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On Trax
The New Zealand Trax Association Newsletter. Issue: 2

Strategy Questions

Donald Bailey

Which is more important, loops or lines?

They are both equally important. Trax is all about a balance in between the two. Defending loops tends to straighten them into lines, while defending lines tends to bend them into loops.

This said, loops are faster to make since any corner can be made into an attack. They are also easier to defend (usually). Lines take several turns to build, and are more obviously threatening because you can see them grow. They are also harder to defend, often requiring several turns.

How can I tell who has the best position?

This is a difficult question. The most straight forward approach is to look at attacking potential. The number of corners and connectable pairs that a player has gives an indication of the attacking potential of that player since corners and connectable pairs form part of more complex multiple stage threats such as Ls and edges. If there are strong line possibilities, then these should be counted as well.

Note that the approach of counting corners does not take into account their position relative to the rest of the playing area. It is possible to have only a single corner and be able to win the game, or have many corners yet have a relatively weak position. The strength of a position also depends on who has the initiative. Having said this, corner counting does provide a useful FIRST ESTIMATE of the strength of a position.

If I don't know what to do, what is wrong with attacking?

This is one of the most common strategic errors of new Trax players. Corners represent attacking potential. However, by making an attack prematurely, you actually weaken your position. The reason for this is twofold. First, when you attack, you use up a corner, reducing your potential. Second, when your opponent defends, they can usually do so in a way that gains them a corner. So, in general, you not only weaken your own position, but also strengthen your opponent. If you don't know what to do, DON'T attack. Kill one of your opponent's corners instead.

When should I attack?

Given that attacking without purpose more often than not harms a position, the best time to attack is when it helps the position. There are three circumstances where this is the case:
  1. When you can force a win.
  2. When your opponent has several independent threats (which cannot be defused simultaneously).
  3. If after the attack or attack sequence is over, your position has improved regardless of what defences your opponent makes.
Care needs to be taken with case 1 since it is very easy to overlook a counterattack, which can be fatal. If there are corners around that will cause counterattack problems, it is usually better to defend the potential counterattacks before starting the attack sequence.

When should I start worrying about my opponent's lines?

There is no easy answer to this. Probably as soon as you recognise them! Lines can be a problem from about 3 tiles long if that is all there is. ie if the playing area is only 3 tiles wide and the line is the same length, it could easily become a serious threat. Also, segments which are on their own on one side of the playing area (without any other lines of the same colour) can also be dangerous since they can easily grow very quickly. Some hints for defending lines:
  1. Start early! A line threat can take several turns to defend properly.
  2. Turn lines toward your own corners to slow them down.
  3. The best way of defending a line is to link it back to a parallel path.
  4. Be careful when turning a line back that you don't give your opponent a loop threat.

What are the typical stages of a Trax game?

A typical game goes through at least three stages:
  1. The opening, where players are jostling for initial advantage. Any mistakes at this stage usually result in loop wins.
  2. The growing stage, as the position approaches and passes through the 8x8 threshold. Often lines, if there are any present, can become critical during this stage. Losses here can be either loops or lines.
  3. After the position becomes much bigger, line threats usually lose their significance, and loop threats tend to predominate. As the position gets larger it tends to become more and more unstable, until one player gradually loses the advantage and loses.

What is the strategic significance of caves?

Playing in caves generally results in more forced moves than playing elsewhere on the playing area. This can make it harder to see what is going to happen as a result of the move. This is made worse by some moves in caves being illegal. For these reasons, most players do not like caves and tend to fill them at the earliest opportunity. However, in spite of their difficulties, caves have two aspects that make them important.

Certain attacks into caves are not able to be defended. Therefore cave attacks provide an alternative to Ls and other multiple loop threats for forcing a win.

The second significance of caves is that it is possible to have caves in which there are no legal moves. Such "dead" caves can provide an extremely strong defensive element since any lines entering the cave can no longer be used in a win as they cannot be joined. Lines and loop threats may be defended permanently by linking them to a path going into a dead cave.

Are there any general principles for playing well?

Detailed long term strategies are very hard to form. Most threats tend to be fairly localised so the game tends to progress from one hot spot to another. Trax is more of a waiting game - playing for long term advantage in terms of potential, while seizing whatever opportunities your opponent gives you. Several general principles that I have found helpful:
  1. Killing your opponent's corners, replacing them with your own.
  2. Keep your options open. If a path can be used for either a loop or a line, don't commit it either way. Work on something else and wait for your opponent to make the move for you. That way you gain a turn.
  3. Do not make pointless attacks or even pointless Ls. You lose attacking potential when your opponent defends them.
  4. Where possible, try to make your move do more than one thing. Don't just defend, but defend and set up a threat for yourself at the same time.
  5. Play in such a way as to limit the number of safe moves your opponent has. Your opponent is then more likely to make a mistake and give you the game.
  6. Use sacrifice to good advantage. If you can set up something obvious (such as an L or an edge) at the same time as setting up something more subtle, most players will see the obvious threat, and fall for the subtle. In other words you can sacrifice some corners or even a strong line to improve your overall position.
TRAX is the common law mark of David Smith and is used to identify his tile game and equipment. Rules of TRAX copyright 1981, 1984, 1987, 1990 and 1998 David Smith, Christchurch, NZ.
This Website compiled by Donald Bailey, Palmerston North, NZ. Copyright 2000-2006