Tantrix is a puzzle-style game that can be enjoyed in a number of guises. The Discovery Set as an introduction is a lovely little gift. For those who have caught the “Tantrix bug”, the game pack is the way forward.
Tantrix is an abstract game. It involves tile laying with strategic thought needed to place the hexagons properly. This review should bring this classic game to life but it will also show you that a bag of just 56 tiles can generate a number of other challenging puzzles and solitaire games too. There are also two puzzles as yet unsolved. Perhaps you might be the one to bring order to the Tantrix tiles?
Tantrix is a “take anywhere” and “play almost anywhere” game. You need just a flat surface to lay down your hexagons. It is a skilled game but there is a small element of chance, so the best player is not guaranteed to win. To start, each player selects one of four colours: red, yellow, blue or green. Each tile has three lines of different colours crossing from one edge to another. As these tiles are laid down, these lines of colours grow.
The aim of Tantrix is to create the longest line of your chosen colour. Sometimes, you might be able to create a complete loop. Loops score better than lines. Every tile placed must match with adjacent or touching tiles.
Setup takes seconds. Each player selects six tiles from the bag. In turn, the players place one tile into the playing area ensuring that the lines match when touching other hexagons. Play moves clockwise with each player replenishing their hand back to six tiles.
Often, in placing a tile, an indent is created near the tiles. We have called this “a three-sided dip” or a forced space. These empty spaces, bounded by three tiles, must always be filled if possible. At the start of a players turn, all unfilled, forced spaces are identified. A player must complete every three-sided dip before they may play their “proper turn”. In filling a forced space, the player takes another tile and continues to fill up any other spaces. Often in completing one forced space, another will be created. This too must be filled if possible, allowing a player to play many tiles during their turn.
Colour rules and the three-sided dip
Apart from matching the coloured lines, the only rule about tile placement is regarding the forced spaces. As every forced space must be filled if possible, then every “dip” must-have lines of two or more colours entering the dip. If all three lines entering a forced space are of the same colour then this cannot be completed. This would be considered an illegal forced space and must not be created.
Forced spaces are more commonplace as gameplay expands. Once all the dips have been filled (where possible) a player can choose one of their hexagons to play anywhere, but extending a previous line. Often in playing a tile another forced space will be created. Before a player’s turn finishes, they must ensure that all dips are filled if possible.
Play continues until the last tile is drawn from the bag. Now Tantrix enters the end game. The restriction on creating forced spaces with three links of the same colour no longer applies. Similarly, players can now create four- or five-sided tips. Any spaces must be filled if possible before play passes in a clockwise fashion.
Each player scores one point for each tile in their longest line or two points for each tile in a continuous loop. Only one loop or a single line can count towards a player’s score.
This is an all-play, crazy variant for as many players that can fit around a table. It is best with between four and six players. The same basic tile placement rules apply. The 56 tiles are divided equally between the players. Each player forms a stack from which they must take tiles in turn. This is a frantic, no-holds-barred version. Simultaneously, players aim to place their hexagons adjacent to others on the table. With time the centre playing area grows.
Inevitably a three-sided dip will be created. Any player may immediately place their next tile into that dip and shout “Gobble”. As a reward, they can then pass the top tile of their stack to any other player. The winner is the one who empties their stack first.
Like its little brother Tantrix Discovery, the Tantrix Game Pack tiles are all numbered (1 through 56). This puzzle requires the player to take the first three tiles and create a closed loop of one colour. Adding the fourth tile means the loop grows longer but the hexagons will need rearranging. With each tile, the loop becomes longer and more convoluted. The number of possible rearrangements increases exponentially.
This challenging puzzle will continue to grow until the first 30 tiles have been used. Often the closed loop will bend back on itself and from tile 15 a fourth colour adds confusion into the mix. Of course, or other lines and links must match too.
The clever thing about these Tantrix tiles is when they are combined in groups. If the smaller Discovery set (10 numbered tiles) can be added to the first 10 tiles of the game pack, this generates a 20 hexagon puzzle. Adding more Discovery sets will create a huge loop. This means you are limited only by the space and number of tiles you own.
The numbered tiles are all coloured coded: green, yellow, white, blue and red. As a challenge, the player could sort the tiles by colour. Each of these coloured tiles will lead to individual puzzles and objectives of increasing complexity and challenge. The instruction booklet also explains a solitaire version of Tantrix using the first 14 tiles. Each of these hexagons has a red line or curve. Using a random stack of these first 14 tiles, the top tile needs to be placed and each one matched with earlier tiles. Once played, tiles cannot be moved, but if a forced space is created, it must be filled. You can make this even more difficult by trying to create a red loop instead of a continuous red line.
Thoughts on Tantrix Game Pack
Good things come in small packages. Tantrix is no exception. Do not let the black bag of tiles and rule book put you off. This may not sit comfortably on a shelf alongside game boxes. But that is the point. This is a game to be played anywhere. It can be thrown into a rucksack to play whilst camping or even taken to the beach.
The tiles are a joy to hold. Few other tile placement games have such a tactile component. These tough resin hexagons have a high gloss finish with the coloured tracks nicely painted into wide grooves. These components will last not just one life but could be passed on to the next generation of gamers, and still look and feel as good. Indeed, our Tantrix game has been around the world (literally), exposed to all of the elements, yet looks as good as when it was purchased over 20 years ago.
A game for all tastes
Sometimes a game might be better played with a group and then a solo variant is added to increase the appeal. With Tantrix, there are four distinct games. The solo puzzles require patience, thought and consideration. Over the years I have completed them all, but never in one sitting. Certainly, one or two (and the one to 30) puzzles require considerable time. There is replayability even in the solo games. The solitaire ones are sufficiently challenging and varied that it is impossible to remember all of the solutions.
The solitaire game has a mixture of luck and skill. There are a number of solutions, but success will depend on how you manage the three-sided dips that will fall your way.
The standard 2-4 player Tantrix game is the one that most will turn to. This is an abstract game with no pretence of a story to it. To do well in Tantrix is to be able to create forced spaces that must be filled by yourself or another player, all while extending one’s line or loop.
There is some satisfaction in watching others do your work for you. Similarly, there are other tactics that you can employ. One might deliberately extend another player’s line in the wrong direction, or perhaps towards a three-sided dip that you realise cannot be completed. With time, players become aware of which tiles might fit in which spaces.
Most games will take about 20 minutes to get through the 56 tiles. Scoring at the end is simple and without controversy. Tantrix in its standard form can easily take three games back-to-back. The simple colour matching of the lines means that even the youngest child can place their hexagons. Over the years we have adapted our game’s house rules to enable our children to play purely for enjoyment.
The gobble speed fest is a crazy, lighthearted version of Tantrix. It is perfect as a filler variant. With 56 tiles at the start, six players can easily enjoy this game. There is a huge tension waiting just to find somewhere to place your last tile. This, coupled with the irritation of another player loading their tiles onto your stack, provides lots of laughter and plenty of fun.
For lovers of unsolved challenges, there may be the Collatz conjecture or Beal conundrum. However, Tantrix has its own unsolved problem. Computer modelling suggests that there should be a way to place all 56 tiles to create a series of four coloured lines, interconnected and with a total length of 146. Alternatively, four loops might be created with a length of 136. However, no one has beaten 139 or 129 respectively. I fear that these two puzzles may remain unsolved for a few more years to come.
Final thoughts on Tantrix
Rarely does one game cover so many bases. I stumbled across Tantrix in a slightly “alternative” shop in the 90s. This little bag of fun has given the family huge pleasure over the years. We still bring it out even now. In more contemplative moments, it is fun to try a solitaire puzzle.
As for value for money, I cannot think of one game that continues to look and feel as good as when I bought it. It has taken quite a hammering through play with the kids, but it remains unscathed after 20+ years so far. I predict at least another lifetime of gaming to go. By then I might finally have solved the four-loop and four-line puzzle.