Full disclosure: A preview copy of XO was provided by Matt Jacobs. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Alright, another week, another Kickstarter! I … will probably be doing less of these for a hot minute, because we’re about to hit convention season, which means most of my time will be caught up in Origins releases, then Gen Con releases, then Essen / TGM releases, and then it’s next year mid-April again and we’re back where we started from. What a cycle! Anyways, let’s talk about XO.
XO, well, there’s not much to say, thematically. It’s an abstract game where you’re trying to line up Xs and Os to help deliver yourself a win. No, it’s not that one. Don’t jump to conclusions; I’m setting up a narrative. Anyways, will you be able to outscore your opponent?
Setup is pretty nondescript. One player should take the three black tokens; the other player should take the three white tokens. Place two of each next to the score cards:
And each player keeps one more in their personal supply. Shuffle the board cards:
Deal each player three, and put the remaining ones in a stack. Flip the top two off the stack and place them adjacent to each other. Choose a starting player and you’re ready to go!
So, this game’s a bit of a mix of tic-tac-toe and connect four. That said, it’s not really either of those things; it just has some notable similarities. On your turn, you must place a card such that it’s adjacent to an existing card. You may rotate the card you want to place before you place it; whatever makes you happy. The only limit is that the cards must ultimately form a 4×4 square.
Once you’ve done that, you may take one of several possible actions:
- Rotate a card: Rotate any face-up card 90 degrees in either direction.
- Place your disk: Place the remaining disk in your color on top of any X to turn it into an O, or on top of any O to turn it into an X. If your disk is already placed, you must remove it before placing it again.
- Remove a disk: Remove a disk that’s currently on an X or an O (even one that’s not yours) and return it to its owner.
You may perform the same action more than once.
Once you’ve done that, you may attempt to score. Look at your card, and the rows and columns of Xs and Os on it. If a sequence of at least 4 Xs or 4 Os runs through your card (or multiple sequences), you may score each one. Score one point for each character in that consecutive orthogonal sequence (no diagonal points!).
Play continues until all players have played all their cards. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
No differences; this is a purely two-player game.
- Make lengthy chains. The one thing you do want to watch out for is making a very long chain that your opponent can just hop right on to, though; that gives them a lot of points for very little effort. Naturally, if you can hop onto your opponent’s chain, though, you absolutely should; taking the opportunity to extend an existing scoring chain means that you might be able to create another one on the same turn, which would drastically boost your score. And your score is the only thing that should matter to you in this game.
- By the same thought, continue on your own chains, if you can. The benefit of doing so is that you don’t have to remove and re-place your disk; you can focus on messing up the rest of the board (to prevent your opponent scoring) or realigning parts of the board that will help boost your score. Either choice is important, so hopping on your own line is useful.
- Occupy corners. If you’re in a corner, your opponent doesn’t have as many options for their next placements, which means that they might have to take a significantly worse outcome if the board isn’t currently in their favor. That’s obviously good for you.
- Also try to take up critical junctions. If, somehow, a space on the board is open with four cards around it, try to take that as quickly as possible. If you don’t, that gives your opponent a lot of potential vectors to score points (and usually they’ll be able to get at least a few points off, that way, which is very bad for you). Don’t let those spots get created.
- Don’t just focus on placing your disk. Remember, removing and re-placing your disk takes two actions. You could rotate two cards with the same amount of effort, which might get you even more.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Pretty dead simple. You just want to create chains of Xs or Os; that’s about all there is to it.
- Very portable. You just need a 4×4 card space, if you’re able to keep score without the other cards.
- The dynamic board is a cool feature. I like that you can rotate or extend or flip things around, if you want to; I think that makes the game feel a lot more vibrant and fluid.
- Not a particularly visually striking game. Almost makes me wish it were going to do something like Less where you could choose the style you want for your board and get a really nice one that’s more colorful or patterned or something. I mean, Flip Over Frog has a similar mechanic to it but it managed to add some really cute art that really makes the game sing. This is much more on the stark, abstract side of games. It does occasionally make the black piece hard to see on the board since the cards are also black, though. I struggle a bit with very themeless abstract games for this reason.
- As with most games of this type, it’s pretty vulnerable to analysis paralysis. Thankfully, it’s a shorter game, but you’re still going to see turns running long as players attempt to discern both what their optimal play is and also what the worst possible play for them to make for you will be. Neither is particularly fun to watch, unfortunately. I think part of it is that there’s always a highest-scoring move available; half of your turn is finding it, and not every player can scan that quickly, so it forces the game to slow down. A timer might help, but it also might just make the game deteriorate.
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, XO is a neat little abstract game. I think I’m hoping to see more variability from the Kickstarter, be it additional cards, additional themes, additional modes, or something to make the game feel a bit more vibrant and enthusiastic. As it stands, it’s rather themeless, which, of course, is by design, but I generally prefer games to have a bit more going on in the thematic department. That’s how I get invested! I think an interesting comparison can be made between this game and, say, The Stars Align. For me, the latter edges out slightly because it’s got a solid theme to build off of (and the name’s a really good pun, so, props on that). For people who prefer themeless abstracts, though, this is likely going to appeal to them much more, and I’m totally on board with that. Either way, I did enjoy playing XO, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the Kickstarter ends up doing to mix it up!