Ah, there we are. We’ve been a bit lazy over Christmas vis-a-vis the old blog, haven’t we? Ah well, if there’s one time of year when it’s permissable, if not expected, then I guess this is it.
Happy New Year, anyway, and I hope you had a terrific Christmas. Ours was splendid, enhanced rather than spoilt by being snowed in for several days. If you have places to be and things to do then of course that’s a thundering nuisance, but we didn’t, and the fridge was full of delicious food, so all in all it was very peaceful and festive. We watched some rather good telly too, some of it games-related, particularly BBC4’s short Games Britannia season.
The second episode dealt with the story of board games in Britain, and was a thoroughly entertaining romp through history of the subject, although it was a slight shame that its occasional (and perfectly informative and entertaining) wanderings across the Atlantic to talk about games like Scrabble, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit, and even to Essen, had to be curtailed or spun whenever the programme makers remembered about the “Britannia” in their title.
Still, without the “Britannia”, it’s unlikely that the program would have paid much attention to a game that I’d forgotten about, but which I now remember rather fondly. That fondness is probably nostalgia, because in honesty it isn’t a classic game, but Kensington was a big deal for about 25 minutes in 1979, when it garnered a lot of mainstream media attention and even won the UK Game of the Year award. These days it’s out of print, but it was significant in that it was one of the first successful independently produced board games, and as such started a cottage industry that’s still going to this day.
Put together by two novice game designers, Brian Taylor and Peter Forbes, as a way of staving off the tough economic conditions of the day, the board of Kensington was inspired by a tiling pattern at the site of the Albert Memorial in London’s Kensington Gardens. Taylor and Forbes did a brilliant job of getting themselves all over the newspapers and TV, and made some terrific marketing decisions, including distinctive packaging. The game itself came in a flat sleeve, 12 inches on a side, so it looked like an LP record (and I kept my copy at the end of my row of albums). You couldn’t mistake it for anything else.
Each player had 15 pieces. The pieces were small plastic discs, and were all identical except that one player had blue pieces and the other had red.
The board looked like this:
The object of the game was to place six of your counters on the six vertices of one of the white hexagons or one of the hexagons of your own colour.
The game had two phases. In the first phase, the players took turns to place their pieces on the board. Pieces could be placed at any unoccupied vertex. In the second phase, players took turns to slide one of their pieces from one vertex to any unoccupied adjacent vertex.
During either phase, players tried to occupy all the vertices of any triangle or square, and if they did so, they won the right to reposition their opponent’s pieces: one piece for occupying a triangle, or two pieces for occupying a square.
If you’re thinking Nine Men’s Morris on steroids, you’re not a million miles away. The problem with the game was that the first person to occupy a triangle or square pretty much then had their foot on their opponent’s neck, and it became very difficult to get back into the the game for the other player.
As I said, Kensington is out of print now, but it’s possible to pick it up on eBay. Or you can make your own. It’s not a stayer, but it’s interesting enough for a while, and it’s an important footnote in the history of the board game because of its indie origins and as a lesson in the importance of getting good media attention.