The equipment is extraordinarily beautiful: 18 wooden octagonal tiles (each about 3 inches wide), 16 plastic squares called "stops," 24 wooden playing pieces, and a vinyl board. And strategy game fans are likely to find Octiles as intriguing as it looks.
Up to four players may compete as individuals, but the partnership game similar to the two-player version, in which each player controls two sets of pieces is better. As in halma, the object is to move all five unmarked pieces of your color, called "runners," into the starting area of the pieces that begin directly across the board.
The board is initially empty, except for the "stops," which are set in place before play begins. During the first phase of the game, each player in turn either places a tile on the board or moves one of his runners along the tiles already placed. Each tile shows a unique arrangement of four path segments, and each segment connects two of the tile's sides. Runners move along paths from one stop to another.
As all the runners get into play, the stops begin to get filled up, blocking many paths and making progress more difficult. When tiles have been placed on all 17 board spaces (one tile will be left over), the game enters its second phase, during which a player either moves a runner or changes one of the tiles by rotating it in place or by replacing it.
Players must strike the proper balance among conflicting strategic objectives. It is frequently necessary to choose between moving a runner off its starting space before it gets blocked, or using a different runner to take advantage of the longest available path before an opponent blocks it, or blocking an opponent's best move, or changing a tile. An even more difficult decision occurs in the partnership game when you must decide whether to sacrifice your own aims to help your partner's runners make progress often a good idea, because a team wins if either of its sets of five runners reaches its goal.
A serious game can take well over an hour; but Octiles can easily be made into a shorter game by reducing each player's runners to three or four a good introductory variation. And if you can't find an opponent, the rules include 30 solitaire tasks to puzzle over, such as arranging the tiles to connect the 20 starting spaces into 10 connected pairs, or forming as many separate closed loops as possible. R.W.S.