Kotra

(originally Martian Backgammmon)
Designed by Glenn Overby

Equipment
• Two sets (stashes) of Icehouse pieces in different colors. • A chessboard. • Two four-sided dice. • Number of players: Two. (A four-player variant can also be played.) • Playing time: About 20 minutes.

Overview
All pieces begin off the board. The object is to enter your pieces on your side of the board, move them across to the opponent’s side, and score points by moving them off the board on the other side faster than your opponent.

Play
On your turn, roll both dice. Then play one piece corresponding to the number on each die. (You may play the same piece twice, if the numbers you roll allow it.) You may play the two dice in either order. 1: Play a small pyramid (pawn). 2: Play a medium pyramid (drone). 3: Play a large pyramid (queen). 4: You may use a 4 to play any pyramid. There are three ways to play a pyramid. • Enter: You can enter a pyramid from your off-board stash onto a vacant square in the row closest to you. If you have any pyramids in your stash, you must enter at least one on your turn. If you have pyramids awaiting entry, and the dice do not permit you to enter any of them, you lose your turn. • Move: You can move a pyramid straight forward or diagonally forward a number of spaces exactly equal to its size. (One space for pawns, two for drones, three for queens.) You cannot move a pyramid onto a space occupied by one of your own pyramids. (But you can move over pyramids of either player in intervening spaces.) If you move a pyramid onto a space Legal moves for: occupied by an opposing pyramid, the opposing pyramid is hit and returned Blue pawn (upper left) to the opponent’s stash. Red drone (upper right) th Green queen (lower) • Score: A pyramid that has moved as far forward as it possibly can (7 row th for queens or drones, 8 row for pawns) may be eligible to score. If none of your pyramids of the same size are now waiting to enter, you can move such a pyramid forward off the board and score it. A scored pyramid is worth one point, regardless of size. Scored pyramids take no further part in play.

Game End
The game ends when either player has scored all of their pyramids of one size, or when either player scores a small pyramid. At that time, the player with the most points wins. If the score is tied, the player whose play ended the game wins.

Kotra is an Icehouse game (http://www.wunderland.com/icehouse) – © 2001 by Glenn Overby

Four Player Variant
Four players can play, each with their own colored set of pyramids. Each player uses a different side of the board as home, and has a goal on the opposite. The only rule change is to reduce the number of pyramids to nine for each player, three of each size. A four-player game is much longer than a two-player game.

Comments
This game was inspired by Andrew Looney’s Martian Chess and Andrew Plotkin’s Martian Go, both of which use a chessboard and are almost, but not quite, entirely unlike their namesakes. So, too, is this Martianesque derivative of backgammon. A backgammon board is normally thought of as a sort of U-shaped track. But it can easily be straightened out into a long double-ended race course. So I went with the parties racing through each other on a chessboard instead of a backgammon board, to fit the 8 × 8 grids already in use for other Martian-family games. The pyramid-shaped dice were an obvious choice for flavor. Instead of using them to simply count spaces, though, I opted to let the pieces be differentiated by size (in keeping with practice in most Icehouse games) and let the dice pick the pieces to play. This mechanic is found in very old ancestors of chess. Starting all pieces off-board is done in the modern backgammon variant of Acey-Deucy, and in numerous other versions throughout the game’s lineage. When I started work on this I was aware of only one completed race game for the Icehouse set: Mad Dog, by Ryan McGuire. I have since learned of others – IceGammon and Martian Frisby, to name two. The four-player variant is the brainchild of Benjamin Cordes, who sent it to me fully tested a few days after the game was first posted to the Icehouse mailing list. Thanks again to Ben for his contribution, and also to my lead playtester John Padavan.

Tips on Play
Always keep a space open in your back row. Testers died horribly on a regular basis when they forgot this. Advance two drones to the center of your third row, side by side, as fast as you can. (See the blue pieces in the diagram at left.) This covers all but the end squares of your enemy's fourth row, and forces to the outside any quick attack by the queens. Three pawns in your back row can protect every space in your second row. (See the yellow pieces in the diagram above.) The second row is where your opponent will need to park queens and drones before scoring, so being able to attack there is important – and only your pawns can do that. This is still a race game, despite the position plays. The most common ending comes from a player scoring all five queens.

Kotra is an Icehouse game (http://www.wunderland.com/icehouse) – © 2001 by Glenn Overby