You and a friend are having a conversation—can you bring them around to your point of view? Get your ideas to line up, and you’ll have a winning conclusion.
What Is Philosophy?
Philosophy is an abstract strategy game for 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 30 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Gamefound, with a pledge level of €29 (about $29 USD) for a copy of the 2-player game; you can add a 3-player expansion for an additional €10, or get enough components for 4 players for €45 total. (More on those later.) The game’s theme is about having a conversation, but the gameplay is abstract and is suitable for anyone who likes chess-like strategy games.
Philosophy was designed by Galen Goodwick and published by Quality Beast, with illustrations by Natalie Dombois.
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Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. For instance, the player pieces in my photos are made of foam core.
Here’s what comes in the box:
- 12 Indigo Idea tiles
- 12 Teal Idea tiles
- Game board
- Respect token
The board is a sort of plus-shaped grid, with the center 3×3 area highlighted. It’s double-sided, with a blue side and a green side that just give you some different options aesthetically but there’s no effect on the gameplay otherwise.
The idea tiles are square tiles that each have a teardrop icon on them, with various arrows inside the teardrop—I’ll explain more about how those work in the How to Play section. Once you learn what they do it’s pretty intuitive. However, we did notice that it can be tricky to tell at a glance what pieces (and therefore what options) your opponent has, because there’s no set order for how to arrange the pieces in your supply or which way to rotate them. I suppose that will get easier with experience, but is a little harder for those new to the game.
The tiles in the finished game will be similar to those in Hive or Azul, with a beveled underside to make them easy to pick up. That’s important because you’ll often be moving tiles that may be surrounded by other tiles, and the foam core used in the prototype isn’t always great for that.
The respect token is a simple round token, with a kind of funny use—but we’ll get to that later as well. It seems a little unnecessary to the gameplay, but it does help with setting the tone of the game.
I really love Natalie Dombois’ cover illustration, which features two hikers (a fox and person) seated at a campfire on the beach, and helps set the mood of the game as a friendly back-and-forth rather than simulated warfare. However, the game components themselves are just abstract icons and colors, so you don’t get as much of that fun artwork in the game itself. I’d love to see more of her work in other games in the future.
The base game is designed for 2 players. There are two versions of the expansion, which each add another 12 idea tiles in either amber or sage; the only difference between them is the color of the tiles, so if you’re going for 3 players you can just decide based on color preference. (The 3-player rules have suggestions for which colors to use based on different types of color blindness.) [Update] There are 4-player team rules as well, for which you would need both expansion sets.
How to Play Philosophy
The goal of the game is to form a “conclusion,” that is, have three of your pieces in a row, orthogonally or diagonally, at the end of any player’s turn. These rules are for a 2-player game, but I explain the 3- and 4-player rules below.
Give each player a full set of idea tiles and place the board in the center, with the respect token nearby. Have a discussion to choose the starting player.
On your turn, you place one of your tiles in an unoccupied space in the 3×3 center area, rotated in any direction of your choice (but fitting the square grid). The first player may not place their piece in the very center of the board.
Then, if your piece is pointed at an opponent’s piece, it will activate. Each piece has a targeting icon (the point of the teardrop shape) that indicates which tile it will affect, and an impact icon (the shape inside the teardrop) that shows where the tile will move. There are tiles that will push or pull other tiles in various directions, flip a tile over the back of your tile, or even rotate a tile. (The only one that can affect your own tiles is the rotation tile; all the others can only affect another player’s tile.)
Tiles will push other tiles in a row if needed, and any tile that is pushed off the edge of the board is returned to its owner, who can use it again on a future turn. There can also be chain reactions—after each activation, you check to see if any new activations were triggered (one of your pieces targeting an opponent’s piece, where at least one of those two pieces has just been moved). Each of your tiles is limited to activating once per turn, and only your tiles will activate during your turn.
The respect token is used when your opponent has made a particularly clever move—you give it to your opponent to show respect, and they can give it back if they think you’ve made a good move.
At the end of your turn, if either player has three or more idea tiles in a row anywhere on the board, they have reached a conclusion and win the game. If, at the beginning of your turn, you are unable to place a tile in the 3×3 center area, you immediately lose. You may also concede a game by placing an idea face-down.
3- and 4-Player Rules
3-player games are basically the same but it’s a free-for-all: each player is trying to get 3 of their own tiles in a row, and your pieces can impact any opponent’s pieces.
In a 4-player game, players are on teams, with turns alternating between the two teams. On your turn, both your ideas and your teammate’s ideas can be activated, and they will impact any pieces belonging to the other team. To win, you still need to get 3 ideas in a row belonging to one player—a mix of your ideas and your teammate’s doesn’t count as a successful conclusion.
Why You Should Play Philosophy
The goal of Philosophy is very simple: get three of your ideas in a row. And most of the idea tiles themselves are pretty easy to understand as well: point the teardrop at another player’s piece, and the move it in the direction of the big arrow. But despite those rules being fairly simple, there are some hidden depths to be plumbed as well.
One key concept is that (except for the rotation tile) your ideas can only affect somebody else’s ideas. So you generally can’t push and pull and slide your own tiles around to get them into position. Instead, you can manipulate the other player’s ideas, and sometimes those will push yours if they’re lined up in a row. That feels appropriate to the theme, too: you share an idea, and your conversational partner shares an idea, which might send your idea in a different direction. While you might change your mind about an idea you had, a lot of the time it’s because of new input from the other person.
As with a game like tic-tac-toe, most of the time you’ll feel like you’re responding to the other player. They have two in a row, so you need to break up the chain or block off the third spot. What you have to be careful about, though, is that sometimes you might shove some tiles out of the way, but that creates a new opening for the other player to drop in a third idea for their conclusion. Since you can only place new ideas within the 3×3 center area, at least you can focus on that section, but the conclusions can be formed anywhere on the board.
Some of the tiles have been given names, like “persuade” for the one that pulls another tile toward itself and backs up, or “rephrase” for the tile that rotates another tile. Others, however, have names that are simply descriptive of how they move things: push, pull, toss. I think I would have liked to see these names be either more fleshed out to convey the theme, or just totally abstracted, because having only some of them named after rhetorical devices feels a little inconsistent.
I was able to try Philosophy both with 2 players and 3 players, and I do prefer the 2-player version. Like a conversation, the 2-player version feels a bit more intense and more focused: you go back and forth responding to each other, and you can consider the other player’s options as you make your move. With 3 players, things feel a bit more chaotic. All I can focus on is making sure the next player doesn’t have an easy opening, but I mostly ignore the player who goes before me, hoping that the next player will address them. I think it’s all right, and as somebody who often has 3 players at a game night, I appreciate having the option, but I do think it’s a stronger game at 2 players.
[Update] After posting my review, the publisher sent me the beta rules for the 4-player game, which they had been working on, so I was able to give it a shot. You alternate between teams, and on your turn any piece from your team can activate and affect any piece from the opponent’s team. That means that it feels a little bit more like the 2-player version, less chaotic than the 3-player game, with some more back-and-forth and a little more predictability. However, to win, you need to form a conclusion with one player’s ideas, so it takes a bit more setting up. It definitely has an interesting feel to it, and I enjoyed the puzzle of it.
One thing I noticed—and this may be from lack of experience—is that there were fewer chain reactions generally than I’d initially anticipated. I suppose it’s possible to try to plan ahead for chain reactions, but quite often it felt like I was just putting out fires each turn. “What’s the move I can make right now that prevents my opponent from winning on their next turn?” It’s a lot harder to think about what your opponent will do next, and whether that will set you up for a chain reaction on your next turn.
Even so, I liked the contemplative nature of Philosophy—it may be that the theme put me in that frame of mind, but the idea of playing out a conversation rather than a skirmish gave the game a more low-pressure attitude. Losing the game doesn’t feel so much like a defeat; it’s more like coming around to a friend’s point of view when they’ve laid out their reasoning. It’s a chill experience, from the pastel colors to the way you pass the respect token back and forth.
If you like abstract strategy games, especially the variety where actions and movements are visible on the pieces themselves, Philosophy is worth a closer look. For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Philosophy Gamefound page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype of this game for review purposes. We also received a handful of German candy, but that did not seem to affect the gameplay.