The Icehouse Handbook Online

You can play lots of games with an Icehouse set.

This is the original.



These are all simple strategies that might not seem so obvious. "Icing low" is attacking with low value pieces that won't be so tempting to take as prisoners later on. So, ice a 1 point piece with two 1 pointers, a 2 with a 3, and a 3 with two 2's. Icing a large piece with two large pieces is asking for trouble.

"Dealing attack pieces" is taking advantage of times when other players have failed to ice low. If someone is iced with high valued pieces in a place where lower valued pieces would do fine, then over-ice them using pieces that probably won't be captured. For example, if you see a spot where someone has iced a 3 point piece with two 3 point pieces, over-ice him with a 1 point piece. The over-iced player will almost certainly capture one of the large pieces instead of your small piece.

"Trading up" is a way of turning a low valued prisoner into a high valued prisoner. It works the same way as dealing attack pieces, except that you are entirely in control. Here's an example. If you have a 2 point prisoner, and you see a spot where one of your 1 point defenders is being iced by a 3 point attacker, you can over-ice yourself with the 2 pointer and capture the 3 pointer, thus giving you a more powerful prisoner to work with.


Prisoners are extremely valuable, but some of the best strategies for their use may not be immediately clear just from reading the rules. When you have a prisoner, you can use it to over-ice your own piece and then remove whichever attacker you wish. Given this, you can perform over-icing strategies entirely on your own, without having to recruit the aid or win the trust of another player. Consider the example in the Rules section of cracking a fortress via over-icing. You can do that maneuver by getting a third player to over-ice you so that you can remove the wall, but that requires negotiation, which takes time, during which the player can be building new fortresses. However, if you've got a prisoner, you can do the maneuver entirely on your own, quickly and ruthlessly. Finally, if you've got a prisoner, you can often use it to save one of your pieces by changing the arrangement of attacking pieces, via over-icing.

That's what this strategy is all about. Take a look at Figure 5. You are playing white, and let us assume that you have a black piece as a prisoner. The first thing to do is to play the black prisoner so that it is over-icing your own piece. Place the attack piece back a bit from the target, but make sure it's still within range.

Now you can remove the other attack piece. Capture it - but don't waste time putting it back on the pad. Replay it immediately as shown in the fourth step, positioning it between the new attacker and your piece.

Now, note that black is left attacking black. The attacking black is squandered and the defending black is ripe for attack. You can finish the whole thing elegantly by attacking the piece you just put into position. However, if the attack piece you blocked had been a different color, this final step might not be advisable. The situation could end at step four with the newly placed defending already iced, so be careful not to inadvertently over-ice it.

There! You have restructured the attack to save your own piece, and squandered an opponent's piece in the process, all thanks to one prisoner. Don't forget that as soon as the last piece is played, the game ends, even if the final play created an over-ice situation. If you're not careful, you can find yourself starting a big maneuver and then not getting to finish it because the game has ended.


This is any action which abruptly halts over-icing maneuvers by another player. For example, suppose an opponent of yours is busily restructuring an attack that will ultimately cost you points. You have one piece on your pad, and the prisoner your opponent is using for his over-icing maneuvers is the only other unplayed piece in the game. If you play your piece, your opponent's prisoner will be the last piece, which means he'll get stuck in the middle of an over-ice maneuver he can't finish. (Remember that the game ends when the last piece is played, and no more over-iced pieces can be captured at that point.)

Another way of interrupting an over-ice maneuver is by dropping a defender in front of a retreated attack piece. Frequently when someone is restructuring an attack, there'll be a moment when an opponent's piece is over-iced and one or more of the attacking pieces are positioned at a distance from the victim. You have to act quickly, but you may be able to halt your opponent in his tracks by sacrificing one of your own pieces. Pop your piece in front of one of the redundant attacks just as your opponent is reaching over to re-capture it. His piece will then no longer be over-iced, and he won't be allowed to take the prisoner. Considering the enormous usefulness of prisoners, it is often advantageous to force a mutual sacrifice of a piece of your own and an enemy prisoner in this way.


If you've got a prisoner or two and nothing much is going on, try playing a couple of your pieces defensively, out in an open area. After your opponents fall for the trap and ice these "target" pieces, you can use your prisoners to restructure the enemy attacks and rescue your targets. This can work extremely well if your opponents don't have much firepower available.


Prisoners are extremely valuable. Finding fun and useful things to do with prisoners is usually easy. On the other hand, obtaining a new prisoner when you need one is usually a bit more difficult. Here is a strategy that can help bring in fresh inmates. It can also be very useful in loosening up stagnant games. However, it requires a bit of diplomacy, so it only works in games with 3 or more players.

Suppose Dr Cool, Number 12, and The Emperor of the Universe are involved in a game of Icehouse. They hit a slow point. Everybody has a secure fortress, there aren't any available attacks, and no one has a prisoner.

Dr Cool looks over the situation. He finds a spot where one of his 2-pointers is being attacked by a 3-pointer belonging to the Emperor. He then finds a spot where Number 12 has a 2-pointer that has been iced by the Emperor. Both 2-pointers are out in the open enough that they can be over-iced. Dr Cool quietly says to Number 12, "If you over-ice me here, I'll over-ice you there. Then we can each capture one of the Emp's pieces." Number 12 nods in agreement, then they both follow through with the scheme. Now Number 12 and Dr Cool each have a prisoner. Naturally, the Emperor is very upset by this, and threatens to have them both shot.

This maneuver is called a "Prisoner Exchange."


This strategy can be risky, but can also be effective. To use it, you need to find an attack situation in which the tip of an attack piece is some distance away from the victim piece. Then all you do is steal the attack - you place your attack piece in front of the other attack piece, blocking its attack and allowing yours alone to succeed. To see how this works, look at Figure 6. If (a) and (c) were the only pieces in position, you could slide in piece (b), squandering piece (c) and enjoying the attack on piece (a) all by yourself.

The danger here is that if the victim piece gets over-iced, the owner of that piece could first capture your piece, then go on to capture the original attacking piece. If the player has a prisoner he can do the over-icing himself; but even if he needs an ally, he probably won't have much trouble finding one, since the player whose attack piece you squandered will almost certainly be willing to help. Better his piece should be a prisoner than simply sit there squandered. Therefore, exercise caution when using this tactic.


This is a good tactic to use when a game has hit a slow point and you want to shake things up. For this maneuver to be really effective, you'll need a high value prisoner and several locations where pieces belonging to you are iced, out in the open.

Here's how it works. You take your prisoner and over-ice your own piece. Then you reposition the original attack piece so that it's back a short distance from the victim (but is still within range). In other words, you force the original attack piece to retreat. Then, you recapture your prisoner. Next, do the same thing to all of your other defensive pieces, at least to as many as you can get at.

Then, sit back and see what happens. This tactic should shake up the players whose pieces you've forced to retreat. All of the retreated pieces are open to squandering, by tip blocking (shown above), or by neutralizing the attack (as shown in Figure 2).


This strategy is shown in Figure 7. Put a 3 point standing piece into a niche. Wait for the attack, then block off any more attacks with another standing piece. If done correctly, you can build a fortress and squander someone's attack piece at the same time. (A single attack piece will not have enough points to successfully ice a three point piece.) This strategy takes a little practice and some guts, but it works.


This tactic won't win you many friends, but it may keep you out of the Icehouse. Timing is everything. Often, a player will build a fortress by first building a shell and then dropping a piece into the enclosed space. If you see another player building such a shell, you can get your piece ready while they're building the fortress walls. Then, you can drop your piece into their fortress shell while they are reaching for the piece they plan on putting in. Nasty...but effective and deliciously evil.


The way you position an attack piece can sometimes determine whether or not an attack gets over-iced. If you are making an a attack and you don't want the victim piece to get over-iced, try slanting the attack (as shown in Figure 8). Head-on attacks can be over-iced, which can sometimes result in the squandering or capturing of your attack piece. Slanted attacks, on the other hand, are sometimes safer.

Note however, that while some strategic situations call for the slanted attack, you should NOT get into the habit of making all of your attacks slanted attacks. This type of piece placement requires exact precision and is easy to screw up. If you slant the attack too much, your line of attack can end up missing your victim piece entirely, and your attack piece won't be pointed at anything. Because of this, slanted attacks tend to create confusing attack configurations which can lead to arguments about what's really being attacked. Also, it's a lot easier to crash while attempting to play a slanted attack. And finally, there's really no point in positioning your attack piece in this way unless the situation calls for it, and doing so just makes things needlessly complex. Unless you are able to block off all potential over-ice locations, don't bother with the confusion of the slanted attack. Attacks made on pieces standing out in the open, for example, should never be slanted.


Quickly look over the playing field and mentally tally the scores. If one player is beating the living daylights out of everybody else, then the losers might want to pool their resources in order to defeat the common enemy. Three players working together can do a lot of damage to one player, no matter how good he or she is. If you're lucky, the scores will balance out - with yours on top. Tip: The Prisoner Exchange works very well together with this strategy.


Ok, so you're tired of getting put in the Icehouse, and it seems like you can never get a fortress built in time to prevent it. And so, you get this great idea. When the game begins and everyone is playing pieces in the middle of the table, you instead play several pieces over to the side, using the edge of the stash pad or the edge of the table or even both as defensible locations. And you stand up several defensive pieces quickly, gaining a safe and secure fortress early on in the game. (See Figure 9.) You now don't have to worry about getting put in the Icehouse. The only problem is that the other players seem to be annoyed with you. Why is this?

This rather poor strategy is known as the "Cheeseball Maneuver." Why is this a poor tactic? Simply because it's a cop-out. It's a way of meeting a game goal without using any clever strategies or tactical skills. Also, since this maneuver is conducted on the side, away from the real arena of play, it smacks of cowardice.

This leads to a commonly asked question: Is this tactic Uncool?'s Cool to play to the center, but that doesn't make it Uncool to play to the side. The thing to understand is that the Cheeseball Maneuver is typically used either by inexperienced players, or by desperate players. Inexperienced players use it because they aren't yet skilled enough to find more interesting and equally safe ways of building fortresses. Desperate players use the Cheeseball not at the beginning of the game, but when they are approaching their stash limit and feel they can't get a fortress any other way. There's nothing uncool about using the Cheeseball in this kind of situation, since even the most experienced player can get desperate.

The real problem with Cheeseballing is that it leads to boring, stagnated games. As players get better at Icehouse, they soon realize that a cop-out tactic like the Cheeseball Maneuver quickly leads to lackluster games.

The fun of Icehouse comes from struggle. It's not unlike a movie or a book; there must be conflict - without it, there's nothing to hold one's interest. Players who use the Cheeseball are depriving themselves of the stress and excitement of trying to eek out a fortress in a hostile world. This is a major part of the fun of Icehouse... and what's the point of playing the game if isn't fun? After players use the Cheeseball for a while, they will either evolve to better strategies or will simply stop playing, because their games are always dull.


This strategy plays on a very common situation: A 3 pointer being iced by a 1 pointer and a 3 pointer. If done successfully, this will allow you to save a 3 point piece (at the expense of a 1 point piece) and you'll wind up with more prisoners than you started out with.

Figure 10 show how the 2-for-1 Exchange works. One important thing to keep in mind: You need a one point piece of your own color. If you have a tendency to play all of your small pieces early in the game, you won't be able to do this maneuver.

Also note that at the end of this maneuver, you'll have a 1 point piece that's being iced by a 3 pointer - a situation that's perfect for Trading Up or Dealing Attack Pieces.


This strategy is a response to the 2-For-1 Exchange. It's basically a special version of the Over-icem Interruptus strategy. Here's how it works: when you see an opponent setting up a 2-For-1 Exchange, get a 1 pointer into your hand. Then, when they reach for their own 1 pointer, quickly drop your 1 pointer into the spot your opponent has prepared. If you do it right, you'll get to capture the 3 pointer, and your opponent will have ended up trading a 3 point prisoner for a 1 point prisoner. And if you didn't have any prisoners of your own prior to this, doing this may let you really turn the tables.


The Small Piece Feint is basically a defense against the strategy called "Stealing a Fortress." However, you may not be able to get away with this in games with more than 2 players.

Suppose you see a niche where you could close off an area with one piece and then get a fortress by dropping a 1 pointer into the enclosed space. You have 2 options. Option 1 is to close the space off first, and then drop in your small piece. However, your opponent may steal the fortress from you by dropping in a 1 pointer while you're reaching for a small piece of your own. Option 2 is to place the 1 pointer into the niche and then set out the blocking piece to create the fortress. Again, this may fail because your opponent can probably attack your 1 pointer while you are reaching for a piece to block off the attack.

The Small Piece Feint is a combination of the 2 options. What you do is this: Act as if you are using Option 2. Pick up a 1 pointer and hold it over the niche, as if you are trying to see if it will fit. You might even set it down in the niche - just don't let go of it. While you're doing this, keep an eye on your opponent's hand. Wait until he or she picks up a 2 pointer. Your opponent will obviously try to attack the 1 point piece you are using to bait the trap. Once they've got an attack piece in their hand (and they're in an attack-oriented mindset) then quickly pull the 1 pointer back and switch to Option 1. Set the decoy piece on your pad, pick up a 2 pointer, block off the niche, then pick up the 1 pointer again and drop it into the enclosed space.

This will usually work because your opponent will be 1 step behind you during the entire maneuver. They won't know what you're up to when you take back the piece you were getting ready to play, and when they see that you've got an empty fortress shell, they'll have the wrong size piece in their hand and they won't be able to steal it from you.

Be warned that if you try to use this strategy against the same person too many times, this strategy may lose its effectiveness.


This is a simple little strategy that often works surprisingly well. Although it involves playing a piece near your stash pad, it should not be confused with the Cheeseball Maneuver, which is a very different kettle of fish.

What you do is watch for a moment when no one is looking at what you are doing, like when someone's breaking a fortress and everyone else is concentrating on the pieces in the middle of the table. Then, just slide one of your pieces off of your stash pad and onto the table right next to the stash pad. With luck, the other players won't look closely enough at your stash pad to notice that the piece has been played. Sometimes, of course, you'll get caught right away and the piece will get iced, but often it will go unnoticed for a very long time, sometimes until the very end of the game.

The good thing about this maneuver is that if you get nabbed, it's no big deal, but if you survive undetected you have a small insurance policy against being put in the Icehouse. It's a blast when someone thinks they've got you and they call Icehouse, and you then point to your stealth piece and say "You missed this one!" Of course, they'll soon be scrambling to ice it and make the call again, leaving you in Icehouse Panic mode, tossing out the last of your pieces defensively, hoping they run out of ammo - but the fun of revealing your hidden piece can almost make up for the pain of being put in the Icehouse. Or perhaps the diversion will allow you to build a fortress while they're icing your stealth piece.

On the other hand, if you get to the end of the game without anyone noticing it, then it got you some hassle-free points.


At the Eighth Tournament, Jake Davenport confounded and confused his opponents with a never-before-seen strategy. His new approach so disrupted conventional Icehouse thinking that Jake found himself with a big target on his forehead at the Ninth Tournament. In the post-tournament discussions on the internet maiing list, the strategy was identified, dissected, and labeled "The Shotgun". Here's how it works, but be warned, it may not win you many friends.

It's a passive strategy:

The Shotgun calls for expertise in the undoing of attacks through the use of prisoners, something Jake is highly skilled at. If prisoners cannot be obtained (a problem Jake ran into as his strategy was recognized and opposed), Jake would switch to this aggressive strategy:

1. Attack someone who is close to being in the icehouse.
2. Icehouse him and get his pieces.
3. Switch back to the passive strategy.




Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney and John Cooper

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