Word Games!

2 - 5

Number of Players: 2-4

Year of Publication: 1981

Creator(s): Elliot Rudell (Designer) and artists are unknown

These are definitely not my brother’s forte, what with him being very dyslexic and all. However, I like them enough that they warrant their own post, even if it is going to be pretty short (and sadly without any pictures). I was considering writing about Scrabble, but then I realized two things; A) That’s boring by itself and, B) We have acquired a much more interesting word game recently that I can write about. SO, I shall only be writing about Scrabble in conjunction with Up Words!

I had no idea of the existence of this game until a friend of ours took it upon herself to make us a copy using squares of foam to write letters on, and brought it to our house. For this we, (or at least I) am very grateful. I have since learnt that the game was developed by an American, with the aim of helping people to improve their English.

Now, rules and such:

As with Scrabble, each player takes seven tiles at random to begin. Player one then places a two-or-more letter word at the centre of the board. It is advisable to have a pad handy for keeping score, and a dictionary, if you’re the type who likes to challenge people about the words they make. Personally, I think it’s more interesting to play without a dictionary as you then test each others knowledge of the actual words as well as their spelling ability. Words must read either right to left, left to right, top to bottom or bottom to top. They cannot read diagonally. Tiles can be placed on top of other tiles to change the word, but the height cannot reach above 5 tiles high. When words are built on top of other words at least one tiles from the original word must remain uncovered, and words cannot be created by adding letters such as “S” to the end.


Points are counted per word made, rather than per tile, as in Scrabble. If only one level of tiles is used for the whole word, each tiles is worth two points, i.e. the word “back” would be worth 8 points. If a tile is placed on top of another tile to change a word then all tiles, including the one that has been covered up, are worth one point, i.e. the word “flap” has a “C” placed over it, so it becomes “clap” and the word is worth 5 points. Two bonus points are given for a single-stack word using the “Qu” tile and you receive 2 bonus points if you use all 7 of your tiles in the same turn. Multiple word scores are counted separately, including repeated tiles.

Illegal Words:

Words are considered “illegal” for the following reasons:

  • If it is misspelled
  • If it is a proper pronoun, for example, someone’s name
  • If it is foreign
  • If it includes a symbol or apostrophe

Winning the Game:

A winner is declared when either the tiles run out, or there are no more available moves. Five points are deducted for any remaining tiles and the person with the highest score, wins.

This has been a very short post, I hope you’ll forgive me for it, it’s more like a filler-post this week. We’ve fallen behind a bit due to a deficit of time in which to play any game that takes longer than half an hour. Hopefully though we’re a little better organised now and can start putting up some more in-depth posts!
I read about the rules for Up Words here.


Getting A Feel For History – Escape From Colditz

5 - 5 - Strike Thro

3.5 - 5

Number of Players: 2-6

Year of Publication: 1973

Creator(s): Bob BrechinBrian DegasMajor P.R. Reid M.B.E., M.C. (Designers) and Antonio Catalán (Artist)

This one is not, under any circumstances a quick game, and is likely therefore, to be a long-ish post. The fastest time we’ve ever played it in is an hour, and that’s because we set ourselves a time limit. Otherwise the game could take days.
Escape From Colditz is a game set in the World War II prison camp at Colditz Castle. The idea for the game came from a plan formed by a group of British POW’s (Prisoners of War) to escape from Colditz using sheets and floorboards to create a glider. The game itself is a little more complicated than that, but that is the story the game is based on.
We used to play Escape From Colditz when we were younger, and we never had our own copy of the game. So recently my brother decided that it was a game we definitely needed, and he bought a copy. Since it arrived in the post we’ve played it several times with different numbers of players and different time limits.

Escape from Colditz box

Rules and Interesting Things:

This game was created by Pat Reid, a British Army Officer, and one of the few to successfully escape from Colditz Castle in World War II. The game is for 2-6 players, and the board is the floor plan of Colditz. The rule book tells us that the board is based on a true plan of the castle, but that was adapted to have all necessary features on one floor. This accuracy to Colditz is one of its most interesting features.

At the beginning of the game each player decides who they are going to play as, there are five escape teams to choose from, British (red), French (brown), American (blue), Dutch (orange) and Polish (green) and one player must play as the Security Officer (black). A different number of POW’s and Guards are allocated depending on how many players there are, as follows:
2 players: 8 POW’s and 6 Guards
3 players: 7 POW’s per player: 12 Guards
4 players: 6 POW’s per player: 14 Guards
5 players: 5 POW’s per player: 15 Guards
6 players: 4 POW’s per player: 16 Guards

The fact that the Guards are always outnumbered by the POW’s is historically accurate, as, during the war, the prisoners always vastly outnumbered the Guards. It was only by the harsh way of living, random public executions, and other similar means, that the Guards were able to keep authority over the prisoners.

Pieces are moved by the throw of two dice. A player may use all their moves on one piece or otherwise split the roll between as many of their pieces as they like. They have to move the whole number thrown and they cannot allocate any of their number of moves it to another player’s pieces. A double entitles the player to another roll.

There are five packs of cards involved in the game, Personal Civilian Escape kit, Escape Equipment, Escaper’s Opportunity, German Security and Do or Die cards. The Opportunity cards, Escape Kits, Escape Equipment and Do or Die cards are all only useful for the escapee’s, the only cards the Security Officer can use are the German Security cards.

To attempt escape, each prisoner must collect an “escape kit”, this consists of food, a compass, forged papers, and a disguise. Once collected this cannot be taken from you or lost in any way. The items collected as part of the escape kit do not exist as escape equipment. To obtain the escape kit the player must get four of their POW’s into the rooms in the castle that have the relevant symbols for each necessary item, they can then claim an escape kit.

To make a successful escape attempt each player must also collect other escape equipment, this can be rope, which comes in 30ft lengths, wire cutters, keys and forged passes. Ideally each player would have some of everything. To collect equipment a player must get their POW’s into a room with the symbol of the piece of equipment they want, they must have either two POW’s in the same room, or one in each of the rooms with that symbol, before they can collect the relevant equipment.

Start positions if playing with two people. EO is playing as Britain.
Start positions if playing with two people. EO is playing as Britain.

Opportunity and Security Cards:

Opportunity cards are specifically for the use of the POW’s. Likewise with Security Cards, which are specifically for the Security Officer. To collect a Security or Opportunity card a POW or the Security Officer must roll either a 3, 7 or 11. They are then allowed to take a card from the top of the deck before they continue with their turn. Opportunity Cards can be used as soon as they’ve been collected, or they can be held for later. However, each POW or Security Officer can only hold three at any one time. POW’s have an advantage over the Security Officer here, as, if playing with more than two players, they can choose to either discard one of their Opportunity Cards or they can pass it over to another POW. The Security Officer must discard a card if he/she has collected more than three. Opportunity Cards and Security Cards are incredibly useful, an Opportunity Card might provide a POW with a piece of equipment, or allow them to hide from the Security Officer at some point, it may even allow them access to a tunnel, which will aid their escape attempt. For the Security Officer, Security Cards are a little different, they may allow you to search a room (the SO cannot enter any of the rooms in the castle without the relevant card giving them permission to search it, meaning that POW’s are generally safe whilst in the rooms), or call Appel, which recalls every players pieces to their starting position, and other similar things.

Do or Die:

A Do or Die card is dealt to every Escape Officer at the beginning of the game, these are not read and are kept face down until they are used. Once an EO has decided to use their Do or Die card, they then turn it over and read it. It will tell them how many rolls of the dice they have to try and get one of their prisoners out of Colditz. The prisoner starts from anywhere inside the grey area of the board (the inner courtyard) and must reach one of the safe targets outside of the castle walls within the number of throws specified. The prisoner must leave through the main gate and pass and key points no longer effect them. If the prisoner does not manage to escape, they are “dead” and their whole team is removed from the board and from play.

There are even more rules to this game than i’ve mentioned in my brief (haha) overview here, however, you can gather the general outline of the game. It’s quite strategic, and definitely a challenging game for anyone! We thoroughly recommend it for hours of fun, we played the other evening and had a very silly argument, that anyone who has either of us on facebook may well have seen, about whether or not I, playing as the SO could continue to shoot one of his escaping prisoners if he was playing  a diversion card (one of the Opportunity Cards). I said no, therefore I won. He said yes, which would mean he had won.

Our unresolved ending.
Our unresolved ending.

This argument has no resolution so far.

All the information presented to you here came either from our experiences of playing the game, or from the rule book itself, if you’re interested, go find a copy!

To Be a Criminal – Outrage! Steal the Crown Jewels and Breach The Keep – Board Development

4.5 - 5

Number of Players: 2-6

Year of Publication: 1992

Creator(s): Unknown

Continuing the Theme of Criminality:

What’s more fun, catching a criminal or being one? Probably neither in reality but in the world of board games I’d say being a criminal! For example being Mr X in Scotland Yard is more fun than trying to catch him, and attempting to steal the crown Jewels in Outrage! is a lot of fun.

The box
The box

The aim of the game is obvious, it’s even in the name! But, the cool thing about the game is you get a whole set of mini crown Jewels to try and steal! Only problem with them is they are liable to get lost or broken. However, providing you’re careful and don’t feed them to any small children or animals you should be OK.

The jewels. Out Orb is slightly broken.
The jewels. Out Orb is slightly broken.

Outrage! Is a game for 2 – 6 people and is more fun with more people as with 2 it can be slow moving.  You have to move around the board, which is the layout of the tower or London, acquiring burglary tools, weapons and armor (in the form of Tower Cards) while avoiding the Yeomen Warders posts.

A Yeoman Warder at his post.
A Yeoman Warder at his post.
The board all set out ready to play.
The board all set out ready to play.

You can play by two strategies depending on what weapons or tools you have. You can either go for a crown jewel OR you can wait for someone else to steal one and attack them for it. Which can be super frustrating because after lots of careful planning you can steal a jewel and be ready to make your escape, then someone else can attack you and take it from you and win after all your hard work! But it does add an addition edge to the game.

You can set two win parameters for the game, either its the first person out with any Jewel OR you can play until all Jewels are stolen and the player with the most amount in points wins.

The pieces wearing the Crowns; which is actually the biggest design flaw in the game is they don't fit on top of them, which is upsetting, but additionally I don't think they are supposed to.
The pieces wearing the Crowns; which is actually the biggest design flaw in the game is they don’t fit on top of them, which is upsetting, but additionally I don’t think they are supposed to.

It can be an extremely fun game, but like many games it can vary a lot in time depending on how lucky a player is or is not. Also there are two other versions of the game a travel version which I recently managed to pick up in a charity shop for about £3 (around £6 cheaper than ebay) and a Deluxe edition of the game which (according to wikipedia, the greatest source of completely accurate and unquestionable knowledge EVER) is the most expensive board game in the world valued at £7995, the Jewels are made out of real precious metals.

Image curtsy of http://www.historicroyalpalaces.com/ as surprisingly we didn't own one to take a picture of.
Image coutesy of http://www.historicroyalpalaces.com/ as surprisingly we didn’t own one to take a picture of.
Outrage! Travel edition, I bought this from a charity shop for £2.99.
Outrage! Travel edition, I bought this from a charity shop for £2.99.

Breach The Keep – Board Development:

Now I know you’ve (I don’t know who I mean by that) all been wondering how our board game Breach The Keep has been coming along and here’s the answer, the result of giving it to a highly paid graphic designer (ha! if only):

The board development so far!
The board development so far!

What do you think?

Genuinely I want to know what people think so any comments or criticisms are most welcome. Its still arguably a work in progress. I’m thinking to texturize the grey at each end, which is where your pieces start, to a stone type texture but I can’t make up my mind.

Anyway it has been sent to be printed properly in full size so I can see how well that works and then work from there. So next week (hopefully) there will be pictures of a real board and perhaps some pieces (if we’re really organised) ready to go up, additionally I might release the full rules document on the very small off chance there’s anyone interested in reading them.

Thoughts, comments, suggestions and criticisms all welcome.

Also remember we will be giving ten of these away for free once they are done, to get feedback, so keep on checking in to see how close we are to the give away and be ready to email us as soon as the post goes up!

A Fairly Quick Game – Nine Men’s Morris!

3.5 - 5

Number of Players: 2

Year of Publication: -1400

Creator(s): Designer is unknown and Dieter Zander is the Artist

Having taken a quick break from this chain of posts to write about Elixir, I’m back on fast games! This one’s all about Nine Men’s Morris. Another very old game, a board for which was found cut into a wall in the temple at Kurna, Egypt, that dates back to 1440 BC (although there is doubt as to whether this is an accurate dating of the carving as Coptic crosses were also found carved here that could not have been put there by the Egyptians at the time). Anyone who’s played Assassins Creed III might be familiar with this game – it’s one of the mini games available within the game. Variations of it are also Three Men’s, Six Men’s and Twelve Men’s Morris. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have copies of the others, so this post will mainly (but with some references to the others) be focused on Nine Men’s Morris.

A Nine Men's Morris board and pieces before a game begins.
A Nine Men’s Morris board and pieces before a game begins.

It’s a very easy game to learn, each player has 12 pieces in either black or white. The board is comprised of three squares inside each other, each with intersecting lines midway down each side. White plays first and you take it in turns to place pieces on the corners of the squares or the midway points created by the intersecting lines. The objective is to create lines of three, either horizontally or vertically, called mills. Once a player has created a mill they are then allowed to remove one of their opponents pieces from the board. If a mill is created whilst players are placing their pieces the player who created it is still allowed to remove one of their opponents pieces.

A game where all the pieces have been placed just before the moving phase begins.
A game where all the pieces have been placed just before the moving phase begins.

After all the pieces have been placed players take it in turns to move. Each turn you may move one piece one space. You cannot move, or create mills on, the diagonals. A player who has achieved a mill or two when placing their pieces is going to be in a stronger starting position than their opponent, as they will have more pieces left to manoeuvre round the board.

When a player has lost so many pieces that they have three or less pieces left on the board they are then able to move their pieces anywhere. They are no longer restricted to moving one piece one space. They can move one piece from any space on the board to any other space. This makes it considerably harder for their opponent to continue to make mills. Once a player has lost all of their pieces, or both agree that a point in the game has been reached where neither player can win, the game ends.

The end of the game and black is the winner having reduced white to less than three pieces.
The end of the game and black is the winner having reduced white to less than three pieces.

History Things:

These first five points are all about Three Men’s Morris, not Nine!

  1. In line for “oldest game in the world” – with Go, Backgammon and Chess.
  2. Noughts and Crosses or Tic Tac Toe are the same as the variation of Three Men’s Morris that involves the use of the diagonals for making mills.
  3. According to Thomas Hyde the Chinese played it in 500BC.
  4. Ovid mentions it in “Ars Amatoria” – the Romans played on wooden or stone boards, although occasionally more exotic materials were used.
  5. Three Men’s Morris was widely played in England 1300 AD – boards can be found carved, by monks, into the cloister seats in Norwich, Canterbury, Gloucester and Salisbury Cathedrals, and Westminster Abbey.
  6. Other Nine Men’s Morris boards have been found in Ceylon – carved in the reign of Mahadithika Maha-Naga (9-21AD), and European boards have been found in places like the first city of Troy, a Bronze Age burial site in Ireland and at the Acropolis in Athens.
  7. The game reached peak popularity in Europe in the fourteenth century.
  8. In old England the game was played with black and white pebbles on a board that was drawn out on the village green using a trowel, or drawn onto a pub or tavern table with chalk.
  9. Shakespeare references it in A Midsummer Nights Dream in Act II, Scene I – “The Nine Men’s Morris is filled up with mud!” ~Titania – this must be what happened to the boards drawn on the green whenever it rained!
  10. A version of the game called Morabaraba which is played using the diagonals on the board is still very popular, and played to a competitive level, in South Africa.

Because the game was popular in Medieval England there has been some speculation as to whether the name “Morris” is related to the English Morris Dance. However, Daniel King says that it is coincidence- the word Morris in this context actually deriving from the Latin “Merellus”, meaning a counter or a game piece.

I have, once again, achieved ten points of history about the game! I wonder how long this is going to last…
Pretty much everything I’ve put up about the history of the game I found here.
But I supplemented some of the points with information from our trusty old friend Wikipedia!

Elixir – The Quest For Eternal Life! (Not a quick game)

4 - 5

Number of Players: 2-4

Year of Publication: 1987

Creator(s): Nik Sewell (Designer) and Chantry House Studios Limited (Artist)

So, for this post, i’m going to move away from my Quick Games posts to write about a brilliant board game that we’ve had for longer than I’ve been alive; rather than things we’ve just come across like Java (which is awesome, in case anyone was unsure). 

Definitely As Obscure As We Thought!

Elixir is a game we’ve been playing as long as we can remember – published in 1987 it’s been around far longer than either of us (almost 27 years now!!). As far as we can make out, this game was never released on a large scale, and it was withdrawn from production only a year or two after it was first produced, so very few copies have survived – a look on Amazon or Ebay will tell you that to acquire this game you’re looking at spending, at the very least £50, or closer to $100+ for anything coming from the United States. Even harder than getting a copy, is getting a complete, or undamaged copy; that seems to be nigh impossible – I know our copy is battered and has a few of the gold pieces missing from all the times we’ve played it over the years, but when I consider how many people have played it, and how little we were when we were first introduced to it, i’m amazed that it’s in as good condition as it is!


Playing the Game!

Elixir isn’t a complicated game at all. You play as one of four Wizards, either Red, Blue, Yellow or Green and your objective is to be the first to brew all three parts of the Elixir of Life – simple, right? There are three shops on the board, Special Ingredients, Herbalists and Jewelers. To brew any potion you need at least one Special Ingredient, Herb and Jewel. You can move four spaces per turn and you move around the board entering shop and purchasing ingredients for your potions. At the start of the game you are given six gold pieces and you are given one more at the beginning of every turn. These are used to pay for your ingredients. Once you have everything you need to brew a potion, you return to your lab and commence brewing.

Starting set up for Elixir. Each Wizard starts in his or her laboratory.
Starting set up for Elixir. Each Wizard starts in his or her laboratory.

But you need to be wary! Every time you stop on one of the grey street squares you must take a Stranger card, these are random and are a mixture of good and bad. Some Strangers might offer to buy ingredients or potions off of you, others might offer to sell you ingredients at a special rate. Some are for hire, you can use them to incapacitate or rob your opponents. Others will simply try to mug or curse you. It’s completely down to chance which card is on top of the deck when you draw a card. There is another element of chance thrown into the game with regards to Stranger cards; and potion brewing too. For each Stranger that attacks you, or you hire to attack or steal from another Wizard there is a success rate on the bottom of the card. For this you role a die. It is the same with brewing. The jewel used in brewing the potion determines the likelihood of a successful brew, and using anything less than a diamond can result in failure when rolling the die, there is a chart in the rule book that states which combinations of jewels and which numbers on the die will yield success or failure for you. When you brew a potion successfully, or if you fail, you must return all three components to the shops that they came from. In this way players are able to continue brewing potions throughout the game, without ever running out of ingredients.

A selection of the stranger cards that can be picked up when stopping on the grey squares.
A selection of the stranger cards that can be picked up when stopping on the grey squares.

The Special Ingredient and Herb that you use determine what potion you brew. There are nine possible potions that can be brewed and once you have successfully brewed you look at the relevant Formula card and then find that potion in the potion pack. The middle of the board is taken up by a 3×3 grid, this is divided up into the Special Ingredients and the Herbs. There are nine Formula cards that are shuffled at the beginning of each game and placed in this grid. In this way the game remains unpredictable and it is impossible to know from one game to the next which combination of ingredients will give you the Elixir. Of these nine available, three are the respective parts of The Elixir Of Life, the other six are all different. Each potion has a description on it, which tells you what it is useful for, for example, Speedy Soda is a potion that will allow you to move eight squares instead of four each turn for four turns after you activate it. However, other potions such as Baneful Brew are much less helpful. Although it will not harm you to hold this potion, it can have negative effects on anyone trying to attack or mug you, but you cannot “drink” it, as you do the other potions. So whilst it may seem like an unfortunate potion to brew in your quest for the Elixir, it does have its perks!

The layout of the potion cards on the brewing grid.
The layout of the potion cards on the brewing grid.


It’s wise to note down which combinations of ingredients your opponents are using so that if they then start to “drink” a potion, you have the chance of knowing one of the combinations that will not give you the Elixir. To drink a potion, you simply place the card face up on the table, showing the other players what it is. The potion, if it is drinkable (the only ones that aren’t are the three parts of the Elixir and Baneful Brew) will have four squares on the bottom, showing a small image of the potion bottle with varying amounts of liquid in it. You then take a red counter from the box and place it over the first of these squares. Every turn you take you must move the counter, until you’ve “drunk” the entire potion. For every turn that the potion is activated, you can enjoy the advantages it gives you, be it taking an extra piece of gold for your turn, or being able to move eight spaces instead of four, however, if you do not use the advantage of the potion on one turn, you must still move the counter along as if you had. Planning your turns once you’ve activated a potion is important!!

Two of the potions available to brew during the game.
Two of the potions available to brew during the game.

It’s also possible to slightly obstruct your opponents in their quest for the Elixir. You can go into any shop and buy all of one, or all or the ingredients, providing you have enough gold. Once you have these, the other players cannot brew until you have, unless they mug you or steal from you. Using this tactic will slow the game down a bit, and probably make you the object of unwanted attention!

The three parts of the Elixir of Life! Once you've got these, you've won the game and you're set for eternity.
The three parts of the Elixir of Life! Once you’ve got these, you’ve won the game and you’re set for eternity.

If anyone’s interested, my next post will be about Nine Men’s Morris, another one in the Quick Games chain of posts, and that should (fingers crossed!!) go up Thursday evening!

For the people that occasionally fill their procrastination time reading our posts, firstly, thank you, for filling your procrastination time with our ramblings, but also, if there’s any game you’d like to see us write about that you’ve played, please, don’t hesitate to tell us in a comment! We’d love to know which games you love and have grown up with!