A Very Suitable Marriage

Games like the English language are constantly evolving. Some evolve from the first successful game into others very similar. Some evolve several times before becoming popular. And sometimes, although rarely successful, there is a combination of two games into one.

GO is probably the most ancient game in the world. Confucius recommended the game to the rulers of his time. Perhaps spurred by the popularity of the movie A Beautiful Mind, or the book The Master of Go, this simple game of subtle complexities is once again capturing the imagination and devotion of hundreds of new players. The game board became the gameboard for the very popular game called Pente.

PARCHEESI was a game played in India with harem girls as pieces, and has evolved with every generation of Americans since it was first introduced. It became Broadway, Pollyanna – the Glad Game, Wahoo, Aggravation, Sorry, Trouble, Tock, Ludo, Homeward Bound and at least a dozen other games.

Some games go through numerous versions until one “sticks”. Take Scrabble. Originally an idea by Lewis Carroll in the 1800’s, Scrabble was designed by a man named Alfred Butts in 1931. Alfred made a game, which he called Lexiko. No one, neither Parker Brothers nor Milton Bradley was interested. He refined the game and renamed it Criss Crosswords. Too “highbrow” the reviewers said. Finally in 1948, a friend, James Brunot, offered to make the game. He renamed it “Scrabble” and began producing about 16 sets a day from a little red schoolhouse in Newtown CT. After a few years he was about to drop the game because sales were so slow. Then one week in July 1952 orders jumped from 200 to 2,500. And the rest is history. The games that evolved from Scrabble were many – among them Upwords and Pick Two.

Cribbage, on the other hand, evolved from a game seldom heard of any more. It is impossible to say exactly how old cribbage is, but the 17th century author of “Brief Lives”, John Aubrey, states that “Sir John Suckling invented the game of Cribbage”. Since the board was clearly adapted from earlier dice-game scoreboards and the rules of play appear to be descended from the English card game Noddy, perhaps Sir John Suckling only codified the game. During his lifetime Sir John was a poet, a well known courtier, and card player. He also liked to cheat and apparently made twenty thousand pounds this way. The speed of the game has made it popular throughout the years as a game for sailors. The four handed version is no longer as popular as it was in Victorian times when Charles Dickens wrote about it in “The Old Curiosity Shop”. Dickens’s Mr. Quilp, like Sir John Suckling, was a cheat. Cribbage players often turn into collectors, trying to find the most unusual cribbage boards.

In 1999, a Canadian game made an unassuming appearance at the New York Toy Fair. It was KINGS CRIBBAGE and it was a surprising marriage of the tried and true games of Scrabble and Cribbage. The game played on a board following the basic rules of Scrabble, so it was almost unnecessary to even read the instructions. After all, everyone has played Scrabble at one time or another. Instead of spelling words, the players put down Cribbage hands and scored points exactly as if they were counting their hands in a Cribbage game.

One’s first impression was that cribbage players wouldn’t find it as good as playing a game of cribbage and that the game would be destined for quick extinction. “It will never fly.” was one comment overheard that year. However, once someone played the game there was an instant addiction. The game brought new complexities to cribbage that delighted players and made them true fans. Not only that, it became a way for people who thought cribbage to complicated to learn to become familiar with the scoring pattern of cribbage.

Some “marriages” of games, while popular, don’t really offer more than the original games they came from and are “hot games” for awhile and then the “hot game” moves onto something else. KINGS CRIBBAGE was a truly new game that slowly won lifetime fans and it is obviously destined to become a standard classic game. Truly, it was a very suitable marriage.

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