Full disclosure: A preview copy of Philosophy was provided by Quality Beast. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the crowdfunding campaign, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
I think BackerKit and Gamefound are finally getting to the point that I should start updating my review template to be more inclusive of the now-myriad crowdfunding platforms. It’s a whole thing. In the meantime, though, more previews! I’m a bit behind the times on this one, since it’s already on Gamefound, but I’m making it work. That’s the dream. So let’s see what’s going on with Philosophy!
In Philosophy, you’re just trying to have a conversation. But competitively, I guess? Like a debate? An argument? Hard to say. Either way, present your ideas, challenge your opponent’s, and organize your thoughts to reach a Conclusion. Just keep an eye out for your opponent, and make sure they don’t beat you to it!
Not a ton of setup. Lay out the board (you can start on the Dusk side):
There’s also the opposite side of the board, the Dawn side:
Each player then gets a set of tiles. There’s the teal set:
The indigo set:
And, should you spring for the expansions, the sage set:
And the Amber set:
You can set the Respect token nearby:
You should be ready to start!
In Philosophy, your goal is a Conclusion! That’s three of your tiles, in a row, at the end of anyone’s turn. This can be tough, so let’s figure out how to do that! Each turn has three phases.
Place a New Idea
To start your turn, place one of your unplayed Idea Tiles. When you do, you have to follow some rules:
- You have to place on an empty space. No stacking!
- You have to place in the center 3×3 area. Note that if you’re the first player taking the first turn, you can’t place in the dead center, yet. Can only do that after the first turn.
- You can rotate the tile to face however you want, as long as it matches the grid.
If you can’t place a tile, on your turn, you lose. So try to avoid that.
Activate Your Ideas
Idea Tiles have two major indicators. They have a small arrow on the front, which is the Targeting Icon; that determines where their effect is applied. If an opponent’s tile is in the space indicated by the Targeting Icon, the tile’s effect is activated.
In the center of the tile is the Impact Icon; that tells you what the icon does! Generally speaking, a tile’s Impact is that it either moves tiles, rotates a tile, or pulls a tile. The interesting thing is that once a tile is moved, you have to check if your existing Ideas have been activated by that move. Each of your Ideas can be activated exactly once per turn. So if Idea A pushes or pulls an opponent’s Idea into Idea B’s Targeting Icon space, Idea B also activates. You can keep chain reacting. Unlike chain reactions, however, if multiple Ideas of yours would be activated at the same time, you can only choose one of them to resolve.
If you manage to push an Idea off the board, it’s returned to its owner, and they can use them again later. Be careful with that.
Check for Conclusions
At the end of your turn, check to see if there are any sets of three tiles in a row (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally). That forms a Conclusion! If only one player has a Conclusion, they win! Otherwise, keep playing.
Player Count Differences
Not a ton, really. The game is mostly intended to be a two-player game, but with an expansion, it can support a three-player game. At three, Philosophy plays about the same as it does with two. The major difference is that if a player would “lose” by being unable to play a tile, they’re just eliminated. Players can optionally concede, but the rulebook notes that all players have to agree on that, since that can lead to players pretty explicitly conceding to allow another player to win. To that end, I wouldn’t say that I felt like the third player added a ton of extra value to the game, though I appreciated the new color options.
- Watch out for diagonals! These are the tricky ones. As any tic-tac-toe expert can tell you, three in a row diagonally still counts as a win, and the same is true in Philosophy. Here, however, the myriad colors and shapes can sneak up on you, especially since an opponent can shift your tile to shift their tile to suddenly make a diagonal Conclusion. Keep an eye out for those “threatened” spaces and try to make sure you’re blocking them on your turn.
- Try setting up chain reactions to move a bunch of your opponent’s tiles. You might be able to rotate a tile of yours to use its effect on an opponent, suddenly shifting other tiles of yours into place to fire off further reactions. That bit of unexpected movement can do a lot to suddenly change up the state of the board and render your opponent’s plans inert. That might be good for you, so see if you can pull it off!
- That said, watch for chain reactions that you aren’t expecting! They might set an opponent up to win or mess up your meticulously-planned turn. Sometimes you’re not totally aware that the move that you’re hoping to make to block your opponent’s Conclusion accidentally sets up a chain reaction that you must activate, which shifts another tile and may allow them another route to a Conclusion that was otherwise unplanned. There are secondary and tertiary effects to Conclusions, so make sure you’re planning the full route of the turn, not just what happens when you play your first tile.
- Watch to make sure you’re not boxing yourself out of the play area; if you can’t play in the center, you lose. Over time, more and more tiles get put on the game board, and it’s totally possible to be so focused on blocking Conclusions that you miss that your opponent is just waiting to try and place the final tile that renders you unable to play on your turn. It’s a rough way to go.
- Sometimes the best move you can make is to place an Idea that activates nothing else. This is often a way that players in my games have won. It’s safer to place an Idea that does nothing, just sets up your Conclusion, rather than risking a complicated series of interactions that leaves you holding the bag and sets up your opponent for the win. It’s a bit anticlimactic, being real, but hey, a win’s a win.
- As the board gets more crowded, it can be harder to predict what you’re going to set up, so keep an eye on the board state. This is one of the real dangers. With any more than, say, ten tiles, it’s going to be a lot of possible movement (and a lot of possible loss vectors), so trying to keep track of everything that’s possible is going to strain your ability. Instead, just try to make a reasonable attempt to look for spots that are high risk. If a place seems like it’s going to be a problem, address it, before it becomes one.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The color scheme of the tiles is very pleasant. It’s also done for accessibility reasons, which I appreciate! I like that there’s an overlap between aesthetics and accessibility, especially since Philosophy shows that you really don’t have to compromise one for the other. That’s good! Honestly, it’s 2022; we shouldn’t still have to talk about visual accessibility in games. Check your colors before you print.
- I also like that after a few games, it becomes easier to figure out what the tiles do. They’re fairly intuitive. The icons do a good job indicating their effects, I think. It took me a few games of consulting the rulebook to get them down, but now I think I have it. Just in time to move on to the next game and forget it all over again. Such is the life of a reviewer.
- I appreciate how invested the game is into its aesthetic; having a different color side of the board is nice. It’s a subtle thing, but I appreciate it. Giving players aesthetic options for their games really helps folks find a variant of it that works for them. And different folks have different tastes, so I appreciate it. It always feels like a bit of a waste if the board is just that generic black board back that you see; I like that they opted for a different color scheme.
- The game plays pretty quickly, which is nice. Once you know what you’re doing, it moves fairly fast. I suppose it’s possible to lose a game in five minutes or so, but that isn’t really an ideal outcome. I played a few games of this two-handed (me vs. me) to get a feel for the strategy and the interactions, and that moved at a good clip.
- I do enjoy a good abstract game, and the tile interactions are interesting. Abstract strategy was my bread and butter for a while, and I think this is fun
- The tiles also have a variety of fun effects. There’s a lot of shifting in different directions, which is pretty fun. I particularly like the tiles that bump a tile over your tile, backwards, or tiles that rotate any tile, including yours. There’s a good set of interactions without the interactions themselves becoming confusing, which I think is a tough needle to thread.
- I have questions about the theme as it applies to gameplay? Maybe I just used to go to the wrong parties, but as someone who’s been trapped in a discussion that turned into a debate, I’m a bit confused by the game’s relationship with its theme. To me, a discussion is a collaborative exchange of ideas without a winner, whereas this is the push and pull of two people talking with a very explicit winner and loser. It seems more inherently representative of a debate or an argument, but I’ll freely admit I’m reading a lot into the game. I used to work with a lot of engineers.
- For some of the tiles, it can be a bit difficult to tell if they’re going to activate (especially in a chain reaction), since they target tiles that are multiple tiles away. It’s mostly that there’s not necessarily a good way to immediately notice tiles that move into a space and become Targeted by a tile that isn’t adjacent to that tile. It’s the kind of thing that you’d rely on, say, Board Game Arena or an app for, but is challenging for people. Scanning for chain reactions can occasionally slow down the game, but at least only one chain reaction can occur per move, so even if there were multiple and you missed them, activating one is still fine. The problem comes when you don’t notice a chain reaction that should have occurred.
- I was a bit let down given the very nice cover art, since the tiles and board aren’t as intricate. They’ll at least be neat in the final version from a construction standpoint, but I would have liked to see more of the box art translating to the board and tiles, in some way. I think that would help communicate the theme better through the game. Currently, it’s a bit jarring, beyond the faint echoes of the Impact Icons on the cover, I suppose?
- I think, largely, I struggle to see the hook of the game. This is more of a product question than a game question, I think. There’s nothing wrong with the game; it’s an interesting abstract with some neat tiles, a nice aesthetic, and some interesting decisions to make in the game. I think I’m having trouble finding what motivates the backers as part of the game’s story beyond some extremely nice cover art. I also struggle with this, a bit, because the “two-player quick abstract strategy game” part of my brain is already nicely filled by Santorini, so I may not be the best person to go to about this. The final tiles look quite nice, though, judging from the crowdfunding campaign page.
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, I enjoyed Philosophy! It’s a nice and quick little abstract-strategy game that I think has a lot of nice features built into its design, as I’d kind of expect from Quality Beast. Some folks may be surprised, given that this has far fewer bells and whistles than Seize the Bean, their previous title, but, hey, gotta branch out. I think I was hoping to see more detail on the board and tiles given that the cover art is particularly excellent, and I may have been a bit disappointed to see color-on-white tiles and a board that, while lovely, lacks some of the intricacies of the box art. That’s abstract strategy games, sometimes. For me, Philosophy also falls into the hole of not really having a theme that completely engages with its gameplay. At some level, I understand that the idea of a discussion is introducing new ideas and balancing them back and forth in the conversational space as conclusions are drawn, but having an explicit winner and loser seems to complicate that theme and turn it into more of a debate. This is purely semantics, but, I think it takes me out of the game, a bit. It makes our interaction as players adversarial, in a way that even a Respect Token isn’t necessarily going to be able to subvert? That’s the risk with theme, sometimes, I suppose; what the player gets out of those ludonarrative interactions may not be what the designer necessarily intended, as we bring our own experiences into the game. But, to the game, I think it’s enjoyable. The tiles are understandable, I appreciate the work done around accessibility, and for a fast abstract strategy game it’s easy to pick up and play. I think I may have just been looking for more of a hook with Philosophy, and didn’t find one for me personally. If you’re in the market for a two-player abstract strategy game or you’re as taken with the cover art as I was, you might enjoy Philosophy!
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