Games: Making the connection

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GAMES inventors are a hard done-by bunch, writes Maureen Hiron. You might think that there would be a parallel with books, yet there isn't.

Books have authors - you know that, because their names appear on front covers. If you like one book by an author, chances are you'll read the next. But games - especially those put out by the major companies - rarely credit the inventor. There is a trend developing to reverse this, now some companies have realised that inventors, like authors, can also have a following, and that their names can help sell games.

How do you get your game developed? The large companies are inundated with new games from hopeful inventors, and they don't have the time for an in-depth analysis of each. Sometimes you can hit the jackpot - the right game arrives at the right time, and hits the right note with the right person. But development is usually done in-house, or the professional inventors and agents are consulted. So even if you really have invented a far better version of Monopoly - forget it.

But if you're convinced that you've invented the game that everyone is desperate to play, what is your next move when it comes winging its way back from the sixth company with a polite rejection note?

Well, you could go into production yourself. Be warned, this is a minefield - and an expensive minefield at that. But say you do - then comes the job of the double sell. Your game can't sell out until it's sold in. The retail market is dominated by the multiples, whose buyers have to be convinced that putting your game onto their shelves will put profit into their tills.

Having remortgaged your home to make your game, the question 'What's your television advertising budget?' is a hard one to take. Even the ever-dwindling number of independent shops often belong to centralised buying groups, so the same problem arises.

And there is little outside help for you. Newspapers and magazines have book reviewers, record reviewers, film reviewers, television reviewers - but rarely games reviewers, although the magazine Games & Puzzles is again available, with a new and enthusiastic publisher, Paul Lamford.

A new game that has made it to the market is Connections. Inventor Tom McNamara was born in Galway, one of 14 siblings, and a triplet to boot. He came to London and made enough money on the building sites to emigrate to New Zealand.

The basic strategy of Connections is one that has been used in other games - Danny Kishon's September springs to mind - the object being to make a connection of your own colour, from one side of the board to the other.

There is a second way of winning - by completely surrounding one or more of your opponent's pieces and/or protuberances - for what you are doing is connecting pre-set square knobs of your own colour by placing hexagonal tiles with the relevant coloured stripe.

The more you play Connections, the more new strategies come to mind. An average game lasts about five minutes, and there is a tendency to want a return match.

I feel that, as in chess, the first to play has the edge, and is the attacker, with the second player defending. I admire the simplicity of the rules and the absolute freedom of play - as long as you connect your own coloured knobs, you can play where you like.

Connections is easy on the eye, consisting of a well moulded grey plastic board with red and white projections that sits well in its box. The pieces are also nicely made in the same grey material, with a wide red or white stripe. So the paths formed are easy to see at a glance, and there are no visual distractions.

This is an elegant strategy game for two players, or two teams of players, and even quite young children can pick it up quite quickly. Connections is available throughout the UK, as well as a fair chunk of the rest of the world. Quite an achievement in two years.

(Photograph omitted)