So what is more Canadian than hockey?
Not much really.
In the world of boardgames you might point to crokinole (created in Canada in 1867 the same year as confederation) , likely my favourite board game because it is within an eyelash of being a sport, and is certainly a game where skill wins out.
So imagine my excitement when I came across Finger Hockey.
Developed in 1979 by John Taylor, the game is table top hockey with mechanics borrowed from finger-flicking games such as crokinole. That was enough to make me drool at the prospect of playing this one.
Taylor said the idea for the game grew out of his own personal interest in board games.
"I've always liked board games," he said.
"I played on Junior High and High School Chess teams from the age of 12 through to 18. I always seemed to be adding or changing rules to improve the play, sort of developed into a hobby.
"I created four hockey games in all, but Finger Hockey was by far the best.
"The idea came quickly one afternoon, it just popped into my head, about two-days to paint a board, get the pieces together and try it out. It took about five-minutes to realize that a swivel base made the game playable."
The swivel, think of a lazy-susan, allows the board to be turned for ease of access to shots. It certainly is better than having to get up and move around the board.
The one issue is that the game is easily tilted if you put your hand on the board.
The game is a finger-flicking one, but you can't stabilize your hand by putting it on the board. This limits the fine shooting a bit. I would suggest a block at each end that could allow the board to turn, but still stabilize it if you put your hand on the board. It would allow for great accuracy.
Taylor said crokinole was a definite influence in the choice of mechanic.
"The flicking is from crokinole which we played a lot of when I was growing up," he said.
While created more than three decades ago, Taylor is now creating a new, refining of the boards for a new push.
"Over the years there have been minor improvements in the construction of the board but it is still the game we played on the original board," he said.
Of course there have been challenges.
"The hardest part turned out to be finding the right pucks," said Taylor.
The pucks are small round magnets players push around the board (ice) by flicking one of their five players (think chunky crokinole pieces).
The small puck may still need some adjustment. We found it got along the boards and once tight in, was hard to get moving again, not so unlike the along the board scrums you see in real hockey. In this case it bogged things down and lessened skillful shooting opportunities.
As a result we opted for a slightly larger puck.
Overall the creator likes where the game is at.
"The product I am working on now is the result of years of building the boards and I am fairly well satisfied with it," said Taylor, adding he could work on weight reduction for shipping but the lighter boards aren't as stable, "like the difference between a particle board pool table compared to a slate bed table."
As it is Finger Hockey is offered in different types of boards, including "the Grandmasters are the best for skilled players, lots more room to play a passing game," said Taylor.
There are actually varying editions of three models, the American Classic, the Canadian, and the Sharpshooter. Some are painted to look like ice, white ice, red and blue lines, while other have a wood finish which make the boards look vintage. I like the white, my son being more partial to the wood finish.
As the game's designer Taylor said there are several aspects to Finger Hockey he particularly likes.
"It is a very sociable game, anyone can play," he said. "I've seen grandparents play against grandchildren on an equal basis.
"And it sets up in seconds. Pull it out from under the couch and throw the pieces on."
As a game of skill, one of my favoured aspects of the game, also pleases Taylor.
"The more you play the better you get," he said, "not just the shooting skill but the strategic and tactical part of the game. Practice does pay off."
The game mimics real hockey in terms of five shootable pieces (players) and a goalie piece on a swivel in the net.
The game also utilizes an offside rule, so players may have to use some of their three shots per turn to clear the offensive zone if the puck is not in that end of the board.
Taylor said while he'd love Finger Hockey to take off so he could quit his regular job and just make the game it hasn't happened.
So he'll concentrate on making a good product.
"Quality and durability are very important to me," said Taylor. "These boards are built to take years and hundreds of hours playing time."
In terms of quality Taylor has that element well-looked after. The boards are sturdy, all wood, and frankly heirloom type pieces that should last generations with care.
For hockey fans, that like games where skill matters Finger Hockey is a great choice. You may need to work with some alternate pucks to alleviate the along board congestion, but overall this is a fun option.
Mr. Taylor you have a great game going.
Check out this offering at www.fingerhockey.ca
If anyone is interested in this game, or other boardgames feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan 25, 2012 - Yorkton, SK. Canada