The Closet Report: Othello

Othello

"In the beginning it was all black and white." — Maureen O'Hara

I am Jonathan Albin, the Game Market Guru, and this, the latest of my entries as "The Closet Report," is a part of my in-depth and detailed analysis of tabletop games of every stripe. The Closet Report captures and outlines the merits, values, and details about these games in terms that a casual player or a die-hard veteran will appreciate, providing not only the "straight skinny" on the product in terms of the big 3 (Class, Character, and Creativity) but also in terms of Materials, Marketing, and Mechanics, as well as identifying areas of imagination, innovation, and ingenuity.

Our attention this time turns on a classic two-player game from Mattel, Inc., called Othello. This easy-to-play, easy to understand game of field control and strategic overturn captures the attention and challenges players in fast-paced decision-making.

Overview

Setting up to play is about as basic as you can get. Put out the board, and put four of the playing pieces at the center of the board, in two-by-two formation, so that the black pieces are diagonal from each other, as are the white pieces.

The process of play is nearly as simple. Each player in turn places a playing piece on the board, their chosen color showing (each player is provided exactly half the number of pieces, all of which are identical, with one black side, one white). Placement has only two rules: the play must be adjacent (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally) to the playing pieces already on the board, and the play must cause the opposing color to have pieces between at least one piece of the player's own color and the newly-played piece. These pieces are then flipped to the current player's color. The object of the game is to control more spaces of the board than your opponent.

The game certainly is more challenging than it looks. There are field limitations (since there are only a limited number of pieces) which lead to considerable forethought being needed before playing a token. Each play can have considerable ramifications, and sweeping losses of tens of spaces at a time can ravage what may feel like an easy-to-maintain strategy.

Simple gameplay can be deceiving. Strategic thinking — in this case, consideration of not only your future moves, but those of your opponent — put this game strongly in the "must-have" category of games.

The game is readily available through many hobby retail stores, particularly those that carry classic, collectable, and family titles. It is currently available through most hobby distributors, or from many mass-market locations like Target, Walmart, etc. It is priced in the twenties, and occasionally can find its way onto discount tables, for though the game is ageless, the packaging isn't.

Below are the somewhat wonky, somewhat useful characteristics the Closet Report reveals about the product, and of its gameplay.

Statistics

  • Total Time to Play – TTP: 22:00
    Total time including OBT, PT, and BIB.
  • Out of the Box Time – OBT: 1:00
    Time to open the box and set up pieces for the game.
  • Play Time – PT: 20:00 (could be longer, as some like to consider their moves).
    Time from beginning of game to resolution, i.e., winner, draw, or quit.
  • Back in Box Time – BIB: 1:00
    Time required to put game back in the box configuration and return to the closet.
  • Time Per Turn – T/T: 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
  • Turns per Game – TPG: 16 at the most
    Number of turns in an average game.
  • Turns to Engagement – TTE: Immediate
    Number of turns before players must interact. Party games and icebreakers are particularly engaging, so the competition starts as soon as the game begins.
  • Fun Per Turn – FPT: 90%
    Indicates how much enjoyment is to be derived from any given Turn of the game. The strategy — choosing where to play a token for maximum gain and lessened vulnerability to the opposition's next play — becomes more laborious in late turns. Until then, a lot of flipping and re-flipping keeps the game exciting and fun throughout.
  • Work per Turn – WPT: 10%
    Realization of the ramifications of early turn action causes a bit of game stress in the mid-game, as you try to mitigate early mistakes and avoid late ones.
  • Turns Before Fun – TBF: 0
    The number of turns that must elapse before engagement with the other players occurs. While engagement is early and often, the game does not become a real challenge until the player's actions reach one of the board edges, and anchor pieces become salients for later action.
  • Self-teaching time – STT: 30 seconds
    The intuitive nature of capture and recapture is pretty easy to comprehend, and the entire game, because of its simplicity, has a Tic Tac Toe feel to it.
  • Closet Time – CT: 2 to 6 months
    Average length of time between plays. While this game is a fun little exercise, it does not take too many games before its innovation and appeal drops. The realization that the winner and loser can be determined virtually by a coin flip prevents it from being played more often. It just feels like an exercise in futility after a few games.

Play Ratings

Numerical ratings from 1 to 10 on various aspects of the game. See each for a scalar definition.

  • Aggression (categorizes the rules by oppositional dynamics)
    Scale from cooperative (1) to stridently adversarial (10) – Score: 8
  • Beauty (categorizes the rules by sheer aesthetics; is it "pretty"?)
    Scale from functional (1) to art gallery quality (10) – Score: 4
  • Complexity (categorizes the rules by how easy or difficult to comprehend)
    Scale from expected (1) to intricate beyond comprehension (10) Score: 2
  • Depth (categorizes the rules in terms of subtlety)
    Scale from shallow (1) to unbelievably nuanced (10) – Score: 4
  • Engagement (categorizes the rules in terms of player interaction)
    Scale from parallel play (1) to strong need for teamwork (10) Score: 2
  • Fun (categorizes the rules in terms sheer derived pleasure)
    Scale from mildly amusing (1) to fall on the floor laughing (10) – Score: 3
  • Innovations Quotient (IQ) (identifies any characteristics that make the game unique)
    Numeric rating, and each “point” is defined that make this product memorable – Score: 1
    Though player strategy can be somewhat interesting, the strategies that work to win are very limited, and players ultimately "learn" what works, and what does not. There is very little to be done differently, if one wishes to win.

Miscellaneous

Breakout Events are the times and circumstances where this game may shorten its Closet Time, or otherwise help it "break out" of the closet.

  • Othello is a great gateway game for introverts and uninitiated. There is no great onus on winner or loser for that matter. Checkers, Chess, Othello...all are games one should have simply because they are classic, easy to teach, and easy to play.

Shelf Rating is the overall game shelf rating, when compared with every other game in the closet. Scores will vary as new games come into being, and based on other characteristics such as marketing and promotions of similar games.

  • Othello is a game that will sit on the shelf, holding the memories of when it was first learned, as it does teach certain strategic notions (feints, sacrifices, salients, etc.). This belongs in every game closet as a resource when reaching out to brand-new players.