Five of my Favourite Games to Play with Pen and Paper

Five of my Favourite Games to Play with Pen and Paper

I had a lot of fun completing my five-part series on games and activities I used in my English classes. I’m going to start a new series on games I like to play myself. These games may look simple, but they can be fiendishly difficult to master. I love how elegantly simple rules can hide such complexity.

Domineering

This game is a very simple game that can also be played with dominoes on a chess board. Because the players have different pieces, the strategy revolves around carving out territory that only you can use.

Set Up

Draw a grid of squares. A 6×6, 7×7 or 8×8 grid works well.

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Domineering

Play

Players take turns shading in two adjacent squares to represent placing a domino on the grid. Eventually one player will be unable to go and the other player is declared the winner. The dominoes must be two squares, but there is a twist in this game. The first player uses vertical dominoes (shown here in red) and the second player uses horizontal dominoes (shown here in blue). Each turn you must choose two sqaures that are connected in your chosen direction.

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Blue Wins!

In this game it’s red’s turn but they can’t go. There’s space for one more domino, but not a red domino. This means blue is the winner!

Lexicant

This game is a real test of your vocabulary.

Set Up

This game doesn’t require any set up. In fact it can be played aloud, with out any writing, but I think it’s fun to see the words taking shape.

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Lexicant

Play

The first player names a letter. Players then take turns adding a letter to the front or the end of the letter sequence. Players must always ensure that the sequence is part of a word, but not a whole word. If a player makes a word with four or more letters they lose the game.

If a player adds letters that appear not to be part of an English word, they can be challenged to name a word containing the current sequence. if they can they win the game, but if they can’t they lose.

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Blue Wins!

The red G completed the word unmasking, so blue wins this game of Lexicant.

Sprouts

Sprouts is a deep and complex game created by two mathematicians, John Horton Conway and Michael S. Paterson. It leads to beautiful and complex drawings.

Set Up

Draw a very small number of dots spread out across the page. Two dots is enough for an interesting game.

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Sprouts

Play

Players take turns to draw a line and then draw a dot on the line they drew. The line and dot must obey these rules;

  • The line must be either a loop from one dot to itself or a line between two dots. The line can be straight or curved.
  • The line cannot go through any other dots or lines.
  • The maximum number of lines connected to any dot is three. Loops count as two connections. You can’t draw any line that would cause a dot to be connected more than three times.

For example in the game above, blue has drawn a loop and red has drawn two lines that both connect separate points. The blue dot and one of the red dots have three connections already, so they cannot be used again.

As the game progresses, it gets harder and harder to find a valid play. Dots may be surrounded and unable to connect to other dots, while the number of dots that can’t be used again grows. When one player is unable to go, the other player wins.

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Blue Wins!

It’s red’s turn to go. Most dots have three lines coming out of them so they can’t be used. There are two dots available, but red can’t draw a line between them. This means blue is the winner.

Ultimate Tic Tac Toe

Think you know noughts and crosses? Think again!

Set Up

Draw a three by three grid like regular tic tac toe and draw a three by three grid inside each box.

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Ultimate Tic Tac Toe

Play

The game consists of nine boards of tic tac toe. Like the normal game one player is ‘noughts’ and one player is ‘crosses’ and take turns to draw one of their symbols on the paper. If you get three of your symbols in a row, horizontally, vertically or diagonally, on one board you win that board. If you can win three boards in a row, you win the entire game.

There is a big twist that makes this game fascinating and far more complex. Your opponent’s last move determines which board you must play in on your move. For example if I play in the top left square of any 3×3 board, my opponent must play on the board in the top left. In the picture red started with a cross in the centre of board B2, so blue had to also play in B2. Blue put a nought in the top left corner, so red had to play in board A1. Next blue will have to play in board C1.

The first move has no restrictions, so the first player can play in any square. Once a board has been won, no-one can play in that board again. If you are sent to a completed board, you have a free move and can play in any unfinished board. Free moves are very powerful, so try not to give too many to your opponent. Because it’s impossible to win all nine boards you must decide which boards to concede, and which to contest. There are layers and layers of strategy to this game.

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Red Wins!

The three boards in column B were all won by red. This makes red the winner of ultimate Tic Tac Toe.

Dance Of the Numbers

This game comes from the excellent book called ‘100 Strategic Games’ by Walter Joris.

Set Up

Draw a 6×6 grid. Each player then shades in one block each. This block is an obstacle and that square can’t be used during game play.

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Dance of the Numbers

Play

The first player puts the number one in a square. Then they put an asterisk in one of the eight squares next to the number one. The second player then puts a two next to the one and an asterisk next to the two. Players continue taking turns in this way, always continuing from the last number.

Like Sprouts and Domineering, the first player unable to complete both parts of their turn loses the game.

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Red Wins!

The red nine was the last number. It is completely boxed in, so blue can’t go and red is the winner.

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