Polarity – For The Scientifically Inclined

4.5 - 5

Number of Players: 2

Year of Publication: 1986

Creator(s): Douglas Seaton (Designer), artist is unknown

A while ago I found this game, Polarity, in Oxfam. It’s one of the only games i’ve come across that involves magnets. I’ve played it a few times now, and, although there is obviously some strategic element to this game, I have yet to discover what it is. This isn’t a quick game, and it does require a certain level of skill, dexterity and attention to play – at least, if you want to improve the way you play after getting your head round the rules.


It was originally invented in 1985 by a failed Canadian artist called Douglas Seaton, and was first published in 1986. The rights to the game have changed hands several times since its’ invention, it’s been published by Telemotion Technologies, Irwin Toy, Mattel, and is currently published by Temple Games.

Playing The Game:

The game is played with 52 black and white discs and 1 red disc. The black and white discs somewhat resemble Othello pieces (if you haven’t heard of Othello, go read about it here!). The black side of the disc is the North pole of the magnet, and the white side the South. The red disc is also a manget and has a dot on one side and a line on the other. This is used to determine which player goes first. One player tosses the disc and the other calls line or dot, the same as flipping a coin. The player that wins the toss chooses whether they play as black or white, and therefore first or second. In this game, white always plays first, so the winner of the toss can choose to play as black to deliberately play second.

Initial game set up - white places five pieces called "Foundation Discs"
Initial game set up – white places five pieces called “Foundation Discs”

So the red disc is placed in the center of the mat, there is a large black dot beneath in on the mat that you can’t see in this picture. This dot is important because if at any point in the game the red disc moves completely off it, the player responsible for causing this instantly loses the game. White plays first and places five discs anywhere inside the circle. These are called Foundation Discs, they lie flat on the mat with the players colour facing upwards. Once White has finished placing discs, Black then places their first five.

Once this is done play reverts to White and the game really begins. There’s probably something strategic about where you place your first discs, but i’ve so far found that just trying to make sure they’re relatively evenly spaced is a good start as you then get minimal magnetic interference from your own discs later in the game.

From this point on players take it in turns to place other discs, but you are no longer allowed to place discs flat on the mat. You must attempt to use the magnetic cushion around your colour discs to make the disc you’re placing float or “lean”.

Here White has played a successful Leaner against one of their Foundation Discs
Here White has played a successful Leaner against one of their Foundation Discs

As you can see, White has successfully placed a piece in a position so that it is supported magnetically and appears to float a little off the mat. Once a successful Leaner has been placed White can continue to place other Leaners until they create a Fault. The disc you’re playing at any one time is called the Action Disc, until it is safely on the board and your turn has ended.

A Fault is when one of the following things happens:

  • Placing the Action Disc causes two or more discs that were previously not touching, to touch
  • Making a Leaner already on the mat fall flat
  • When a disc on the mat snaps up onto the Action Disc
  • Causing a Foundation Disc or a Tower to move more than their diameter on the mat
  • Making a disc in play (inside the circle) move entirely outside of the circle


After a Fault has been created a few things happen; firstly, it automatically ends the turn of the player who was responsible for it, but, if the Action Disc is still in their hand when this happens, it”s returned to the unplayed stack of discs, rather than placed on the mat.
Following this the nature of the Fault must be considered;

  • If the Fault has caused other Leaners to fall flat on the mat, but they are not touching any other disc, they are left where they land, however, if your Fault causes an opponents Leaner to flip over to your colour, they then get a chance to capture it at the start of their turn
  • If any discs snapped up onto the Action Disc and it remained in hand, these are then all returned to the unplayed stack
  • If the Fault caused discs to snap together on the mat, your opponent is allowed the chance to  capture them
  • If a disc is forced completely out of the circle, it is added to the players unplayed stack, and if a Tower or Foundation Disc is forced to move more than its’ diameter, but is not touching any other disc, nothing further happens
The middle of gameplay. Both players have placed several successful Leaners and no Towers have yet been created.
The middle of gameplay. Both players have placed several successful Leaners and only one Tower has been created.

Capturing Faults:
If, at the start of your turn, there are any discs that have either snapped together on the mat, or were Leaners that have flipped over to your opponents cover, you are now given the chance to capture them. Capturing must take place at the start of your turn and if there is an opportunity to capture, you must take it before you play.
To make a capture, grab one disc or Tower section of the Fault, and attempt to lift it clear of the play mat, any other discs connected to this Fault should now snap up onto the disc you lifted, creating a Tower. You can then place this new Tower anywhere on the mat, with your colour facing upwards. If the Fault is already in Tower form, you may choose to leave it where it is and simply declare it captured.
NOTE: A capture must be made without creating another Fault. If a Fault is created the normal Fault rules apply and play reverts to your opponent.

It can occasionally be to your benefit to intentionally create a Fault, especially later in the game when it becomes harder to find places to play successful Leaners, you can use the Action Disc to force a Leaner to fall flat on the mat. This creates a Fault, ending your turn, but also gives you another Foundation Disc to play off of on your next turn.

Winning The Game:

The first player to successfully place their last piece ends the game, the winner is then determined by points. Points are scored by counting the number of discs in the Towers of your colour. The number of pieces remaining in your unplayed stack (if you were not the player to end the game) is then subtracted from your Tower points and the player with the most points after this wins.

So, although it sounds complex, this game is easy to play after you’ve given yourself a few tries. Personally, I think it’s something i’m going to continually come back to, and hopefully, i’ll always be able to find someone like-minded enough to play with! I highly recommend this game, and think that if you can play it well enough, to the point where you develop a strategy, you’re doing brilliantly!

Anyone interested in the strategy of the game, there is guide here, I found it endlessly interesting (although I must admit that I haven’t finished it yet).