EQUIPMENT AND SETUP
The game can be played with two or more players, with virtually no upper limit. However, with only two players the game is not as challenging, and with five or more, it can get pretty confusing. Four players is considered optimum.
Each player gets 15 square-based pyramids, all of one color. The pyramids come in three distinct sizes: small, medium, and large. In addition to the pyramids, each player must also have a "stash pad" on which to store his pyramids. They are called stash pads since each player's supply of unplayed pieces is called his "stash." This pad must be large enough to comfortably hold all of your pyramids.
There's nothing magic about what you use for stash pads. You can use almost anything as a stash pad, as long as it separates your unplayed pieces from the pieces that have been played. Therefore, if you're playing in a restaurant, you can use napkins as your stash pads. If you're playing on the beach, you can just draw a square in the sand with your finger. The thing about Icehouse is that it can be played almost anywhere, from the floor of a subway station platform to the lunch counter of a diner. The only requirements for a playing surface are that it be flat and free of clutter, and that each player can reach across it conveniently. A small area is considered best. If, however, play occurs on a large surface without distinct natural borders, like a floor, legal plays can technically be made at any point upon that field.
To setup the game, each player sets down his stash pad and sets his 15 pyramids out onto it. The exact location of the stash pad is unimportant, it can be put anywhere on the playing field. Once placed, the stash pad is not moved for the duration of the game.
STARTING THE GAME
To begin playing the game, each player signifies that he or she is ready to start by placing a finger upon one of the pieces on their stash pad. As soon as all players are touching (but not lifting) a piece on their pad, play can begin. Note that the player is not required to use the piece he or she touched as the first piece played; this is merely a universal signal for being ready to start playing. Remember also that the game runs in real time - each player can play at any time they choose. This means you can play all of your pieces in the first 30 seconds of the game, or that you can wait 10 minutes before playing any pieces at all.
DEFENDING VS. ATTACKING PIECES
A pyramid can be played in either of two ways: standing upright or lying on its side. Standing pyramids are "defending," while pyramids that are lying down are "attacking." Defensive pyramids can be placed anywhere upon the playing field. Attacking pyramids, however, can only be placed such that they are pointing at a defensive piece of a different color. Attacking pyramids cannot attack other attacking pyramids. Once a pyramid is placed on the playing field, it cannot be moved or removed except under special circumstances (which will be covered later).
The size of the pyramids is important, both for strategy during the game and for scoring at game's end. The small sized pyramids have a value of 1, the medium pieces have a value of 2, and the large pyramids have a value of 3.
The object of the game is to neutralize as many of your opponents' defensive pyramids as possible, via attack, while keeping as many of your own defensive pyramids free from attack as you can. The game starts with all pieces held in storage on their stash pads. During the game, players select pieces from their stashes and place them out in the playing field, in either the Defending position or the Attacking position. The game continues until all of the pyramids in the game have been played. At the end of the game, players only get points for their pyramids that are either successfully attacking or successfully defending. The player with the highest score wins.
A successful attack is any attack in which the value of the attacking piece(s) exceeds the value of the defending piece being attacked. Several attack pieces, even attack pieces belonging to different players, can work together to successfully attack a single defending piece. When an attack is successful, the defensive piece is said to be "iced." For example, to ice a 2 point pyramid, you need to attack it with at least three points. You could use a single 3 point pyramid, or a 2 pointer and a 1 pointer, or even three 1 point pyramids.
For an attack to be valid, its tip must be pointing directly at the standing piece, and it must be within range. "Pointing directly at the standing piece" means that if you draw a line straight out from the tip of the attack piece, perpendicular to its base, the first thing the line hits is the defending piece. "Within range" means that the distance between the attack piece and the standing piece must be less that the length of the attack piece. Note that larger pieces have a greater range.
A few sample attacks are shown in Figure 1.
Any defending piece that survives attack is a successful defending piece. A defensive piece can succeed because either 1) no one attacked it or 2) the combined attacks against it failed.
There are several ways in which an attack can fail. Attacks can fail simply by being poorly played. (For example, if a 2 point attack piece is pointed at a 3 point standing piece, and no other attacks are made on the 3 pointer, then the 2 point attack piece will fail.) Attacks can also start out as successful attacks but then become failed attacks later on, due to placement of subsequent playing pieces. This is an important strategy, and will be dealt with in detail later on. Failed attacks are commonly referred to as "squandered attacks."
A failed defending piece is any standing piece that has been iced by one or more successful attacks.
When playing Icehouse, you can play pieces in the defending mode at any point in the playing field that you wish. However, you can only play pieces in the attacking mode such that they attack a defensive piece belonging to an opponent. You may NOT play an attack piece such that it is pointing at 1) another attack piece 2) a piece of its same color or 3) nothing at all. Attack pieces played this way must be taken back.
However, it IS possible for an attack piece to be affected by other plays such that it makes an illegal attack. If a valid attack is made, and then other pieces are played such that the original attack piece points at another attack piece, or at a piece of its own color, or even at open space, then that attack piece stays where it is and gets zero points. An example of how a valid attack piece can become squandered in this way is shown in Figure 2. Plays such as this are an important and useful strategy.
NO TWO FISTING
You may never have more than one unplayed piece off of your stash pad at one time. Each play you make must be a single, discrete action, i.e. no two fisted playing. You cannot be placing one piece down with one hand while grabbing at the next with the other hand.
Note, however, that this does not compel you to use only one hand during the course of a game. You can use two hands to place or remove a piece in a difficult spot. You can also change hands, as long as you do so only by passing a pyramid from one hand to the other. You may not alternate hands in order to play quickly.
The first two pyramids of each color that are placed onto the field MUST be defensive pieces. If any player forgets this rule and plays an attack piece before playing the required two defensive pieces, they must take back all of the attack pieces of their color, put them back on their stash pad, and then play the required number of defensive pieces. Play does not suspend while they are doing this. This mistake is called a "meltdown."
When all of the stash pads are cleared, the game ends. Each player's pyramids are then counted. Each player gets 1, 2, and 3 points for each of his small, medium, and large pyramids, respectively, that are either successfully defending or are successfully icing other pieces. This gives a total possible score for each player of 30; often it is easier to count the points a player lost and subtract this amount from the total possible. In counting the scores, it is easy to make a mistake; the usual etiquette is to go through the colors, counting each player's points as a group, settling any disputes as they arise.
A piece is legally iced even if the attack it suffers is jointly made by more than one player. For example, a red 3 point pyramid may be iced by a blue 2 point pyramid and a green 2 point pyramid. In this case, blue and green each get 2 points. Red. of course, loses 3 points.
The winner is the player with the most points. Sometimes a group will play a match of 5 games, keeping score and totaling the scores at the end.
PUTTING A PLAYER IN THE ICEHOUSE
Philosophically, it is important for each player to maintain some un-iced defensive pieces. Defending pieces are like the civilians back home that the troops are fighting to protect. If all of the civilians are dead or captured, the troops have failed at their job.
Therefore, if a player has no un-iced defenders, they can automatically lose the game. This is called "being put in the icehouse." If this happens, the player loses control of all of his or her unplayed pyramids and gets a score of 0. It can't happen right away, though. There is a grace period during which players can build up their defenses before being vulnerable to this sort of instant death. You can only be put in the icehouse if all of your defensive pyramids have been iced and you have less than eight pieces on your stash pad. This safety limit is called the "stash limit."
If at any point, a player thinks an opponent has no "free standers" (un-iced defensive pieces) and is below the stash limit, the player can call "icehouse." Whenever anyone says "icehouse," play suspends. Any incomplete plays must be retracted. (A play is only complete when you have placed a pyramid on the field and let go of it. If you are still touching it, it isn't considered played and must be returned to the stash pad when someone calls icehouse.)
During an icehouse call, the status of all players is examined. If no one is in the icehouse, then the person who made the call was wrong and pays a penalty. The player who made the false call takes any piece from his stash and gives it to any other player. It is treated as a captured piece by whoever receives it. (See "Things You Can Do With Captured Pieces.") There is no need (and no way) to give away a piece if none exist in your stash.
If someone is in fact in the icehouse, that person gives all of the pieces left on their stash pad to the person who called "icehouse." The pieces are transferred to the other player's stash pad, leaving the person in the icehouse with an empty stash pad.
The person in the icehouse is not completely out of the action. He or she can still watch the board, and if any of their pieces get over-iced, they can make captures and play those captured pieces (see "Over-Icing"). Also, they can make icehouse calls, and can use any pieces they receive as a result.
Play resumes as soon as the results of the Icehouse call are determined. Players not involved in handing over victory spoils or penalty pieces can resume playing whenever they wish.
If you have no free standers and are under the stash limit, and you call "icehouse," then you yourself get put in the icehouse. Your score will be zero. However, you don't give away your pieces. You get to keep your pieces and continue playing, and even though your plays won't count towards your score, at least no one will have a vast number of prisoners. This gives a person who knows he is vulnerable to an Icehouse call a tough choice. He can just hope that no one notices it or he can call "icehouse" on himself.
Occasionally, two people will call "icehouse" at the same time. In this case, the players (or other observers) who did not call Icehouse must decide who called it first. They are expected to be as impartial as possible in making this judgement.
When scoring, a player who was put in the icehouse gets 0. However, other players still get points for attacking the pieces belonging to the player who was put in the icehouse.
Since a failure to keep defensive pieces un-iced can net you an instant defeat, there must be some strategy for protecting defensive pieces from attack. You can do this by building an ice fortress. An ice fortress is any structure of pieces that builds unbreachable walls around defensive pieces. Both attack pieces and defensive pieces, belonging either to you or to your opponents, can be used as ice fortress walls. (See Figure 3.) Natural boundaries, such as the edge of the table, can also serve as ice fortress walls.
Attack pieces only ice the piece they point directly at. Therefore, any piece that is entirely surrounded by other pieces is safe from attack. However, if the pieces forming the fortress walls aren't right next to each other, it may be possible for an opponent to point an attack piece at the piece inside of the fortress instead of the pieces forming the fortress walls. Therefore, when building a fortress, beware of gaps. If your fortress has no gaps, you'll be safe, because attack pieces only attack the front most object in their path.
In order to ice a pyramid, you need to attack it with at least 1 point over its own value. It is legal to use more force than is required, but this is not necessarily wise. If you use so much force in icing a piece that any single attack piece is redundant, you have "over-iced" the piece. For example, if you are attacking a 2 point pyramid, and you use two 3 point pyramids, you have over-iced the opponent, because one of those 3 point pyramids could be removed from the structure, and the 2 point pyramid would remain iced.
What does this mean? It means that the person whose piece has been over-iced can remove one of the redundant attack pieces (in this case one of the 3 point pyramids) and place it on his stash pad for later use. He can remove any of the attack pieces he wishes, as long as the defensive piece remains iced. He can do this at any time he wants, not necessarily when he first notices it. It is, however, considered good form to say something like "my piece is over-iced" just before capturing a piece.
The game ends as soon as the last piece is played. Any over-ice situations that are noticed after the last play, or even created by the last play, do not count.
Over-icing may seem like an unlikely occurrence at first, but it frequently happens, especially in games with more than two players. A player can easily attack an opponent's piece without realizing that he or she is not the only one doing so. More importantly, over-icing can also be intentional. Strategically, over-icing is the key to the entire game.
CRACKING AN ICE FORTRESS
If your opponent has a fortress in which one or more of the walls are made by attacking pieces, it may be possible to remove one of.the walls of his fortress via over-icing. Suppose the fortress wall is formed by an attack piece which is icing a piece that belongs to you. If you can convince a third player to over-ice your piece, you can then capture the attack piece that was forming the wall. Your ally can quickly slide an attack piece into the busted fortress. (See Figure 4.)
If this was your opponent's only fortress and he's below the stash limit, the word "icehouse" will be on the tip of everyone's tongue. Intentional over-icing can be a key action used during player diplomacy.
THINGS YOU CAN DO WITH PRISONERS
In addition to the sheer joy of depriving another player of his pieces, captured pieces can be very useful. The most obvious thing to do with a captured piece is to place it out in an open, undefended area of the playing field and then ice it immediately thereafter. This is called "executing a prisoner."
If you have a large number of captured pieces, often the result of a successful icehouse call, you can use these captured pieces as the walls of your own ice fortress. This is called "using slave labor." When playing these slaves in the defensive position, you can also execute them as soon as your fortress is built. (Though your opponents will probably try to beat you to this.)
Best of all, you can use prisoners to over-ice your own defensive pieces, and thereby perform maneuvers such as cracking a fortress without calling upon the help of an ally. See the section in the strategies chapter entitled "Restructuring an Attack" for more details.
Because the captured piece belongs to an opponent, you should be thinking of ways to keep the captured piece from being worth points for your opponent at the end of the game (unless of course the piece belongs to someone in the icehouse). Executing prisoners is obviously one way of doing this; however, in the last stages of the game you may not have enough of your own pyramids to achieve this. One solution to this problem is to squander the value of the captured piece by having it attack another pyramid without enough strength to ice it. Thus, as a final move, you could squander a captured 2 point piece by using it to attack your own free standing 3 point piece.
Captured pieces DO count towards your stash limit.
Frequently it is the case that a player wishes to squeeze a piece into a place where it won't easily fit. Sometimes the player will manage to do this without jarring any of the pieces already in place, and sometimes he won't. If a player moves any of the pieces on the board while attempting to play a piece, it is called a "crash."
This is bad. The object of the game is to build a complex strategic structure which can be scored at game's end. Accidental changes to the setup will not only affect the final score but may also alter the current strategic situation. A player who crashes the setup must therefore pay a penalty. He must give away the piece he was trying to play, to the opponent of his choice. Also, the pieces that were jarred should be put back the way they were (subject to agreement by all concerned players).
If a crash is so disastrous as to make recovery impossible, the players have the option to beat the tar out of the player who crashed the game. (This is particularly true in the case of a player who keeps losing and turns over the table in a fit of frustration.)
While seemingly just a board game, Icehouse is also rather like a sport. The physical elements of the game (a steady hand, good coordination, etc) reward more skillful and adept players, and just as sports are often bounded by a clock, so too is Icehouse. To prevent a slow player from attempting to wait until all others have played before getting involved, the game will have a definite (though unknowable) ending point, after which unplayed pieces will be worthless.
Before starting, all players must agree upon when the game shall end. The timer can be an actual timer, set to ring after a certain length of time (10 minutes is the standard used in tournaments). The timer can also be the next occurrence of an arbitrary event, such as the arrival of a waitress, train, or phone call. Whatever method of marking the time is used, the clock must be invisible to the players. When the timer goes off, immediately stop the game. Recall to the stash pads any pieces that were being played when the timer sounded. Any pyramids left on stash pads don't count towards your score.
A FEW FINAL REMINDERS
You can place a defensive piece anywhere; however, you cannot place an attack piece such that it is pointing at: 1) another attack piece, 2) a piece of the same color, or 3) open space.
The only player who may capture over-icing attack pieces is the player who owns the defending piece under attack.
There are only three cases in which a piece that has been played can be moved. They are: 1) capturing pieces used in over-icing, 2) re-placement of pieces after a crash, and 3) removal of attack pieces after a meltdown.
The stash limit is 8. If you have less than 8 pieces left, and no free defenders in play, you are vulnerable to an Icehouse call.
Your first two pieces must be played standing up.