces you started with.
  3. Count Points: Whenever there's a slow period, try to get a good idea of how many points people have. There are actually two scores that matter here. First, there's the question of how many points people are down -- their squandered attackers, their iced pieces, and their pieces on someone else's stash pad. Second, and often more important during a game, is the question of their actual score -- not "how many points would they get if they dumped their stashpad right now" but "how many points do they actually have?". Icehouse is a game always played on time (competitively, anyway), so especially toward the end of the game, to win, you need not to theoretically be able to win, but to actually be winning. So while you don't want to race ahead of everyone else, if you count and find you're not winning right now, you may want to drop a few more defenders out or ice some of an opponent's.
  4. Remember the Clock: Try to get a feel for how long the game's taking, and play accordingly. Remember, pieces on your stashpad at the end of the game get you -nothing-. If you're not winning, you should probably be playing a piece as long as you have one. If you are winning, you can afford to sit back and let the timer run out.
  5. Be Nice: No, really. Icehouse is a diplomatic game, so while you often want to attack other players, you want to help them too, and certainly be in a position to offer them deals and accept them. And often, being nice (offering to place a crashed piece for them if they give it to you as a prisoner)), while it won't usually get you something, will at least prevent someone else from getting it and destablizing the game. Moreover, when people try to do things you want them to do, don't be afraid to give them advice that helps them do this better -- it loses you nothing, and may make it easier for you to win. Similarly, while you can win by putting another player in the icehouse, you can -also- win (and score niceness points) by helping them stay out of the icehouse. Playing favorites a bit (ie, being nice to the same player more than once) can also encourage players to trade prisoners with you, or give you crashed pieces as prisoners. And anyway, being nice is Cool, and makes the game more fun!

External Links

  • A good webpage on Icehouse strategies at Wunderland: [1]