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I love the game of Sprouts but unfortunately at the moment it seems to be a bit too complex for the young student I have introduced to it. She already knows noughts and crosses (also called Tictactoe). I need a game that is

  • more complex than noughts and crosses,
  • less complex than Sprouts, and
  • similar to both in having a small number of possible moves at each turn.

Either a boardgame or a pencil-and-paper game will be fine. The game of Dots and Boxes using a small grid of squares is a possibility, but I'm hoping to find something that is better at getting a student into the frame of mind of "if I go there, he has three possibilities; now if he chooses the first, then..."

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    $\begingroup$ One idea is the "sum to fifteen" game which is isomorphic to tic-tac-toe, but recruits arithmetic knowledge rather than spatial knowledge. $\endgroup$ Feb 2 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ This may be helpful: mathwithbaddrawings.com/2022/01/19/… (or maybe not---it isn't out yet, so I have no idea what's in it). $\endgroup$ Feb 2 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ Have you considered posting this also to Boardgames Stack Exchange? $\endgroup$
    – Nick C
    Feb 2 at 21:25
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    $\begingroup$ There are some good variations on tic-tac-toe. One is to put a small ttt board inside each square of a big ttt board. $\endgroup$
    – Sue VanHattum
    Feb 2 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ In terms of board games, Connect 4 is great for this. (I have no source for this statement other than having been a kid once.) $\endgroup$
    – N. Virgo
    Feb 3 at 6:25

9 Answers 9

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I'll suggest Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe. (I believe this is what Sue mentioned in her comment, as well.)

The main ideas is to take a 3x3 tic-tac-toe board and replace each of the 9 squares with its own 3x3 board. When you make a move, you put an X or O in one of the 81 small squares. Whichever small square you play in, that tells your opponent which big square they must play in next. Check out the image for an example: I play the red X, which is in the top-right corner of that particular 3x3 board, so you must respond by playing somewhere in the top-right corner of the big board (the blue squiggly area).

enter image description here

That image comes from a post on the Math With Bad Drawings blog, and that post has a lot more information about the rules and strategy of the game: https://mathwithbaddrawings.com/2013/06/16/ultimate-tic-tac-toe/

An internet search for "ultimate tic tac toe" reveals several places to play the game online, including this one (which I like because you can play against an AI or share a link to play online against a friend): https://ultimate-t3.herokuapp.com/

It's pretty easy to play with pencil and paper, of course, too!

I think this fits what you're looking for because each move you make only has a few options (other than the very first move, you will always have at most 9 options, and you'll have fewer as the game goes on). It's also possible to look ahead a move or two (or more), and this can help your student develop some logical thinking skills along the lines of: "If I go here, you'll have to go there, which means..."

But most of all, this game is fun! I've used it as an ice-breaker / just-for-fun activity in classes before and it always goes over well.

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Mill is the natural next step up. You can draw the board yourself on the back of a checkers board (if not already printed there).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_men%27s_morris

Note, Wiki talks about flying being an option (see "phase three"), but I think this is the traditional method. I've never seen else. And is a fun phase.

Supposedly the game is solved, but I find it much more than complex tic tac toe, so it will retain her interest (and yours) well.

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"Connect 4" and "Gomoku" are similar to tic-tac-toe, but more interesting. Gomuko is simply tic-tac-toe on a larger board, where one has to connect stones into lines of length 5 with a few extra rules to reduce the first player advantage.

In connect 4, again the goal is to connect lines of a certain length, 4 this time, but now you can only place your disks at the lowest unoccupied position in a column.

You can also play the games above on a hexagonal grid instead of a square grid, if you want some more variation.

Something different and a bit more complex, but also nice is the game Hive. In Hive, each player either moves or places a hexagonal tile with an insect on it adjacent to the already placed tiles, according to specific placement and movement rules. The goal is to encircle the enemy Queen (bee). Thinking up to 4 moves deep is often required for good strategy, although good intuition can also get you pretty far. If you think Hive has too many rules, you can try removing some of the pieces from the game.

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Noughts and crosses on a larger board (we used school notebooks when school was boring) and you need five in a row to win. Also good use for partially used notebooks: all squares that have something in them are unavailable, all empty squares available.

The game works in theory with more than two players, too, for extra flexibility, but you sometimes get kingmaker situations, which is no fun.

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  • $\begingroup$ A variant of this game was sold as Pente as well. $\endgroup$ Feb 3 at 4:57
  • $\begingroup$ Traditionally known as Gomoku $\endgroup$ Feb 3 at 16:40
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Sorry, another answer. Was thinking of go and saw another person had answered that.

Another similar game that many bright children enjoy is Othello. I find it a little more relaxing than chess or even checkers. There's just something enjoyable about flipping the pieces.

Probably want to buy a set, they are pretty attractive. [Edit: But read the reviews, supposedly modern sets a little less rich in feel versus 70s versions.]

https://www.amazon.com/Othello-Classic-Game-2-Player/dp/B01MXWTYLF

and see also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reversi

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Games in the Tafl family. These are board games where pieces move (like rooks) from square to square, so there is that element of "if they move there, I move here".

There are several versions of various sizes. The smallest I know is Brandubh, shown on the above Wikipedia page and at BoardGameGeek. The board is 7x7; the defender has king and 4 men; the attacker has 8.

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  • $\begingroup$ Note that this can be played with a regular chess set - play on the corners of the squares instead of the middles, and just use a king and 4 pawns from one side and 8 pawns from the other. $\endgroup$ Feb 4 at 14:00
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Dots and Boxes on boards of at least 5x5 boxes can be deep. (Elwyn Berlekamp, The Dots-and-Boxes Game) If that's too big a game, try 4x4 boxes. That game isn't exactly trivial, but then a game might end in an 8-8 draw.

I see you've already considered it, but I argue in its favour that, after a while, long walls split the board into independent regions, and you need to think "shall I play in this region or that region?".

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The game of Gale, described on this page, might be about right. The flavor is similar to sprouts, but you can control the complexity by changing the grid size.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shannon_switching_game

Variations are also described on the Wiki page.

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You could try Nim.

Here's an online version of the game, where you can play either against another human (on the same device) or against the computer.

If you click on the hamburger menu in the top left, you can choose a number of different hints that will allow you to work out the winning strategy. In particular, if you select the Step by Step checkbox, it will gradually work through all the possible combinations of pieces, starting with the easiest, so that, at each step, you can find a move that leaves the board in a combination that you already knows is winnable.

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