Number of Players: 2
Year of Publication: 1971
Creator(s): Mordecai Meirowitz (designer)
I’m The Real Mastermind:
It’s completely possible, and quite likely, that the first thing that comes to mind upon hearing the word Mastermind is the TV Quiz Show, and although there is a board game of this, this is not it. This game of Mastermind pre-dates the TV show (by 1 year) and is a very simple, quick and fun game that anyone can pick up. But I want it noted here that the version featuring in our photos is in fact the Junior Mastermind, version of the game produced for children, featuring small, brightly coloured jungle animals as the pieces and having only three holes across for the code, rather than 4.
What’s In The Box:
- Green jungle playing board
- Rocky mountain section (used to hide the code)
- An assortment of 6 coloured animals
- 15 red creatures and 15 white creatures (supposedly)
Playing The Game:
Objective: to crack your opponents code before you run out of pieces, or to create a code that your opponent cannot crack.
To start the game you choose one player to be the code-maker, and one to be the code-breaker; then you position the board accordingly. The code-maker then takes a minute or two to secretly decide what the code’s going to be and put the pegs (or in our case little animals) in the shielded section of the board. After this, play starts.
It’s now the job of the code-breaker to pick out pegs (or animals), and position them on their side of the board in the order that they think the code is. The code-maker then uses their red or white creatures to signal which, if any, of these guess are right. To be right a piece must have both the correct position in the code (i.e. central, left or right hand end, from the point of view of the code-maker) and be the right colour.
So the first turn of the game might look something like this:
Play continues in this manner until the either the code is cracked, or you’ve played to the end of the board. Like this:
Winning The Game:
Traditionally this game is played in rounds; the players decide before starting how many rounds are going to be played (always and even number) with the roles of code-maker and code-breaker alternating every round. The winner is the player with the most points at the end of this. Points are scored by the code-maker. S/he gets one point for each guess the code-breaker makes, and is given an extra point if the code-breaker doesn’t manage to accurately guess the entire code in their last move. Points are kept track of across the rounds and added up at the end.
For the Junior version of this game there isn’t a great deal of strategy required, but for the adult version (which has a four-peg code, rather than three, and one more option for indicating yes or no to part of a code) you can be a little more logical about it. Unless you’re a mathematician (which I’m definitely not, but the internet’s a wonderful place to learn things) you probably won’t be able to work out in your head the maths that accompanies this game, but the most important thing to remember is that duplicates are allowed in the code.
History and Interesting Things:
- The modern game, played with pegs, closely resembles a pen and paper game called Bulls and Cows that may be over a century old.
- The rights to the game have been held by Invicta Plastics since 1971, initially they manufactured it themselves, but have since licensed it to Hasbro, Pressman Toys and Orda Industries for production across the world.
- The 1973 edition of the game features a well-dressed white man sitting in the foreground with an attractive Asian woman standing behind him. Bill Woodward and Cecilia Fung reunited in 2003 after 30 years to pose for another publicity photo.
- In a standard set of the game, allowing a four-peg code, with six colour options, there are 1,296 different possible code patterns (including, and allowing for duplicates).
- In 1977 Donald Knuth showed that the code-breaker can solve in a maximum of five moves, using this algorithm.
- There have been computer versions of the game produced, as well as multiple different editions released.
- The difficulty level of the game is altered simply by changing the number of pegs allowed for the code, or the way in which the code-maker indicates a correct or incorrect guess.
I like Mastermind a lot, it’s a simple game that’s good for burning time or just chilling out, it doesn’t require a lot of concentration, and it doesn’t take long to play. I’d strongly recommend teaching it to kids too, the length of time it takes to play is well-suited to the generally shorter attention span of kids. But don’t let the really little ones get their hands on it – swallowing one of those pieces could end really badly!