The Icehouse Handbook Online

You can play lots of games with an Icehouse set.

This is the original.


Here is an awful situation which you may have come up against: you're in the middle of a rip-roarin' game of Icehouse, when suddenly everything comes to a screeching halt. No one is placing or taking pieces. No one is trying to make allies, break fortresses, or devise plans. Only one thought occupies every player's mind: "I'm not moving until someone else does."

It's okay that no one is playing pieces. In Icehouse, players often pause to review the layout or revise their strategies. But in this case, the game has not paused; it has stopped. All the tension, devious planning, and pure enjoyment of the game have stopped as well. The game has stagnated. What can one do to get out of this limbo?

In order to successfully combat icehouse stagnation, we must first analyze its existence. We must try to understand why it occurs, and what flavors it comes in. Once we know these things, it will be easier to devise plans to loosen a stagnating game.


Strangely enough, the stickiest kind of stagnation occurs because all players are playing well. Each player has achieved two incentives to stop playing: a good position, and the belief that placing pieces will only result in attacks on him from other players.

If a player has only one of these incentives, he should not stop. Pause, maybe, but not stop completely, deciding that there are no more advantageous plays. For instance, if you have achieved a strong fortress (a good position), but see plenty of places to attack, you should want to play on. If you have, on the other hand, a lousy position, and nowhere to attack, you should still want to attempt to build fortresses, even if it means that several of your pieces will be iced. Better to be iced than be put in the icehouse.

So, stagnation begins to set in because most everyone is fortified and there are hardly any attacks available on the field. When there are fewer opportunities left for strategic moves, many players decide to wait until one becomes obvious.


There are two types of stagnation: "true" and "false". It is sometimes difficult to determine which category a certain stagnation falls into.

False Stagnation occurs when every player is waiting for any other player to place a piece. This is called "false" because the situation does not necessarily have to exist. Safe plays can probably still be made. It is, however, easy for each player to get stuck in the frame of mind that "as soon as Joe makes a move, I'm gonna ice the hell out of him," or, "Sue has hardly placed any pieces; I'd better wait." False stagnations are generally easier to break than true stagnations, because they are more imagined than real.

True Stagnation occurs when: 1) all players have built impenetrable fortresses; 2) no player has any captured pieces sitting in his stash; 3) there is nothing that can be attacked without over-icing; 4) all players realize this, and decide to wait. This kind of stagnation is very difficult to loosen, and should be considered a challenge by all involved.


Below is a checklist of things to look for and tactics to try (and also tactics not to try) should you suddenly find you and your friends stuck in these dreaded icehouse doldrums. It is designed with both true and false types of stagnation in mind. If all players keep these tips in mind, games will not stagnate for long. Instead, there will hopefully only be tense pauses, followed by a quick resolution to the problem.

Keep Looking - Search very carefully for anything that players are overlooking. Are there any pieces you can attack? Are any of your pieces being over-iced? Can you easily protect another piece from being iced? Can you block off another player's attack piece? Is it possible to use an ally to break a player's fortress? And, no matter how ridiculous it seems, check to see if anyone is in the icehouse.

Deal Attack Pieces - Example: During stagnation, a green 2-point piece happens to be iced by two 2-point blue pieces. Red over-ices green with a 1-point piece. Green will probably capture one of the larger blue pyramids. Stagnation has ended while everyone scrambles to over-ice, squander, and execute pieces.

Who's Winning? - Silently add up present scores. You may find that you are winning by a helluvalot. If you are, put out standing pieces. If you have enough, you may be able to build another fortress. That's cool. At any rate, using your pieces as cannon fodder will cause others to use theirs, thereby ending the game sooner and allowing you to win.

Check Your Stash - If you only have a pyramid or two left in your stash, what the heck; play them. Now you're finished, and are not part of the stagnation. Likewise, if you notice that your stash has a mess of pieces, while everyone else has only a few -- build another fortress.

Don't Horde - Anyone who has a stash full of captured pieces and allows false stagnation to go on is being uncool. Use those prisoners!

Build If You Have To - Anyone who has absolutely no fortress and allows false stagnation to go on is also being uncool. Wait long enough to think of a good plan, then play.

Don't Nag - It is not nice (and uncool) to demand that other players play when the game is stagnating. See if you can pull off one of the tactics above.

Try Variations - Timer Icehouse and Kidnapper Icehouse were both designed primarily to combat the Stagnation Problem. So, give 'em a try!

Take A Break - Lastly, remember that there is always something to do to end stagnation, provided you have pyramids in your stash. Take a break -- you might as well. Then calmly take out this checklist (either mentally or physically), and go over it carefully; perhaps with an ally. If you think of any additional strategies that are not in this list, try them. You might find them rewarding.




Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney and John Cooper

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