Sometimes the simplest concepts create the most compelling and lasting board games. Such is certainly true of the classic Othello.
Othello was originally created under the name Reversi way back in 1880 by the team of John Mollett and Lewis Waterman. The duo created a game startlingly simple in its mechanics, yet deep in the possible strategies available to players.
The game is played on a board of 8X8 squares, which unlike checkers and chess, are not coloured. The pieces used in the games remind of checkers, but are double-sided, black on one side, and white on the other. Each player takes a colour, but they pull pieces from a shared pool.
Players alternate placing a piece on the grid, a piece which must be connected to the others already laid out. The goal is simple, to have the most pieces of your colour showing once the board has been filled in.
The trick of the game comes from the mechanics whereby a player can flip pieces on the board from the opponent's colour to his own. This is accomplished by having one piece of your colour at either end of a straight line of pieces of the opposite colour. For example if a black piece is on the board, adjacent to a straight line of four white pieces, the black player can flip the entire row of white by placing another black piece at the opposite end of the string of white.
Since a straight line can be on the vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines, it is possible to flip multiple rows of pieces, something which generally occurs as the board fills up.
The game does necessitate the repeated flipping of pieces, an exercise which might seem to be fidgety at first glance, yet never seems to be an issue during game play.
The game has enjoyed significant popularity through the years, with national organizations devoted to the game, and championships held. Today, thanks to the Internet the game is playable online at a number of sites.
Like many placement and alignment games, the first player does have a tactical edge, so if two equally skilled players hook up, he who goes first will tend to be victorious most often. That is really only an issue among the highly skilled at the game though.
Like many games which rely on strategy, there are some concepts with Othello that players will soon recognize. The most obvious is the importance of getting to the outer edge with your piece, simply because it reduces the opponent's ability to flank you by three directions.
For the same reason the corner squares of the board are even more strategically important, because you end up commanding key lines, and reduce the ability to be out-flanked even more.
As a result the game revolves around a player's efforts to set up situations where he can be the one to place their pieces in the key corners, and therein lies a central strategic thrust of the game.
Othello is amazingly simple in its mechanics, allowing the basics to be taught in minutes, so it's a great game to bring out if someone doesn't know a lot of games.
It is also deep enough, that it has remained popular and available for more than 125 years, and that alone tells you about all you need to know about Othello. It's a classic, which is well worth learning, and exploring.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 3, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada