A smart twist on an old classic

The title gives Tic Tactics away. It’s the age-old game of Tic-Tac-Toe with a tactical twist, spread out across nine separate Tic-Tac-Toe boards that collectively form one mega, meta-board. You control where your opponent moves, and your opponent controls where you move, and in spite of that rather oddball description it’s actually very simple to play, and also insidiously entertaining. Understand?

Probably not. Okay, imagine a Tic-Tac-Toe board – perhaps better known to some of you as X’s and O’s. Now imagine that each of the nine squares on the board is comprised of another, smaller Tic-Tac-Toe board. To claim one of the squares on the big board, you must win the game of Tic-Tac-Toe in that square. Win a game, claim a square, and when you’ve claimed three squares in a row, horizontally, vertically or diagonally, you win. Easy peasy – that’s Tic Tactics.

Tic Tactics

But there’s a catch! Oh, isn’t there always? You alternate turns with your opponent, chosen at random, from amongst your Facebook friends or in a “pass-and-play” game with a real person, and where your opponent plays determines which of the nine boards you’ll make your succeeding move on. Say, for instance, he plays the upper-left square of the board in the middle – you must play on the board in the upper-left corner. On that board, you play the middle square in the bottom row, and so your opponent must now make his move on the board in the middle square of the bottom row. So it goes, back and forth, until victory (or a draw) is declared.

It’s simple (really, it’s one of those things that’s easier to do than to explain), but it encourages devious play. It’s not easy keeping track of the possible consequences of every move you make, and it’s sometimes preferable to pass up on an advantageous square in order to force your opponent into an even more disadvantaged position. Even if a square is won, you can still be forced to play on it, but if your opponent tries to make you play on a board that’s full, you’ll be allowed to make your move anywhere you like.

Tic Tactics

It costs “coins” to start a new game of Tic Tactics, and they’re awarded for making moves, winning games, and playing on a daily basis. It puts a rather tight cap on the number of games you can play, especially if you’re not very good at it; but the impatient and/or unskilled can alleviate that cap by purchasing coins through the in-game store. Pricing is fairly decent: five bucks will net you 15,000 coins, enough to start 15 games, and also removes the in-game ads that otherwise pop up now and then in the free version.

Tic Tactics supports detailed player profiles which track statistics including your win/loss record, best winning streak, worst losing streak, longest and shortest game, and various other numbers and percentages. Player rankings will be tracked via leaderboards which aren’t live now, but the studio says will be implemented in the first major update, planned for mid-December. That missing feature notwithstanding, the level of polish is extremely high, and the gentle, smooth jazz soundtrack that plays over the attractive, streamlined, and very usable interface brings an element of sophistication to the experience that you just don’t get from scrawling X’s and O’s on notepaper.

Tic Tactics

The biggest knock against it is simply that the servers seem a little twitchy, and if you can’t reach the servers you don’t get to make your move, although that obviously doesn’t apply to pass-and-play games. There’s also no option to resign, although you can opt to ignore lost causes until they expire, nor is there any way to communicate with other players – beg for mercy, taunt their ineptitude, that sort of thing.

Tic Tactics is a simple thing, but it’s really quite good, too: fast, free, easy to play, and deceptively challenging. It’s a smart twist on an old classic, and it works.