Quick Games – Reversi, also known as, Othello!

4 - 5

Number of Players: 2

Year of Publication: 1880

Creator(s): John W. MollettLewis Waterman (Designers) and Kinetic (Artist)

Othello is a great game; for anyone that knows it, they’ll know how much fun it is, and for anyone who doesn’t, it’s quick and easy to learn and it keeps you on your toes as the table can turn at literally any point in the game. You can be winning right up until the last few pieces are laid and then find yourself the loser!

It’s definitely not as quick as Fanarona, but can still easily be played in less than half an hour. The pictures in this post are larger than they have been in previous posts, due to the shape of the board and the angle that we had the camera at. There are also less photos, as the game is not very complicated and we felt that filling the post with pictures would just be throwing images at you that you didn’t need, or, probably, want.

Othello starting position
Othello starting position

History and Things:

  1. The game was invented at the end of the 19th century; both Lewis Waterman and John W. Mollett (two Englishmen) claimed to be the inventors of the game.
  2. The first ever versions of the game were produced in 1882 by Waterman and Mollett themselves.
  3. It was patented in 1888 and published under the name Reversi in 1898.
  4. Reversi was based on a game invented by Mollett in 1870 called The Game of Annexation (or Annex for short), the only known difference between this game and Reversi is that Annex is played on a board shaped like a cross. So instead of the 8×8 – essentially a chess board – that Reversi/Othello is played on Annex was played on an 10×4 cross.
  5. In 1880, in a publication of The Queen, Waterman proposed a new version of Annex, called Reversi, to be played on a conventional Chess Board, and named himself inventor, he registered the name in 1887.
  6. In 1886 Mollett published the same game with the name Annex, a game of reverses. Mollett was initially not allowed to use the word ‘reverses’, so he appealed, won and the word ‘Reversi’ was freed.
  7. Whilst the Waterman release of Reversi was not sold with a board – the box stated that you had to play it on a chess board – the Mollett version was sold with a cheap paper 8×8 board and carried the Annex, or Annexation name.
  8. From reading all this it’s clear that Mollett was the primary creator of the game, he was responsible for the original rules and game pieces, where Waterman is responsible for the board shape, size, and the name Reversi.
  9. Jumping forward almost 100 years to 1971. Goro Hasegawa reinvented the game, naming it Othello with the rule set currently used on the international tournament stage; the Japanese games company Tsukada Original published it.
  10. (I managed to make ten points this time!!)
    Othello was chosen as a name for many reasons – all of them deriving from Shakespeare’s play. I’ve put a few in here; Iago makes a direct reference to how he is “two faced” in the play, which accounts for the double-sided black-and-white playing pieces which are continually flipped throughout the game. There is also the conflict between black Othello and Desdemona who is white to be considered. For those who have an interest in Shakespeare, the similarities continue – reread Othello and see how many you can find!

Game Play!
In Othello players take it in turns to place pieces and black always moves first. When placing pieces you must be able to “take” the other players pieces. To take pieces you must be able to trap their pieces between two of your own on a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line, doing this means that you flip all the pieces on that line to your colour. there are occasions when you can place a piece that completes two or more lines, this means you can flip every piece of the other colour that is on a line you’ve just created.

If you cannot place a piece anywhere that allows you to take, or flip, your opponents pieces, you forfeit your turn and your opponent continues to place pieces until a move becomes available to you.

Once all the pieces have been played, each player counts how many of their colour is on the board. The player with the highest number of their colour showing wins. If you have exactly the same number of pieces showing your colour on the board (32), “perfect play” is reached. This implies that the players are evenly matched.

There are some interesting strategies that can be played in Othello, however, the one I found most intriguing was that an experienced player, when teaching/playing with a less experienced player, can add a handicap into the game. As the four corners are the strongest positions to hold on the board, it can be played that the more experienced player allows the game to start with the corners already having pieces of their opponents colour in them. This gives a huge advantage as pieces in the corners cannot be flipped as it is impossible to place a piece on the other side of them to create the necessary line. In this same way, pieces placed right on the edges of the board are harder to take as there is only one line that they can be flipped on.

Below is a photographic sequence of moves that gives an idea of how pieces are flipping in the progress of the game.

A sequence of moves in Orthello
A sequence of moves in Othello

Differences between Othello and Reversi: (thought to exist in the games before 1871)

  1. Othello starts from a fixed position. In Reversi players take it in turns to place their pieces on the central four squares, this allows for two possible starting positions. This difference is considered unimportant and each starting formation can lead to a draw in perfect play.
  2. In Othello, if a player cannot place a pieces that flips one of their opponents pieces they must pass, their opponent then continues to place pieces until either they cannot place or until another move becomes available to you. In Reversi, a player can choose to pass. This can be tactical as it can force your opponent to pass at a more crucial moment of the game because you have more pieces left. This could have huge tactical and strategic advantages or disadvantages for each player.
  3. This last difference has speculation as to whether it actually existed or not, but some say that in Reversi originally players could place pieces adjacent to their own pieces without creating a line through which their opponents discs were flipped. This rule, if it existed at all, would make the two games completely different, and also lower the difficultly level of the game considerably.
Close to the finish
Close to the finish (this game actually came to perfect play at the end, however we don’t have a picture as we use my brother’s phone camera for these photos, and he was on the phone when the game ended.)

For points of interest, I read about the history of Othello/Reversi here, although some of the information was questionable.
If anyone reading this sees anything that they know is wrong, don’t hesitate to leave me a message telling me what my mistake was and I’ll endeavour to correct it as soon as possible! I struggled a little with this post as there was a lot of information about the game to go through and there were discrepancies between each source I read.


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