Pencil and Paper Games and Strategies to Win Them

I’m a bit addicted to games, but not those graphics-heavy shoot-em-up games my students spend purt near every waking moment playing. I also find myself wanting to do something on a board, but not necessarily wanting to lug around all the equipment for a board game. So pencil and paper games have come to my rescue. Let’s post here what your favorite pencil and paper games are and what you find to be the best way to ensure a win or a draw.

As it turns out, my favorite one is Sprouts which was invented by John Conway and Michael S. Paterson. Apparently the jury is still out on both versions (standard and misère) as to whether the game is a win or a loss for the first player if beginning the game with 54 spots or more. The brussels sprouts version is not worth much, IMHO, as it doesn’t matter how you play; an odd number of initial spots always gives a win to the first player, and an even number of initial spots always gives a win to the second player. I’ve played standard Sprouts against another human once using 99 dots. We spent quite some time and it was rather amusing watching us play because we had to use a magnifying glass to ensure we were not touching a previously-drawn line. Sadly, we didn’t finish the game–we idiotically left it behind on the ferry when it docked. Anway, what I try to do when I play, whether I am the first or second player, is to draw a connecting line such that the dots on the paper are separated into groups of numbers where it has already been shown whether perfect play gives a win or loss for me. Of course I need to try for the appropriate number of “winning” groups and “losing groups” so it gives me a win. That, at least, is what I tell myself I am doing. I really do not win all that often, but I do quite enjoy the game even so.

I am also rather fond of the board game TwixT, but I have never played the pencil and paper variant, TwixT PP. There are a couple of rule differences between the pencil and paper game and the standard board game. How do you think that rule changes would affect your strategy?

I just learned this game, Triangles, a couple of weeks ago. You draw a number of dots on the paper, and each turn, you draw a line, ensuring you do not cross a previously-drawn line nor will that line touch any dots other than the two the line is connected to. If your line connects three dots into a triangle, you claim that triangle provided there is not another dot inside the triangle. The winner is the player with the most claimed triangles when there can be no other connections made. What is the best strategy for the first playe? For the second player?

So…what are your favorites?

The game where you sketch a race track and race “cars” with limited acceleration, while avoiding crashing, has always been popular.

Lines and Boxes is a classic, where you start with a regular grid of dots, and on each turn, you draw a line between two adjacent dots. If you complete a square, then you put your initial in the square to claim it, and take another turn. It usually ends up with long corridors, where one person is eventually forced to add the third side of a square, enabling the other to claim many squares in a row. The winning strategy is based on adding a third side early, when your opponent will end up being forced to give you the opportunity for more squares than they’re claiming.

When I was in high school, my friends and I played Lines and Boxes, but we always agreed to not play what’s called a double-cross strategy–you could not make the outside edges only for two adjacent cells. Maybe that’s why we stopped playing the game as it seems that’s the major concern among experts.

Love that game, was just thinking earlier if my brother ever played it.

There was something similar in the book “The Shockwave Rider” by John Brunner, called Fencing, but on a large grid. In the book they played for money. I haven’t found anything on-line about it.

This was my once-upon-a-time game. A description.

I guess Tic-Tac-Toe is a given on this?

It’s given we’ve all played it, but it is not on anybody’s list of favourite games.