For many years Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley were the leaders of the board game industry. A majority of board games created before the mid 1990s were created by one of these two companies. Since they made so many different board games, Parker Brothers ended up creating quite a few less than stellar board games. This has made a lot of people not even give Parker Brothers games a chance. I wouldn’t say that I dislike Parker Brothers but most of their games tend to be very average. I have encountered the occasional surprise though. While not perfect, Square Off is a surprisingly good Parker Brothers game.
How to Play Square Off
Place the gameboard between the two players. Each player chooses a color and takes all of the tiles of their chosen color. Each player randomly places all of their tiles on their side of the board with the arrow on each tile pointing towards the middle of the board. The blank tile is removed from the board before you begin the game. The letter tokens are randomly placed in the holes in the center of the board.
Playing the Game
To begin each round one player will choose a letter and the other player will roll the die. Both players will then have to connect the chosen number to the chosen letter. Players will try to create a path between the number and letter by sliding tiles into the open space on their side of the board. Both players will play at the same time and can slide tiles as fast as they want.
When a player believes they have created a path from the number to the letter, they grab the corresponding letter tile. Both players verify that the player successfully made a path between the number and letter. If the player successfully made a path, they get to keep the letter tile. If they didn’t create a complete path, they give the letter tile to the other player.
Another round then begins with the loser of the previous round choosing the letter for the next round.
Winning the Game
A player wins Square Off when they have acquired three letter tiles.
Alternate Game Modes
Square Off does include two alternate ways of playing the game.
First instead of playing Square Off as a speed game you can play it as more of a strategy game. Players take turns in this mode. For each turn a player can move as many tiles as they want in one direction. The first person to create the path between the number and letter, takes the letter tile. The first player to get three letter tiles wins the game.
Square Off also includes a solitaire mode. In the solitaire mode you will set up the board like normal. Two of the vertical line tiles are then turned ninety degrees (are now horizontal lines). Your objective is to rearrange the tiles in order to create an uninterrupted line using all of the tiles. This mode has six potential solutions.
My Thoughts on Square Off
Square Off is a board game created by Alex Randolph (Enchanted Forest, Cardino) in 1972. Square Off is basically what you get if you take your typical slide puzzle and add a competitive speed element to the game. Two players complete against one another trying to slide around the tiles to create a path between the current number and letter. The first player to create the path grabs the corresponding letter. The first player to get three letters wins the game. That is basically all there is to Square Off.
With basically only one mechanic in Square Off it is not surprising that you can learn how to play the game in minutes. While there is some strategy in how to rearrange the tiles, the game is simple enough that I don’t see people having trouble playing the game. Square Off has a recommended age of 9+ but I think kids a little younger than that should be able to play the game.
While Square Off might be easy to play, it doesn’t mean that it will be easy to win. Square Off’s biggest issue is the fact that some players are just going to be better at the game than others. Players that can figure out to re-position tiles quickly have a big advantage in the game. If the two players are not equally matched, the more skilled player will almost always win the game. This can lead to some issues as one player might know before the game even begins that they likely won’t win the game.
This fact would ruin a lot of games but it actually doesn’t ruin Square Off. Square Off is just a fun speed puzzle game. Even if you lose it is still satisfying sliding the tiles around the board racing against the other player. Square Off isn’t the type of game that I would play for hours at a time but I could easily see playing a couple games before putting the game away for another day.
I think one of the reasons that Square Off is a surprisingly enjoyable game is that it is pretty unique. I have played a lot of speed games and yet have never played a game like Square Off before. While it sounds like Rubik’s Race (released in 1982) utilizes a similar mechanic, I have to give Alex Randolph credit for coming up with a unique mechanic for an early 1970s board game. I am a little surprised that more games haven’t utilized this mechanic since it is a pretty fun mechanic for a speed game.
In addition to the speed mode Square Off includes two other modes of play. The first option I would call strategy mode. Instead of just sliding tiles as fast as you can, in strategy mode you need to carefully think out your moves. Since players take turns making moves, you need to think carefully to avoid wasting moves. This mode seems to be quite a bit more strategic than the main mode since you really need to put thought into your moves. If you are a really strategic player you might prefer this mode. I think it is a little drawn out though and I think most people would just prefer the speed mode.
The other option is the solitaire mode. Square Off’s official rules for solitaire mode have you trying to create an interconnected line using all of the tiles. This feels like a typical slide puzzle as you try to manipulate the positions of the pieces. Another option you could use for a solitaire game is to basically play the normal game trying to connect random numbers and letters as quickly as possible. It is going to be more exciting to compete against another player but the game can still be fun as a solitary game.
Component wise I would say that Square Off is comparable to a lot of Parker Brothers games. All of the game’s components are made of plastic. The plastic is solid but the path sections on the tiles are somewhat prone to paint chipping. The game as a whole is also kind of dull looking. While it is not much to look at the game works quite well. The tiles slide surprisingly well for a game that is over 40 years old. The biggest problem that I had with Square Off’s components though is that it doesn’t support four players. Outside of cost there is no reason that it couldn’t have been made into a four player game. The additional players would have made the game more exciting. The good news is that if you purchase two copies of the game you could easily turn Square Off into a four player game.
I will say that I was quite surprised by Square Off. The game is not perfect but it is an enjoyable little speed game which was more than I was expecting. I will admit though that Square Off is not the type of game that is going to appeal to everyone. If you hate slide puzzles I can’t see you enjoying Square Off. Adding the speed mechanic improves the game but it probably isn’t going to change people’s minds about slide puzzles.
Should You Buy Square Off?
Usually I have a good idea of what I am going to think about a board game before I play it but Square Off surprised me. It is not perfect but it is a surprisingly fun experience racing against the other player to finish your path first. The game is quick to learn and you can play several games in a pretty short amount of time. I would consider Square Off to be a hidden gem. Square Off does have some issues with competitiveness though. Likely one player will be better than the other player which will lead to a lot of blowouts. Even if one player is likely to win most games, I still think Square Off is an enjoyable game.
If the premise for Square Off doesn’t really appeal to you, it probably won’t be for you. If you have any interest in the game’s concept though you should at least consider picking it up. Fans of speed and puzzle games will probably really like the game. If you can get a good deal on Square Off I would highly recommend picking it up.