The Icehouse Handbook Online

You can play lots of games with an Icehouse set.

This is the original.


Naturally, after developing rules for a free movement game to be played on any flat surface, we couldn't just stop there. So, for those of you who relish variations, here's a bunch to get you started. Some of these variations greatly improve certain types of games, so don't be afraid to use them frequently. For example, some people refuse to play with only two players unless the Mercenary Icehouse rules are used. Also, Timer Icehouse and Kidnapper Icehouse work well to keep games from stagnating.


This variation was created specifically to make Icehouse more fun with only 2 players. The main problem with regular 2 player games is the lack of allies to work with or to obtain prisoners from. Mercenary Icehouse solves this by supplying each side with a small amount of outside strength - like hiring soldiers of fortune to beef up your army.

To play Mercenary Icehouse, you'll need 6 extra pyramids of a neutral, third color. These extra pieces are called Mercenaries. Each player gets one small, one medium, and one large.

The game is played as normal, except that you may not play any of your mercenaries until you have gone under your stash limit. Your mercenaries DO count towards your stash limit.

Mercenaries are like prisoners, but they are also independent. If a mercenary piece is played defensively and gets over-iced, neither player gets to make any captures. (Mercenaries refuse to give up the fight, no matter what the odds.)

In scoring, count only your true pieces as usual. You can get or lose points due to the actions of mercenaries, but they get zero points. A player's maximum possible score is still 30.

This variation neatly solves the usual problems in a two player game of stagnation and prisoner shortages due to the lack of diplomacy. Just when the game starts to stagnate, you suddenly get this shipment of arms from your allies, like the cavalry riding over the hill. Once you get your mercenaries, you can use them to over-ice your own pieces, to either break your opponent's fortress, or to save your piece by restructuring the attack. You can also use them to build fortress walls, and if you can't think of anything better to do with them, you can even use them as cannon fodder and just execute them. This variation also loosens up stagnation before the mercenaries arrive, simply because if you are only a piece or two away from your stash limit, you will often say, "what the hell," and play them, so that you can get access to your mercenaries.


This can be used if it is determined that some players are better at the game than other players. At the start of the game, the "good" players give a pyramid to each "bad" player, before playing their two standing pieces. If for instance there is one exceptional player in a four player group, his first three moves would be to transfer a piece from his stash to each of the other players' stash pads. While he is doing this, his enemies are possibly building fortresses and executing their prisoners.

Using a mutual handicap -- all players give away a piece at the beginning -- can make a game more interesting. This is extremely useful for spicing up a two or three player game.


Set a timer for an agreed upon number of minutes (between 2 and 10 is good). Place the timer so that no one can see how much time is left. Play Icehouse. When the timer goes off, stop the game. Any points left in your stash pad don't count toward your score.

That's it. Try it -- it's a blast. In a five game match, lower the playing time by 1 or 2 minutes each successive game. The timer doesn't have to be typical. It can be the one on your microwave (warm up those sandwiches while you play), or a song on the radio (Musical Icehouse?), or the random appearance of a guest ("Let's play until Joe gets here").


A zany game, preferably played in large houses. The only difference between Ice Station and Icehouse is the SETUP - Put the stash pads in separate rooms. Now, no player should be able to see another player's stash or the playing field from where his own stash pad is located. Players now assemble at the playing field. The signal that you are ready: put your hands on your head, and let an expression of sheer panic show on your face. When everyone is giving the signal, the game begins.

To play, just remember the one-handed (one piece) playing rule. Also, you are allowed to inspect another player's stash pad; just go to that player's station (room). To give a crashed piece away, you must place it on the enemy's stash pad. If you call "icehouse," make sure you yell it loudly so that others can hear you, return their carried pieces to stash pads, and come to the table for inspection.

This variation can also be played outside. Put a card table or other flat surface in the middle of a large field and set the stations up 50 feet from the table in all directions.


The stash limit, as you probably remember, is the lowest number of pieces you can have in your stash to keep you from being put in the icehouse. Normally, the stash limit is eight. Raising it increases the danger of being put in the icehouse, and can therefore make for more hectic play. Make sure to write down the stash limit when it is agreed upon, so everyone will remember.


Dr Cool and Chris Welsh thought this variation up at a local Vietnamese restaurant. Since they didn't have a set with them that day, they instead engaged in their second favorite mealtime activity: Grousing about those stodgemeiers who hold all their pieces back and force everyone else to languish.

Therefore, the thrust of this variation is to punish stodgemeiers. However, it is called Kidnapper, rather than, say, Icebreaker or Anti-stodgemeier, because it has some other effects as well. But first, the rule itself:

"If, at any point during play, you find that another player has 3 times as many pieces (or more) on their stash as you do, you may call "Kidnapping", and seize the piece of your choice from their stash. Play stops only for the 2 players involved in the call. Play recommences when the piece is seized. You may not invoke the rule if your stash is empty."

Note the rule cannot be invoked when play is suspended, such as during an icehouse call. One might anticipate a flurry of Kidnapper calls after a successful icehouse call, though. This should help ameliorate the crushing advantage conferred by a successful icehouse call seen in Icehouse games that don't employ this variation.

When using this rule, it is cool to allow the victim to check the stash pads (their own and the kidnapper's) to verify that a kidnapping can take place. Notice that, as the choice of kidnapped piece goes to the kidnapper, such a call can proceed in the absence of the victimized player. (Children are usually kidnapped when their parents aren't watching, not so?) In this case, it is considered cool to either be scrupulously careful about your math, or to invite someone else to check you. Also, if another player does a kidnapping without inviting anyone to check the math, it is not uncool for you to go ahead and check it anyway.

A Kidnapping call involves only 2 players. If you wish to kidnap more than 1 piece, you must make several calls. But the more pieces you kidnap, the harder it becomes to pull off new capers, because more pieces are accumulating on your pad.

A strategy made possible by this rule is the "force". First you look around the game and figure out at what threshold you will be able to call "Kidnapping" on your opponent(s). Then you quickly power out enough pieces to attain the threshold and make your calls. The prisoners can be used as human shields to protect your newly placed pieces, or retained for future leverage. This strategy is useful as a dynamic option when you are up against your stash limit without a fortress (between a rock and an icehouse).

Here is an illustrative example: Sam has two pieces in his stash, and notices that Patty has seven (including one in her hand, which she is ready to play). This is more than 3 times the number of pieces in his stash. Sam calls "kidnapping," and points to Patty, who frowns, maybe says a naughty word, and waits patiently for the dirty deed to be enacted. Sam takes a nice fat 3-point piece from Patty's miserly stash, and adds it to his pad. Now Sam has three pieces in his stash. If he wants to continue his crime wave, he must either play a piece to the field first (allowing him to kidnap again from Patty), or he must look for a player with nine or more stashed pieces.


Here are some strategies that relate specifically to the Kidnapper variation:

PARKING: Suppose you have 2 pieces left and you capture from someone who has 7. After the capture, you'll have 3 and your opponent will have 6, which means you can't make anymore captures. However, if you play the prisoner quickly, you'll be back down to 2 and you could make a second capture. The trick is to play the first prisoner in such a way that you can get it back again after you've captured and dispensed with the second prisoner. It turns out that this is easy. All you have to do is use the prisoner to over-ice one of your own pieces. We call this "parking" a piece. If you're fast, you may be able to get several prisoners parked on the playing field before your opponents are played out. Just be careful to keep at least one piece on your stash pad at all times; if you empty out your pad and everyone else does the same, the game will end and you won't be able to use any of your parked prisoners.

VULTURING: Now suppose you are down to your last piece, and you see that one of your opponents has 2 pieces left, with a third one parked. This person will be your victim, so pay close attention. As soon as your victim touches that parked piece, he or she will have 3 pieces (because a piece in your hand counts as being on your stash pad) and you can kidnap one of them. Since your victim will be busy concentrating on the parked piece, this will usually catch them totally off-guard.

INDIAN-GIVING: Lastly, suppose you are down to your last couple of pieces and you crash or make a false icehouse call. You can make the best of a bad situation if you give the prisoner to an opponent who has 3 times as many pieces left as you do (or will after they get your piece). As soon as you set the piece onto your opponent's pad, you can immediately recapture it. Furthermore, you may even be able to trade up in such a case. If the piece you are giving away is a measly little one pointer, then don't just take it back, go for a big fat 3 pointer. This can obviously be very useful... but don't use this as an excuse to crash intentionally. That would be uncool.


You'll find the following rules helpful when you play Icehouse at your favorite restaurant.

Boundaries - Unless boundaries are decided upon, pieces may be placed anywhere on the table.This excludes playing pieces on plates, in cups, in spilled food, on napkins or menus, etc. Smooth out wrinkles in the tablecloth before starting.

Tableware Rules and Etiquette - You may move your own tableware (your plate, glass, fork, etc.) as well as items belonging to the group (salt, ketchup, bread basket, etc.) but not the table settings belonging to other players. It is uncool to put your plate in an area of the table just to block play, but it's OK to block an area with a group object (like the mustard) since anyone can move a group object away from an area. It is cool to place pyramids in the center of the table, away from clutter. Lastly, tableware is not included in the one-handed playing rule. Passing the salt with one hand while placing a pyramid with the other is legal.

The Server's Turn - The waiter, waitress, bus boys, etc. are special Icehouse players. However, they do not realize that they are part of the game, and should not be told. In general, it is uncool to play during the waiter's "turn" (i.e. when he's taking orders, placing food, or retrieving plates). Tip: Find out the servers' names so you can warn the other players of their approach ("Here comes Henry", or "Sharon's turn").

Server Plays - The server can make plays and cause crashes without even knowing it. It's okay to ask him not to disturb the pieces, but if he crashes, too bad. A piece involved in a "server crash" may be reclaimed to the stash pad by the owner, or left on the table in its new position (player's choice). Unless there is a major crash, play continues (after the waiter leaves, please). However, if a server happens to pick up a piece, remark on its splendid color, and set it back on the table, it is not a crash. This is a special placement, and the piece should be left where it is. [Note: It's uncool for a server to do this if they know how to play the game.]


In a normal game of Icehouse, all players must be present at the start of the game. With this option, providing all players agree, a person can join the game late. The new player sets up his stash and begins as if he has been playing all along. His first two pieces played must be standing, of course. If the game is too far gone, the new player may have to pay a handicap before beginning (see the rules for the Icehouse Handicap).


If you're planning to play a 5 game match, you might want to use the tournament score totaling system instead of just doing a straight total. This method takes wins into account as well as overall score. You simply calculate a "rating" for each player by counting up their wins, adding one, and multiplying this number by their total score. The player with the highest rating wins the match. Just be sure to agree on using this method before starting the match.


Power Icehouse is a great variation because it makes a distinction between simply participating in an attack and being the dominant force in the attack. The player who has the greater amount of strength in a joint attack has control over the attack, and this control gives the player POWER (hence the name). The variation is also good because the scoring method is more definitive and less prone to accounting mistakes.

The difference between regular Icehouse and Power Icehouse has to do with the scoring. In Power Icehouse, you only get points for standing pieces. You get points for pieces of your own that were not successfully iced, and you get points for other player's defending pieces, if you CONTROL the attack on them. To control an attack, the attack must be successful, and your color must have the majority of the attack points. For example, if a 3 point red piece is iced by a blue 3 pointer and a green 1 pointer, then blue controls the attack and gets points for the red defender. However, if the 3 point red piece is iced by a blue 2 pointer and a green 2 pointer, then neither color controls the attack and so neither color gets points. (Red still doesn't get any points, since it's iced either way.)

Also, in Power Icehouse, scores are not tallied up immediately at the end of the game. Instead, you actually pick up the pieces for which you get points, and you put them back on your stash pad. This phase of the game is called the Conquering Phase, and the pieces which end up on your stash pad are called Conquered Pieces.

To score the game, each player in turn examines each of their pieces. When the player finds a free standing (not iced) defender, he picks it up and puts it on his pad. When he finds an attack he controls, he puts the conquered piece on his pad and puts the attackers (his own as well as any others involved) on the Dead Pile. The Dead Pile is a spot on the edge of the playing field where non-scoring pieces are placed.

The conquering process requires a bit of patience and care. Don't rush, and don't try to do more than one player at a time. Make sure that whenever you conquer an iced defending piece, you put all involved attackers on the Dead Pile. Make sure that the Dead Pile is well defined, so that pieces from the Dead Pile don't accidentally get mixed in with pieces on stash pads or with pieces in the playing field that haven't yet been processed. And avoid crashes! There's no penalty for moving other pieces if it happens during the scoring phase, but it can lead to confusion, so be careful. And remember, the only pyramids you may pick up are 1) your own un-iced defenders and 2) enemy defenders that are iced by attacks that you control. All other pieces go into the Dead Pile.

When all of the pieces in the playing field have been placed on stash pads or condemned to the Dead Pile, everyone counts up the total point value of the pieces they have. The player with the most points wins. Any player who gets put in the Icehouse gets zero points.


Putting some money down on a game can make any type of contest more interesting. However, unless you desire a winner-take-all sort of wager, normal Icehouse doesn't really lend itself to gambling. That's why this variation was created.

To play Casino Icehouse, you first need to know how to play Power Icehouse. You should also know how to use the Kidnapping rule, since this variation works best with Kidnapping. And third, when money is on the line, players tend to be more argumentative about details that can ultimately cost them cash. We therefore recommend that you not use any Wall rules and that, for a crash to be recognized, it must be witnessed by two players (unless the offending player pleads guilty).

You are also going to need some chips. Poker chips will do fine, but if you can think of something more exotic to use, then feel free. If you plan to wager with real money, instead of just for sport, then each player should buy into the game with each chip having a value of a nickel, or a dime, or maybe even a quarter if everyone happens to be loaded.

Play Power Icehouse in the usual way. At the end, each player will have a selection of conquered pieces on their stash pad. Instead of just counting up and seeing who has the most, players will redeem an opponent's pieces for chips. You'll get a pay-off from an opponent, but you'll also have to pay someone off. If you've played well, you'll get back more than you paid out.

You can only collect chips from one opponent. If you have 6 points worth of blue pieces, then the blue player would give you six chips. (Note that it's total point value, not total number of pieces.) But that's not all! You can also collect chips for any pieces of your own that you can match up against the blue pieces. For example, if the blue pieces you have consist of a 3 pointer and three 1 pointers, and you have a 3 pointer of your own, you can also collect three chips from the blue player for your own 3 pointer, giving you a total income of nine chips.

Pieces of your own that you match against enemy pieces must match EXACTLY in size. You cannot match a 2 pointer of your own against a pair of 1 point enemy pieces. You don't get anything for pieces of your own color that cannot be matched against enemy pieces belonging to the player you are going to collect from.

Here's another example to help clarify this. You are green. You have a 3 point green piece and a pair of 2 point green pieces. You also have a red 2 pointer and 3 small red pyramids, and you have a yellow 3 pointer. You could collect 6 chips from yellow (3 points of yellow plus a 3 point match in green) or 7 chips from red (5 points of red plus 2 points of matching green). But you can't collect from them both! You must choose one (and only one) player to collect from.

Before you cash in, however, all players may engage in trading. By trading your captured pieces with those of other players, you may be able to increase your position in a certain color and get a better payoff. You might also get back pieces of your own that will give you more matching ability.

In trading, any type of trade is legal. A player may offer cash incentives to sweeten a deal, or may even buy a piece outright. ("I'll give you a chip for that 1 point red piece.") Trading may go on for an extended time or it may end very quickly. Trading continues until all players stop attempting to negotiate trades. At this point, all players must settle up.

Deals involving chips may also be made during the playing of the game. As an example, a player might offer a chip to convince another player to over-ice a certain piece, or to play a prisoner in a particular way. In Casino Icehouse, you may even buy a prisoner from another player. Players holding prisoners may charge ransoms, or hold auctions.

If any players get put into the Icehouse, they don't get to pick up pieces during the conquering phase. But they may still engage in trading (even though they must start with no pieces to trade; only chips). Of course, all players, including any who have been put into the Icehouse, must settle their debts at the end of trading.

If a player comes up short on chips, it is up to the players involved to settle the matter.




Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney and John Cooper

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