Game on: noughts and crosses

Where does strategy in game playing begin? I’d say with something like noughts and crosses.

It’s probably one of those early games where you learn that thinking out your next move will help you win – or at least block your opponent from winning.

Call it noughts and crosses, or tic-tac-toe, or even three in a row, you are still out to win. It’s the transition from chance to strategy.

The board

We play with a wooden board, with little peg shapes cut into the base.  We have circles or cross shapes that, when placed, fit into the peg shapes, so it’s fairly easy to use.

Others may play with circles or Xs in black and white, or even magnetic boards for when you’re on the move.

The concept

Three in a row can mean three horizontally, vertically or diagonally.  This is the same concept for larger-scale games like Connect 4.

These kind of games work well if you have good spatial awareness, and can spot visual patterns, but with noughts and crosses, the smaller number of pieces makes it easier to identify where to move.

The trick

Junior Player has learned from Dan that the trick is a) start first and b) occupy the peg in the middle of the middle row. From here, it’s easiest to make a row in any direction – and you limit the other player to only being able to get a row on the edge of the board.

If your opponent can only win by going in particular patterns, these are easier to spot too, and to block.

Without knowing the trick, there is a bit more flexibility between the players.  When you do know it, you can win every time – good for you in some ways, but you may find you get fewer goes overall, if your opponent has had enough.

Strategy: the skill

Part of what games help us to do is to learn strategy – whether it’s a small system or a big one. Many of the board games we can play as we get older require strategy – but luck is still part of it too.

I’m not the greatest at strategy.  Pit someone with strategy against someone who doesn’t really get it, and the strategist always wins.  (This does not encourage the Sore Loser to move on.)

It is a balance, too, with junior players. So yes, you may help them learn some strategies, but you probably find some ways to level the playing field a little in the meantime.

This is why games with a chance element have worked well for us – because junior players have as good an opportunity as any, and because chance can undermine the strategist too.

And part of why we play, in any case, is because we don’t know the outcome – so it becomes worth our while to try, and to influence that outcome if we can.

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