Ice Row

An Icehouse game for 3 to 5 players
By Thorin N. Tatge


  • 6 Icehouse stashes, one of which must be an opaque color. It is possible for 3 or 4 players to play with only 5 stashes.
  • A collection of small objects, such as coins, to be used as action tokens. 8 per player should suffice.
  • A Starting Player token.
  • A ruler to represent the Leading Edge.
  • A screen for each player to conceal pyramids behind.
  • Reference sheets as needed.


    In Ice Row, the large pyramids make up a board which the players affect through the use of commands constructed from the small and medium pyramids. Players put forth their commands simultaneously, which means that commands do not always have their intended effect. The playfield of large pyramids represents an uncertain and shrinking world, which is influenced bit by bit by the players until it is reduced to a single stack. It consists of five rows, each with a recurring effect. The players have a limited supply of command pyramids, but as they can be combined to form any of fifteen different commands, they have a great number of options available. Each player will be striving to keep pyramids of a single color in play and as high as possible in the final stack.



    Select one stash of an opaque color. This stash is used for special purposes, and not claimed by any player. These rules will assume that this stash is black. Now select five more stashes to be used. These will be referred to as colored pyramids.

    Arrange the 25 large colored pyramids randomly into five rows of five each, and align them against the ruler. If you like, you can print out this ruler, affix it to both sides of a piece of matboard or cardboard, and use it as your Leading Edge. Otherwise, use an ordinary ruler or straightedge and decide which end is Ice Row. The rows are ordered as described in Row Effects, below. The edge of each row adjacent to the ruler is known as the Leading Edge of that row, and the five rows collectively are known as the playfield.

    Each player takes one small pyramid and one medium pyramid of every color, including black. These are known as command pyramids, and each player’s collection of command pyramids is known as his or her stockpile. Each player takes a screen and puts his or her stockpile behind it. Each player also takes one large black pyramid. This pyramid is a tool rather than a resource; it is not part of the stockpile, and it can never be lost. If you have fewer than five players, set aside the remaining command pyramids.

    Each player also takes five action tokens. These are not kept behind the screens; it is always public knowledge how many action tokens each player has.



    The next step is to determine who will play which color. While all players will be able to manipulate all pyramids equally, each player will have a color associated with him or her for the purpose of final scoring. It will be in a player’s best interests to keep pyramids of that color in the game and on top of their respective stacks.

    Since this procedure is a little complicated, you may bypass it if this is your first game and choose a color for each player arbitrarily. This may unbalance the game slightly, however, since some colors will have better initial positions than others.

    All players now put a medium colored pyramid over a small pyramid of a different color, hide these inside their large black pyramids, and place them in front of their screens to signify that they are ready. The medium and small pyramids represent each player’s first and second choice of color. Once everyone is ready, these preferences are revealed. Use the following system to assign each player a color.

    First, any player who made a unique first choice is given his or her chosen color. Next, all players who made the same first choice as at least one other player will bid to determine their order of precedence. They do this by taking their large black pyramids back behind their screens (leaving the medium and small pyramids that represent their first and second choices out) and placing bids inside them. A bid consists of any combination of pyramids that can be fit inside a large black pyramid—a medium pyramid, one or two small pyramids, a small pyramid inside a medium one, or nothing at all. The value of this initial bid is the total value of the pyramids offered, which is as follows:

    Thus, a bid’s value can range from 0 to 9 points. Once all bids are revealed, the player who bid the most for each color in contention for first choice is assigned that color.

    Now we move on to second choices. Among the remaining players, any with a unique and unclaimed second choice is assigned that color. Any unclaimed color which two or more remaining players have each made their second choice is assigned to the one who made the highest bid. For this second comparison, pyramids of the new color the players are contending for count 4 points, while pyramids of their first choice colors do not. Thus, while each player who bids makes only one bid, it counts toward both that player’s first choice and second choice, and its value can differ between these comparisons.

    The remaining players, if any, each then decide what colors from those remaining they wish to play in order of the value of their bids (with no colored pyramids counting for 4 points), from highest to lowest.

    If at any stage two competing bids have an equal value, randomly determine the winner.

    Example: Ann, Bernard, Camille, Damon and Erica are playing with the colors red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. Ann and Bernard both make red their first choice and orange their second choice. Camille and Damon both make yellow their first choice and green their second choice. Finally, Erica makes red her first choice and green her second choice.

    Since no player selected a unique first choice, all players put forth a bid. Ann bids a small yellow pyramid. Bernard bids a medium orange pyramid. Camille and Damon bid nothing. Erica bids a medium green pyramid and a small red pyramid.

    Ann, Bernard, and Erica, whose first choice is red, are contending to play red. Ann’s bid is worth 3 points. Bernard’s bid is worth 2 points. Erica’s bid is worth 3+4=7 points. Since Erica made the highest bid, she gets to play red. Likewise, Camille and Damon are competing to play yellow. Since both players made a bid worth 0 points, there is a tie, and the winner is randomly determined. Camille wins a coin toss and gets to play yellow.

    Of the remaining players—Ann, Bernard and Damon—Ann and Bernard’s second choice is orange, while Damon’s is green. Since Damon’s second choice is unique and unclaimed, it is assigned to him. Damon will play green. Ann and Bernard’s second choice, orange, is also unclaimed, so their bids are compared. Ann’s bid is still worth 3 points, but Bernard’s bid is now worth 4 points, since he bid an orange pyramid and is contending for orange. Therefore, Bernard gets orange. Ann is the only remaining player, so she is forced to play the only remaining color, blue.

    When a color is assigned, if there are any pyramids of the appropriate color not being used (either because there are fewer than five players or because you are playing the 20-pyramid variant), the player who received the color should put a medium or large pyramid of that color over his or her large black pyramid. This will remain throughout the game to remind all players who is playing which color. If no extra pyramids are available, you can use color-coordinated screens, or simply remember who has which color.

    If there are fewer there than five players, there will be one or two unclaimed, or neutral colors. Aside from the fact that they belong to no one, they are treated the same way as the other colors on the playfield and can be manipulated through commands accordingly.

    The pyramids used to designate first and second choices (as well as the large black pyramids) are returned to their owners’ stockpiles, but all the pyramids that were bid are set aside in a pile called the junkyard, which consists of used command pyramids. If there are fewer than five players, the extra command pyramids not being used to demarcate which player has which color should also be put in the junkyard. Pyramids in the junkyard can be bought by players and thus returned to the game.

    Finally, give the starting player token to a random player. You can print out these Starting Player token illustrations and affix them to c ircle of matboard or cardboard, or substitute anything you like.

    DEFINITIONS: A stack of pyramids (for short, a stack) is said to be of a particular color or owned by a particular player if a pyramid of that player’s color is on top of the stack. A single pyramid is also considered to be a stack. Two stacks are said to be adjacent if they are aligned horizontally or vertically with no other stacks between them. Empty spaces are disregarded when determining whether two stacks are adjacent. Thus, if a row with two stacks is between two rows with three stacks, the last stacks in each of the long rows are considered to be adjacent. In any row, the stack closest to the Leading Edge is called the first stack, and the stack furthest from the Leading Edge is called the last stack.



    The game is played in a series of rounds, each of which consists of several phases:

    1. Issue commands.

    2. Execute commands.

    3. Check for lines.

    4. Resolve row effects.

    These are each described in the sections below.

    1. Issue commands.

    Working behind his or her screen, each player secretly puts up to two command pyramids inside his or her large black pyramid. The contents of the large black pyramid are known as a command. There are fifteen different types of commands, each with a different effect. They are listed in the Commands section.

    When players have their commands ready, they should put their large black pyramids in plain sight. When all players have done this, you are ready to move on to the next phase.

    2. Execute commands.

    Beginning with the starting player, each player in turn reveals his or her command and carries it out. Most commands have an effect on the playfield, while some affect the commands of other players. Command pyramids used in this phase are left sitting in front of the players who issued them until the end of the phase (unless they are stolen with a Steal Form command). Once all commands have been revealed and carried out, the phase ends and they are placed in the junkyard.

    Action tokens: A player who has just revealed his or her command is considered to be the active player. In addition to deciding how to carry out his or her command, the active player may spend action tokens (by returning them to the pool) to buy pyramids from the junkyard or carry out extra commands. (The command placed under the large black pyramid is called the basic command.) This is the only time at which a player can spend action tokens.

    1. Buy a pyramid. The active player may use action tokens to buy pyramids from the junkyard. The price table is similar to that used for initial bidding:

    2. Execute a command. As many times as he or she wishes, the active player may pay two action tokens to carry out an extra command. The active player must have the pyramids needed for the command in his or her stockpile and must put them in the junkyard before carrying it out.

    Either of these actions can be taken either before or after the active player’s basic command is resolved.

    Example: Damon is the active player. He reveals a medium green pyramid over a small yellow pyramid—a Full Move command. While Camille was the active player, however, she made a move that has turned out to thwart Damon’s intentions, and he can no longer carry out his basic command. However, he has 7 action tokens. Damon uses 3 action tokens to buy a second small yellow pyramid. He pays 2 more action tokens to take an extra command: the small yellow pyramid over a small red pyramid: a Small Move. He puts these pyramids in the junkyard and makes the move on the playfield. He now chooses to resolve his original command and makes a different Full Move than he originally intended. He now chooses to spend his last 2 action tokens to take another extra command. He puts a medium green pyramid in the junkyard—an Inversion—and inverts the order of one of the rows. He declares that he is done and Erica becomes the active player.

    IMPORTANT: There is a limit on the number of action tokens you can retain. If you end your turn as active player with more than five action tokens, you lose all tokens in excess of five. If you have more than five action tokens when you are the active player, you must buy pyramids and/or carry out extra commands until you have five or fewer if you do not wish to lose any.

    If there is any way to carry out a basic command, it must be carried out, even if the playfield has changed since the command was chosen and it is no longer desirable. If it is not possible to carry out a basic command, then it has no effect. For example, if a Small Move from orange to green is played, and there is no orange stack adjacent to a green stack, nothing happens.

    A gap can never remain in any row or between any row and the Leading Edge. If, after any command is carried out, such a gap is created, the outside pyramids in that row are immediately slid toward the Leading Edge to remove the gap.

    Vacant rows: If any command leaves a row vacant of pyramids, then two things happen. First, action tokens are awarded to players according to how many stacks they own. Count the number of stacks of each color, discounting neutral colors. The player with the fewest stacks receives 1 action token, the player with the second fewest receives 2 action tokens, and so on. If there is a tie at any level, all tied players receive the appropriate number of action tokens and the player or players with the next highest number of stacks get just one more action token each.

    Example: The last pyramid has just been removed from Skid Row. This command is carried out and then all stacks are counted. There are two red stacks, two orange stacks, three yellow stacks, three green stacks, and four blue stacks. The red and orange players each receive one action token, the yellow and green players each receive two action tokens, and the blue player receives three action tokens.

    Second, any rows farther from Ice Row than the eliminated row are moved over to take the place of the eliminated row. For example, if all stacks are removed from Ice Row, then Skid Row becomes the new Ice Row, Action Row becomes the new Skid Row, Liquid Row becomes the new Action Row, and Exchange Row becomes the new Liquid Row. (In this case, you need only slide the ruler.)

    The game then resumes where it left off.

    3. Check for lines.

    A line of pyramids is defined as three pyramids of the same color that are part of three separate stacks, with no other stacks between them, which are lined up vertically, horizontally or diagonally. The pyramids’ positions within these stacks do not matter. As with adjacency, empty spaces are disregarded when determining lines. For example, if there is at least one yellow pyramid in the first stack of Ice Row, in the second stack of Skid Row, and in the fourth stack of Liquid Row, and there are only two stacks in Action Row, then there is a line of yellow pyramids, because the three stacks are lined up diagonally. If there were a third stack in Action Row with no yellow pyramid, however, this would break up the yellow line.

    Determine whether there are currently any lines on the playfield. If there are, give two action tokens to each player for every line of his or her color. Lines can overlap and intersect: thus, four stacks in a row which contain a particular color of pyramid are worth four action tokens, and five in a row are worth six. Having more than one pyramid of a given color in a stack that is part of a line does not define a new line, and is not worth any additional points.

    A bend of pyramids is exactly like a line, except that instead of being in a line, the three stacks must be in an L-shape: that is, they must define a right angle. This angle can be either parallel or diagonal to the direction of rows and columns. As with lines, missing spaces are ignored in determining bends. Bends are worth two action tokens just like lines are, but only when someone has played the Bender command in the current round. Four stacks containing a single color that are arranged in a square or a diamond are quite lucrative when someone has played a Bender, as they define four separate bends and are worth eight action tokens.

    4. Resolve row effects.

    In this phase, each row exercises a different special effect on its first stack and the player who owns it. These effects occur in the order listed below.

    1. Ice Row. The first stack in Ice Row is iced--removed from the game. This is the only way in which large pyramids leave the game. Slide the remaining stacks in Ice Row up against the Leading Edge. If the last stack has just been eliminated from Ice Row, the same thing happens as when a stack is emptied during Phase 2. Award action tokens to players as described in that section. Next, continue with the other row effects, but when they are all complete, slide the ruler so that Skid Row is now the new Ice Row, and so on. One row’s effect will happen for the last time this round.

    2. Skid Row. The player who owns the first stack in this row loses two action tokens. If the first stack is owned by a neutral color, nothing happens. If the owner of the stack has only one action token, he or she loses it, and if he or she has none, nothing happens. In any case, move the first stack to the end of the row and shift all the stacks up against the Leading Edge.

    3. Action Row. The player who owns the first stack in this row receives two action tokens. If the first stack is owned by a neutral color, nothing happens. In any case, move the first stack to the end of the row and shift all the stacks up against the Leading Edge.

    4. Liquid Row. The player who owns the first stack in this row may sell one of his or her command pyramids to the junkyard. He or she receives the normal price of this pyramid in action tokens. This effect is optional, and if the first stack is owned by a neutral color, nothing happens. In any case, move the first stack to the end of the row and shift all the stacks up against the Leading Edge.

    5. Exchange Row. The player who owns the first stack in this row must choose two adjacent stacks and exchanges their positions. Both stacks are moved in their entirety, with the order of pyramids within each stack remaining constant. This exchange occurs before this row is rotated. If the first stack is owned by a neutral color, nothing happens. In any case, move the first stack to the end of the row and shift all the stacks up against the Leading Edge.

    If there are fewer than five rows remaining, only resolve the effects of the rows that remain. After all row effects are resolved, pass the starting player token clockwise to the next player.



    By combining the command pyramids in various ways, fifteen different types of commands can be created. Their names and effects are described in the following list. Pyramids are described as a size followed by a shade, where the size is either small or medium and the shade is either black, colored (of any color other than black), other-colored (of a color other than black or the player’s own color) or self-colored (of the player’s own color).

    NO PYRAMIDS: "Null." No effect.

    SMALL COLORED ON SMALL COLORED: "Small Move." Move just the top pyramid from a stack of the top color onto an adjacent stack of the bottom color.

    MEDIUM COLORED ON SMALL COLORED: "Large Move." Move an entire stack of the top color onto an adjacent stack of the bottom color.

    MEDIUM COLORED OVER SMALL BLACK: "Wild Over." Move a stack of the medium pyramid’s color onto any other stack in the same row or column.

    MEDIUM BLACK OVER SMALL COLORED: "Wild Under." Move any stack onto a stack of the small pyramid’s color in the same row or column.

    SMALL OTHER-COLORED: "Steal Form." If that player whose color you used has already been active this round, take the pyramid(s) used in his or her command and put them in your stockpile. If not, wait until the player finishes his or her turn and then take the pyramid(s). If someone else has previously played Steal Form against the same player this round, you get nothing. This command cannot be bought as an extra command with action tokens or played against a neutral color.

    MEDIUM OTHER-COLORED: "Steal Function." If the player whose color you used hasn’t yet revealed his or her command this round, reveal it now and carry it out as if you had played it. If the command contains a medium black pyramid, guess what you think is under it before it is revealed. If you guess correctly, add the medium black pyramid to your stockpile. The player whose command you steal may spend action tokens on his or her turn, but does not get to carry out his or her basic command. If he or she has already been active this round, duplicate the command as if you had also played it. If someone else has previously played Steal Function against the same player this round, you get nothing. This command cannot be bought as an extra command with action tokens or played against a neutral color.

    MEDIUM SELF-COLORED: "Inversion." Choose a row with more than one stack in it and reverse the order of the stacks in the row, so that the first stack becomes the last stack, the second stack becomes the second-to-last stack, and so on.

    SMALL SELF-COLORED: "Bender." This round, during Phase 3, players are not given action tokens for lines, but for bends instead. See the "Check for lines" section for further information. This command only works if it is executed an odd number of times in a given round. If it is executed an even number of times, it has no effect.

    MEDIUM BLACK: "Mercy." During Ice Row’s effect this round, only the top pyramid of the first stack in Ice Row is iced, instead of the entire stack.

    SMALL BLACK: "Overtime." Phases 3 and 4—"Check for lines" and "Row effects"—occur an additional time this turn. When Phase 4 is done, simply go back to Phase 3 instead of going on to Phase 1. If multiple players execute this command, repeat Phases 3 and 4 once for each time it is executed. Only pass the Starting Player token once, however.

    MEDIUM BLACK OVER SMALL BLACK: "Rotation." Rotate the positions of the stacks in a single row or column, or the pyramids in a single stack. If you choose to rotate a row or column, take one stack and move it to the position occupied by the next, and move that one to the position occupied by the next, and so on until you reach the last stack in the row or column, and then move that to the position of the original stack. If you choose a column with one or more empty spaces, skip over the empty spaces, ensuring that each row stays the same length as it was before. You may repeat this as many times as you like. If you choose to rotate a stack, take the pyramid on the top and put it on the bottom or vice-versa. You may only do this once.

    SMALL COLORED ON SMALL BLACK: "Going Up." Choose a pyramid of the top color that is not at the top of its stack, and move it to the top.

    SMALL BLACK ON SMALL COLORED: "Going Down." Choose a pyramid of the bottom color that is not at the bottom of its stack, and move it to the bottom.

    SMALL BLACK ON SMALL BLACK: "Cataclysm." Choose one. 1: Move the Leading Edge from one side of the playfield to the opposite side (and realign the rows against it, so that the former last stack in each row is now the first stack and vice-versa). Or, 2: Reverse the order of the rows. If you have a ruler that labels the various rows, turn or flip it to indicate that they have been reversed. The first row is always Ice Row, and rows that have been eliminated do not re-enter the game in this fashion.



    If all of a player’s large pyramids are iced, that player is out of the game. The eliminated player returns all his or her command pyramids to the junkyard, and all other players must immediately discard all their command pyramids of that player’s color. They receive one action token in compensation for each pyramid thus discarded. This does not include any commands they may have pending including pyramids of that color, even though such commands will have no effect. The Starting Player token cannot be passed to a player who has been eliminated, and pyramids of that player’s color can no longer be bought from the junkyard. Do the same thing when all pyramids of a neutral color are iced. Neutral colors are often eliminated early, but it is rare for any player to be eliminated until the game is nearly over.



    As soon as only one stack remains on the playfield, the game is over. This can happen either as the result of a command that combines two stacks, or as the result of Ice Row’s effect. A final score is now determined.

    Players score points for three things: their pyramids in the final stack, their remaining command pyramids, and their remaining action tokens. The higher a pyramid is in the final stack, the more points it is worth, according to the following table:

    Top pyramid: 10 points
    2nd pyramid: 8 points
    3rd pyramid: 6 points
    4th pyramid: 4 points
    5th pyramid: 3 points
    6th pyramid: 2 points
    All other pyramids: 1 point

    In addition, each player scores 1 point for each command pyramid and 1 point for each action token he or she has remaining. The winner is the player with the highest score.

    Eliminated players score 1 point for each action token and command pyramid they have when they are eliminated. It is therefore theoretically possible, though unlikely, for a player to be eliminated and still win the game.



    20 Pyramid Game: For a shorter game, or if you have only four colored stashes in addition to an opaque one, you can play with only four pyramids in each row instead of five. If you have five players, you will only use four pyramids of each color. Because it will be harder to create lines of pyramids with only four available, you should award three action tokens per line instead of two if you play this way.

    Open Game: If you prefer a game with more analysis and less unpredictability, you can play an open game where commands are selected in turn, rather than secretly and simultaneously. For this variant, screens and large black pyramids are not necessary. The active player simply chooses a command from his or her stockpile and executes it. In this variant, Steal Form and Steal Function are more powerful against players who have already played and less powerful against players who have not yet played in the current round. You may therefore wish to require that to play Steal Form or Steal Function against a player who has already played costs an extra action token.



    Since you have only a finite supply of pyramids, it is important to take care in when you play them. Small black pyramids should be used especially wisely, since other players may buy them as soon as you send them to the junkyard. If you are low on pyramids it may be wise to play the Null command. It is often wiser, however, to play Steal Form against someone you believe will be doing something interesting this turn.

    If you are not the Starting Player, try to guess what the players who play before you may be doing. Use versatile commands that can help you in more than one way, depending on the actions of your opponents. If you play early in a round, you should be more willing to spend useful pyramids in risky moves than if you play late. It is generally unwise to move your pyramids closer to Ice Row, even when you have opportunities for lines. There are, however, often exceptional circumstances.

    If you don’t know what to do, consider unusual choices. A well-timed wild move can sometimes accomplish many things at once. Steal Function is perhaps the hardest command to use effectively, but in tense situations, especially near the beginning of the game, it can be an inexpensive weapon. If your position cannot be improved, it may be a good time to Steal Function from someone else. Watch to see if other players have several bends, in which case you may want to get a bend or two of your own, or prepare to counter a Bender command with one of your own. Save pyramids, especially small pyramids, of colors that appear on many stacks, and be more free with colors that are mostly covered.

    Above all, try not to get frustrated, and remember that many goals can be accomplished in more than one way.