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   Martian Frisby
         a game for two players


Martian Frisby is a board game for two players. It is played using nestable Icehouse game pieces, a chessboard, and dice.

Like Mrs. Frisby, you must move your nest to safety. And like a Martian, you must obey the Laws of the Pyramids.

You start with six pieces nested at one end of a chessboard. Roll the dice, and try to move all your pieces to the other end of the board. Along the way, you may nest pieces, but you may never stack them.

Equipment needed

Icehouse: The Martian Chess Set; a chessboard; two six-sided dice

If you do not have one of the new hollow Icehouse sets, you should buy one. They're cool. You can even play Martian Frisby with the cheap cardboard sets, if you leave the bottom open instead of filling and sealing the pieces. However, if you would like to play Martian Frisby without an Icehouse set, you can construct a simple Martian Frisby set out of checkers or poker chips by drawing one, two, or three dots on each disk. You will need two of each "size" in each of two colors, or twelve chips total. This homemade set is for Martian Frisby only and will not allow you to play other Icehouse games.


the Martian Frisby boardThe game is played on a two-by-eight grid, such as two adjacent columns on a chessboard. The players sit at opposite ends (short sides) of the board.

Each player chooses a color of Icehouse pieces, and nests six pieces on the two squares at her end of the board: a one-pointer under a two-pointer under a three-pointer on each end square.

diagram of starting positions

Choose a player to go first. Players alternate turns. (The loser of each game goes first in the next game.)

Turn Actions

On your turn, roll both dice. Use each die to move one of your pieces by the amount indicated. You may move the same piece with both dice, or a different piece with each, and you may use the dice in either order, but you must use both dice. If you cannot make both moves, you must pass, making neither. (However, you may not pass if any legal pair of moves is available. Even if you don't like them.) You may not use your second move to "undo" your first move, leaving the board unchanged.

(Note: you may move any one or two of your pieces, as long as both moves are legal. Each of the two moves in your turn must be legal on its own: you cannot make an illegal move with one die, then "fix" it with the other die. On the other hand, your first move may make your second one possible.)

You may move a piece either forwards or backwards along its column. You may not change the direction of movement within one move; you must use the entire value of the die in one direction. (You may, however, make two moves in the same turn with the same piece in opposite directions, as long as they are not equal in length.) You may not move a piece between columns. (VARIANT: You may.) A move that would take a piece beyond the board is illegal.

Laws of the Pyramids

Open Field: You may move a piece onto an empty square.

Nesting: You may move a piece onto a smaller piece of any color.

No Stacking: You may not move a piece onto a same-size or larger piece.

Trapped Pieces: You may not move a piece which is under another piece. (If you can't touch it, you can't move it.) Thus, a smaller piece can be temporarily "trapped" by a larger piece of either color, unable to move until the larger piece moves away.


Your goal is to reassemble your starting configuration of two nests at the far side of the board. As soon as your six pieces are nested on the two squares at the far end of the board, whether your turn is over or not, you win.

You must land on the goal squares (and all squares) on an exact roll. Pieces on the goal squares are not "locked" or "safe" or special in any way. For example, if your only legal pair of moves includes un-nesting pieces from a goal square, you must do so. (Every journey includes some setbacks.)


Luck is very important. Skillful play consists of making the best use of each roll, keeping your position open so you can benefit from whatever happens next, and hampering your opponent's best moves. It is also important to make steady progress toward your goal, uncovering your one-point pieces and moving them out into the board quickly.

Remember that you must assemble your pieces at the far side of each column in the correct order: one-pointer first, three-pointer last. This aspect of the game is similar to the classic Towers of Hanoi puzzle.

Trapping your opponent's pieces under yours while you make progress toward the goal is often useful. Trapping your smaller pieces under your own larger ones is less useful, but can prevent trapping by enemy pieces.


This is my first complete game design; it's not the world's greatest game, but I'm pretty pleased with it. If you have comments or suggestions regarding Martian Frisby, please send me email.

Remember that small game pieces, such as Icehouse pieces, are not suitable for very young children. Martian Frisby is intended for players mature enough to use small pointy objects responsibly.

To my knowledge, this is the first game to exploit the nesting (not stacking) property of the new injection-molded Icehouse sets. It is also one of the first to utilize both Icehouse pieces and dice.

My chessboard is the common folding type: the board is a hinged box which opens flat for play. When it is opened, all the chessmen fall out. If you have one of these too, you will appreciate this feature of Martian Frisby: it can be played on half of the chessboard, so you can play it without opening the box. (Assuming you don't keep your Icehouse pieces or dice inside.)

This is version 1.0 of Martian Frisby, written on 15 October 1999.

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