Tavener's Treasure Trove

I have foolishly volunteered to do a regular (ish) column on old games. I'd like to start my telling you my qualifications for the job: none whatsoever.

However, I do spend a lot of time poking around in charity shops and at car boot sales, so I do find the occasional gem. The other thing I should probably warn you about is my taste in games, which runs to most games with more skill than luck, though I tend to prefer games that are over in less than three hours. Anyway, I thought I'd start by describing a couple of games that were mentioned in a previous issue of G3, and perhaps follow them up with a couple of others, if Paul allows me the space...

Amoeba (invented by W. B. Pink)

Amoeba is an unusual game in which players attempt to score points by making amoeba-like shapes. The board is a 7x7 grid of tiles with curves on them (see illustration). Players are dealt three cards each, denoting the shapes they must make. On each turn, a player rotates one tile through 90 degrees. If they make a shape matching a card in their hand, they shout "amoeba!", score the points shown on the card, draw an extra card, and take an extra turn. Points for each shape vary according to difficulty.

This is an excellent game for two players, but play deteriorates as the number of players increases. With four players, the board changes so much between turns that the outcome is due entirely to luck.

I know of three different editions of Amoeba: Louis Marx (1969), Skirrid International (1981), and Ravensburger (under the name Tantalus).

Take The Brain (Parker)

"Take The Brain" is a children's version of "All The King's Men"; the only differences are the production of the pieces and the board.

I have "Take The Brain", so that's what I'm going to describe. "Take The Brain" is an unusual chess variant. There are three types of pieces; 7 "ninnies", which can move one square per turn, 4 "numbskulls", which can move any distance in a straight line, and "the brain", which is effectively like a chess king; it moves like a "ninny", and you lose the game if your brain is captured.

Now for the board; the board is 7x7, and each square has one or more arrows on it. These arrows show the directions that a piece on that square can move, and this adds a new dimension to the game, since your pieces are only as powerful as the square they're standing on!

This is a very good game for children; there are no complex moves to learn, like there are in chess, and yet the strategy is equally deep. Also the board design, with bright orange and yellow squares, and a profusion of different illustrations for the arrows, should attract and hold their interest. For those adults out there who don't want to wear sunglasses while playing, I'd suggest you look for the more sedate "All The King's Men" instead.

Aladdin Trippples (Aladdin)

Aladdin Trippples is an abstract strategy game in two stages; first, players construct the board by playing tiles, each tile being marked with three directions out of a possible 8 (forwards, backwards, sideways, or diagonal) then players move in any of the directions shown under their OPPONENT'S piece. The first player to get from their starting corner to the opposite corner, wins.

This is an original and challenging strategy game. There were two editions published; one with wooden tiles, and one in black plastic.

Quirks (Eon/Games Workshop)

In Quirks, players create strange creatures which fight for control of ecological niches. There are three niches; plant, herbivore, carnivore.

In addition, there are both a major and a minor food chain, making a total of six creatures in play at any one time. To win the game, a player must control all three creatures in the major food chain.

The creatures themselves are made up of three parts, a head, a body, and a tail. The cards have illustrations, parts of names, and codes which tell you how well a creature is adapted to various climates. (A quick random deal gets me the "Scortrat", which has the head of a vulture, the body of a turtle, and the tail of a rattlesnake...)

In each turn, the player first advances the climate marker one or two spaces (there are five climates - ocean, forest, plains, desert, jungle - each of which has 6 divisions), then randomly determines which niche he/she can act in this turn. Actions are as follows:

Fighting is carried out by checking the suitability of the creatures in the current climate - the best adapted creature wins. This means that a devastatingly powerful creature in the ocean will be more or less helpless in the desert, etc.

There is a little too much luck involved make this a brilliant strategy game, but I love this game for the opportunity to play god, and the sheer silliness of the creatures created.