Connect Four is a game I remember playing a lot as a child, and I play it now with my 9-year-old daughter. It's a really good introduction to abstract strategy games for children, and if you have not yet played it with your child, then do have a go. The sound as you open the under-bar and the counters clatter on the table will transport you back in time.
Connect Four has been spun off in several ways over the years. There is a giant version for the garden or school playground, there is a version which sees the grid flipped by 180 degrees, and there is a card game version.
When it was introduced in the form you recognize today by Milton Bradley in 1974, it kind of swept away any competition and is the only four in a row game most people can name. This overshadows the fact that there are some other good ones out there.
Getting Creative With Connect Four
Before we get to those, first get a different take on the game by playing it on a horizontal surface instead of the usual vertical surface. Print this game board on the thickest paper you can fit in your printer. You need 21 counters in one color, and 21 in a different color. You can use many things as counters like buttons, beads, shells, coins. Slide your counter along as indicated by the arrows until you reach either the bold 'baseline' or another counter.
All the normal ways of making your four in a row apply. Do you find it easier to spot the 4 in a row your opponent is about to make so you can block them? Try facing the board in different directions: how does it affect the way you play the game? A winning strategy is to make a 3 in a row which is open at both ends: on their next move your opponent can only block one end, leaving you able to win on your next move. Do you find it easier to apply this winning strategy when playing the game this horizontal way?
Whether you play Connect Four in this horizontal way or the usual vertical way, it is a two-dimensional game. One interesting twist came when a third dimension was added to the game.
Other Four In A Row Games
A company called Funtastic brought out a game called Score Four in 1967. Another company called Lakeside took it on in the 1970s and it became more popular. Second-hand copies can be bought online. The normal ways of making your four in a row apply (vertical, horizontal or diagonal) but with the addition of building rows on or across different levels. There are more ways to win, and more ways to lose!
Other three-dimensional games are: Eternas (2011) with a board in the shape of a circle; Helix (1974) with a board with overlapping arcs; and Quadrago (2007) with four middle bars that rotate to add complexity to the board.
Another obscure, vintage four in a row game is Brainline by Palitoy (probably 1970s). The game board is made up of hexagons. Each player has four pegs which start the game on a specific hex. Players take turns to move any one of their pegs any distance along a straight line in any direction, but may not jump any other peg. The winner is the first to get all four pegs of their color in a straight line. The little twist I like is that the pegs do not have to be adjacent, but there must be no opponent pegs between them. Many times, you feel you are about to win, before your opponent thwarts you by moving their peg just where you don't want it.
Play Idea: Circular Tic Tac Toe
One final game to mention is called Circular Tic Tac Toe (or Circular Noughts and Crosses). A circular board is divided into 32 segments. There are four different ways to make a four in a row: a line from the center to the outside; a spiral to the left getting further away from the center; a spiral to the right getting further away from the center; and four all the same distance from the center to form a semi-circle. The first to play has an advantage, as happens with many abstract strategy games. The Pie Rule can be used to level things up.
I was unable to find a commercial version of Circular Tic Tac Toe so I drew my own on a piece of MDF and took some counters from another game. Here is what it looked like:
Here is an example of a win: White has won with a spiral to the right getting further away from the center.
If you have five minutes to spare, I recommend the Numberphile YouTube video on Connect Four. You will learn that it is a 'solved' game and be amazed by how many possible configurations of the grid there are.
In conclusion, I hope this blog post has opened your eyes to a different way of playing Connect Four, and to the fact that there are other four in a row games to explore.
Debbie Pledge is the author of ‘Starting a School Boards Games Club: How to Win at Having Fun and Learning Through Play’, available on Amazon’s Kindle Store, and has a MSc in Information Science. She has a wide range of interests, including: Sport, family history, baking, growing cacti, crosswords (quick not cryptic) and logic puzzles (her current favorite is a Futoshiki). Debbie was born and raised on the Isle of Wight.
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