I mentioned in an earlier comment that I found simpler, stripped down games to have more replay value, meaning games like Sudoku, Tetris, and Freecell, and the like. Because the mechanics of the game are so simplistic and transparent, the game sort of fades to the background. The competition is more between the players and themselves than it is between the players and the game. As long as a competitor is interested in pouring himself into all the iterations that game’s rules allow, they can stay extremely involved for a long period of time. This can mean that the simpler the game is, the better.
To a point.
There’s a line between a game setting small enough boundaries for a player to explore each bit of the area closely and a game leaving so little room for choice that it suffocates. Tic-tac-toe crosses that line.
After learning the rules [once you get three in a row you win, and no you can’t draw in a picture of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson], there are three major points of development for a tic-tac-toe player. The first is learning how to draw the game board correctly. It’s tough to draw 4 straight, even lines when you’re just learning how to write. Once that moment comes, though, the player is free to have any number of competitions with classmates, parents with senses of humor, and themself at a moment’s notice. The world seems large.
The second point is when they find out that the corner is a better first move than the center. This is the high point of a tic-tac-toe player’s career. At this moment, they find out that they can guarantee a victory with all but two second-move replies, and even then there are two places for the opponent to slip-up on the fourth move and allow a win. The world seems winnable.
The third point is when they realize that every single game, no matter, is probably going to end up a cat’s game. Everyone knows the tricks, there’s no joy in beating the people that don’t, and no one really wants to play anymore. The world seems small and meaningless.
This transition can happen at different rates for different people, but it’s still an inevitable liability. There is a discrete number of distinct games that can be played. Taking into account rotations and mirror images of final board positions, there are only 138 possible ways that a game of tic-tac-toe can end. That is small enough for even a child to grasp and get bored of.
So I’m left wondering where the line is drawn between a game being too simple to matter and simple enough to still be transparent to the players. Is it 4 X 4 tic tac toe? Checkers? Chess? NBA Jam Tournament Edition?
I’d imagine the line is drawn in different places for different people, but I’d think it’s still there somewhere. For many people, tic-tac-toe is just the first game to move from one side of it to the other.
Disclaimer: I do not like 4X4 tic tac toe. It’s a needless expansion of an established concept that almost serves to discredit the original. I didn’t like Tetrisphere either.