OSKA

 

4 - 5 Strike Thro

3 - 5

Number of Players: 2

Year of Publication: 1995

Creator(s): Bryn Jones and Michael Woodward Creations (Designers), artists are unknown

Steven…Sorry, I Mean OSKA:

While this months theme is “Old (usually) Wooden Games” OSKA doesn’t exactly fit that theme. It really all comes down to your idea of old, if you’re ten years old and 1995 seems like “FOREVER AGO” and “BEFORE I WAS EVEN BORN!” then OSKA is old, but if this is not the case then there’s every chance you remember 1995 and so it doesn’t seem that old. It does have an earlier history than its publication but that still only dates back to the 1950s, which some of you also may possibly be able to remember. See the history section for more information.

Our copy of OSKA with borrowed Pieces.
Our copy of OSKA using borrowed pieces.

What’s in the Box:

A picture lovingly borrowed from www.boardgamegeek.com just to show you what a real complete copy would look like.
A picture lovingly borrowed from www.boardgamegeek.com just to show you what a real complete copy would look like.

In a normal OSKA box you find:

  1. One wooden board
  2. Eight pieces. Four red and four blue.
  3. And it should have an instruction booklet to remove any ambiguity about the brief instructions on the back of the box, (see section “Playing the Game) but there isn’t one.

However our copy came from a charity shop (one of the best places to buy games if you were unaware of this). So in the box there was just the board with no pieces! So we borrowed four white and four brown pieces from a game of  Draughts!

Playing the Game:

Normally here I would give a brief outline of the rules but as the rules to OSKA are already brief I have copied exactly what it says on the back of the box:

OSKA is a speedy game for 2 players which is deceptively simple, using the Draughts (checkers) principle of diagonal movement and capture. BUT – keep well in mind the quirk that gives OSKA its bite. The winner is the player whose remaining pieces first reach the far side – the less pieces you have left, the easier this will be. The skill lies in when, or if, to capture, and when to force your opponent to capture you.”

The big problem with this set of rules is that there are more than one set of rules to Draughts. For example in English Draughts you can only take diagonally forwards (unless you are using a king) but in International Draughts it allows you to take diagonally backward. I have assumed that it meant the English Draughts; firstly because it initially refers to it as Draughts rather than Checkers and secondly, because OSKA was invented in England.

So let’s just clarify the rules:
  1. You set up your four pieces on the back row like this:

    Start Positions!
    Start Positions!
  2. We played white moves first but you could play either way, and if you’re playing with red and blue pieces you could play whoever is set up on the white section moves first.
  3. You move one pieces diagonally, the the other player does the same.

    The Game after one move each.
    The Game after one move each.
  4. You take a piece by jumping it, so this can only be done forwards and so long as the space the other side of it is empty. You do not HAVE to take as the rules state “when, or if, to capture”.
  5. The winner is the first one to have ALL of their REMAINING pieces to the other side, so if all of their pieces are taken except one and they get that one to the other side before the other player gets all four of their pieces across, they win.

    Winning!
    Winning!
Rules We Assumed:
  1. We rationally assumed that in the scenario that all your pieces are taken you’ve lost.
  2. We also assumed that if you both ended up with the same number of pieces in the end zone at the same time it was a draw. This CAN occur if one player while moving its last (or only piece) into the end zone takes the other players only piece that’s not in the end zone. However this is unlikely to occur, as in that scenario you can choose to move into the end zone without taking.
  3. We also assumed that if a similar scenario occurred and one person had more pieces than the other in the end zone they won.
A Little Help:

Just to help we filmed a video of the game play of OSKA to help clarify. Here it is! Our very first video blog… Sort of. Our real video blogs will happen when we get a much better camera but it’s a start!

Strategy:

Now while the game is simple (once you’ve clarified the rules) and fast, there’s a lot that could be said about the strategy. For starters you cannot afford to make mistakes, I know this can be said for almost all games but one mistake in OSKA and the other person most often enters a state where they can’t be beaten because all series of moves that follow result in their victory!

The key to the game, I believe, lies in forcing the other person to take you. You can create a series of plays where they have no option but to take you because they have no other available moves. And once you start to lose pieces you have an easier job than they do as you have less pieces to get across the board.

I could go on about strategy and start drawing diagrams and things of this nature (as that how “into” this game I have got, a game that less than a month ago I was unaware existed). But I will spare you all, however, in the future I may write a specific post on the dynamics and maths of the game, which everyone can feel free not to read.

History and Interesting Facts:

Unfortunately due to the obscurity of this game the history and fasts that are about to follow are mostly off the back of the box as there’s not much more information on the game out there. Which is a shame as it’s a good game.

  1.  The game was originally devised by Bryn Jones in the 1950s.
  2. Bryn Jones was a miner so the game was originally played scratched into the dust on the floor of a mine at Lancashire Coalfields to pass time at breaks.
  3. In the early 1990s Bryn brought the game to Michael Woodward Creations.
  4. Woodward Creations annotated the rules and refined it into the more presentable format you find it in now.
  5. It can now be found as part of The Inventors Collection which is a gathering of games and puzzles from the worlds top game inventors.
  6. The game is made of eco-friendly wood.
  7. It can be considered as part of the Draughts family of games.
  8. Not really a surprise if you’ve read the post above, but the rules are ambiguous which unfortunately takes away from a very good and very fast game.

To Conclude:

This may come as little surprise to you (if you have read the above), I like this game! I’m a huge fan of Chess (as most sane people are) and similarly simplistic but complex at the same time strategy games make me happy. However as far as I’m aware there is no game as perfect as Chess and probably never will be. But OSKA falls into the category of games that are in the right ball park when it comes to your basic strategy game. I would even proclaim that it has a one up on Draughts as I maintain Draughts is too large and long a game to have such simplicity, in short it can become boring, which is why to every 100 Chess matches I have played I’ve probably only played half a Draughts game. This is where OSKA hits the nail on the head, its taken the same idea as Draughts and made it small, fast and above all FUN!

The biggest flaw I find with this game is the ambiguity of the rules and their phrasing. I am slightly ashamed to admit that we played the game wrong in two different ways before finally re-re-re-reading the paragraph on the back of the box and breaking it down to create clarity. First time round we missed the word “remainder” so we where playing first one to get one piece across…This version of the game is ridiculously flawed because the person who moves first (providing they’re not an idiot) will ALWAYS win! We also played that you HAVE to capture if you can capture and even after we started paying attention to the “remaining pieces” section of the rules we still failed to notice the “when, or if, to capture” phrase that implies you do not HAVE to capture. Anyway once we had figured it all out this game is a 4 out of 5 however the amount of time we wasted playing it wrong reduces it to a 3 out 5 (hence the top scoring). It could be argued that us playing it wrong is our own fault but I maintain the rules are needlessly ambiguous and if you don’t know what Draughts is they’re impossible to follow!

Additionally if anyone would like to buy the game check out HERE! – keep in mind this link is to an eBay sale so it won’t always be valid but it’s valid at the time of publication and will hopefully either be updated or removed when it stops being valid.

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!

SDC13262

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.

Strategy!

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!

Definitely a Quick One! – Fanorona! (pronounced Fa-noorn)

3 - 5

Number of Players: 2

Year of Publication: 1680

Creator(s): Again, the designer is unknown, but Néstor Romeral Andrés was the artist for the modern board

It gets to be big and bold and exclamation marked in this sub-heading because it’s the first game we’ve managed to cross off our list of Games We Want, which is a noteworthy achievement in the limited history of this blog. Fanorona is also notable as having been bought to the attention of many through the PS3 and Xbox 360 game Assassins Creed III where you can play it as a mini game within the game along with Nine, Six, Three and Twelve Mens Morris.

Fanorona is currently down as the quickest game I’ve ever played, and that’s not only because I’m terrible at it (but better than my brother at the moment). It’s for two players and played on a rectangular board.

Our home made Fanorona board. Made on a chopping board using a soldering iron to brand.
Our home made Fanorona board. Made on a chopping board using a soldering iron to brand the markings into the wood.

History and Interesting Things: 

This is where I organize all the interesting stuff I found out about Fanorona, if you don’t want to read about the history of the game, skip down a bit and see more pictures of us playing and a bit about the rules and how to move!

10 Things I Found Most Intriguing:

  1. Fanorona is a strategy game, but, like Go, it’s considered a one-off. Not part of any other family of games.
  2. It is believed that it was developed from the game Alquerque, which is most commonly played in Arab countries and may date back more than 3,000 years.
  3. Fanorona comes in three varieties – Fanoron-Telo which appears to be identical to Three Mans Morris (another on the list of Games We Want) – Fanoron-Dimyand the board for which is identical to Alquerque – and Fanoron-Tsivy, more commonly known as Fanorona and the most well-known version of the game.
  4. It’s the national game of Madagascar and is so important there that they have a National Committee for the Coordination of Fanorona and an International Fanorona Society.
  5. The only recurrent story I can find involving Fanorona is the following about a King called Ralombo. He was sick and trying to decide what would happen to his Kingdom when he died, he did not want to divide the Kingdom between his two sons, so he sent for both of them. He reasoned that the son who arrived first was the most loyal to him and should therefore inherit the Kingdom. His oldest son was engaged in a game of Fanorona when the messenger came and was in a situation called telo noho dimy, a very difficult situation involving three pieces against eight. He was so absorbed in the game that he sent the Kings messenger away. He did not arrive at the castle until the following day, by which time his younger brother had already inherited the throne.
  6. I reach point six and find that, given the limited history that is known about Fanorona, I have nothing left to write, so pretend that this is ten points, and keep reading to find out about the rules and game play!!

Game Play:

Black and white playing pieces are used for this game, they are set up as shown in the picture below. There is one space left empty in the middle of the board, which allows white to make its first move. These pieces  we stole from a copy of Reversi (more commonly know as Othello) to go with our home made board.

The starting set up of Fanorona on or home made board.
The starting set up of Fanorona on our home made board using Othello pieces.

Anyone who’s familiar with Draughts will understand when I say that the game progresses quickly due to the compulsory taking rule. Also like Draughts, taking moves can be linked. A player can continue to take pieces with the piece they initially moved that turn for as long as there are legal moves available. The nature of the game is sacrificial, for the game to progress each player must lose a large number of their pieces.

To take a piece in Fanorona a player must move one of their pieces either towards or away from the piece(s) they wish to take on a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line. The player then removes the pieces they have taken on that line up to the point where there is a gap between pieces.

The starting position of a taking move.
The starting position of a taking move.

 

The white piece then moves forward to take the black piece in front of it
The white piece then moves forward to take the black piece in front of it.
It then moves to the left to take the line it moves away from and that is the end of its move chain.
It then moves to the left to take the line it moves away from and that is the end of its move chain.

Initially the game should progress very quickly, with each player taking multiple pieces each turn. When the board begins to empty, the rate of game play should slow as each player will have more options to choose from and cannot afford to be reckless with their remaining pieces.

The remaining pieces on the board after only a few minutes of play.
The remaining pieces on the board after only a few minutes of play.

The objective of the game is to either eliminate your opponents pieces from the board or force them into a situation where they cannot move.  If either of these situations arises you win the game. If you reach a point where neither player can move or take another players piece the game comes to a draw.

Once you’ve played maybe, twice, the game becomes easy and can be played in well under 20 minutes. After grasping the initial rules about moving and taking it is then only strategy that remains to be developed by anyone wishing to play regularly.

The game close to the end as black finds itself backed into a corner.
The game close to the end as black finds itself backed into a corner.
White is the winner having removed all of the black pieces from the board.
White is the winner having removed all of the black pieces from the board.

There will be another Fanarona post going up in the next few days where my brother shows you how he made the board and how you can make your own if you like. Considering that buying copies of this game appears to be rather expensive.

For anyone interested, I read about the history of the game here.