Betwixt a Rock and a Hard Place

By Andrew Joyce

This review is a summary of an audio review by Get on Board. Feel free to click here for the full audio review (from episode #19) ›
It’s possible, perhaps even probable, that the only place you’ll ever see the game Twixt is in the back corner of a dusty thrift store. The only reason I found it at all is because I’m into the old 3M bookshelf games (like Acquire, another Get on Board favorite) and got a copy for free from a friend. Twixt looked kind of interesting, in an old, stale, 1960’s sort of way.

As it turned out, I ended up falling really hard for this game. And rather than focus on a traditional review, this one’s going to read a little more like a story.

The actual gameplay of Twixt is dead simple. Players have two types of pieces: pegs and links. On your turn, you can place a peg, and should it connect with any other pegs in a certain direction (2 over, 1 away), you can place a link there. The object of the game is to cross from one side of the board to the other, making an unbroken wall of your own pegs/links. Your opponent, meanwhile, is trying to connect the other two ends of the board, so that you end up perpendicular to each other and spoiling each other’s plans. Something like this:

Photo Credit: Jorge Medal

Well, two of my friends and I got way into this game. We had specialized ELO rankings that updated after each match. We played three times a week, more once we discovered online play. I spent weeks make a custom-stained wooden board for the game. We were learning new strategies, mining the depths of this little-known game — and it was marvelous. Twixt really does have incredible depth: it was the first game that showed me just how far down the rabbit hole one can go with abstracts. I learned tactics, strategies, that soon became superficial and outdated as we figured out more efficient play-styles. Slowly, little by little, it felt like the three of us were discovering the universe: and every match would be a drawn-out, horns-locked battle to the death. It was great.

But there’s a problem: in Twixt, the depth leads to a slow, methodical sort of play. Links are rarely formed, but the threat of links and double links is the whole game. Instead of a quick fencing match, it’s a slow, slow constricting of the board space until someone resigns. Online matches take hours between moves, often so a player can visit and revisit possible moves. Everything slows to a crawl. Instead of a quick game of wits and instincts, Twixt becomes a slow, mathematical behemoth as you take a methodical survey of the giant 24×24 board.

We learned this when we started playing online: there is a real metagame to Twixt’s online and tournament scene (such as it is). And once I dipped a toe in the depth that was there, I realized that wasn’t the sort of game I wanted to play. I’ve since found other abstracts that I enjoy much more: Yinsh, Palago, Go, Samurai, and many others. But the point is, Twixt was my gateway drug. Even though I rarely play it anymore, it showed me just what was special about abstracts, and it totally hooked me.

Twixt took me on a gaming journey. It opened me up to a new corner of the gaming world. And now, here’s the thing. I no longer even own Twixt. I gave it to my buddy, to celebrate his engagement. His eyes lit up and he said thank you. See, Twixt is Nathan’s game. He plays online all the time, he’s way into the depth. He went further than I ever did. He even said he was going to teach the game to his fiance’s Dad. And I’m happy for him to get use out of the board that I made.

So do I recommend Twixt? Well, it all depends. I just can’t recommend this game to everyone. It’s dry, it’s a little stuffy, and you may not find the depth to your liking. But if any part of that journey sounded interesting to you, you should check out Twixt. It’s fun to throw yourself into one game, to learn it and try to discover its depths. In a hobby that’s often about the next big thing, trying the new hotness, and learning new games, I sure got a lot of pleasure out of blasting back to the 60s and marinating in the incredible depth this game had to offer. Maybe you should try it as well!

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