Games: When it pays to keep a very steady hand

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The Independent Culture
ALTHOUGH not recommended for the drinking classes, games requiring a steady hand and keen eyesight are currently in vogue.

In my childhood, I acquired a degree of dexterity playing Pick-a-Stick. The idea was to extract thin, double-pointed wooden sticks, one at a time, from a clutch of them dropped randomly, without moving any other stick. You could be sure your eagle-eyed opponent would be quick to spot any transgressions.

Sets of these, and also a similar game called Jack Straws, are again available in the shops, although wooden skewers make acceptable alternatives. However, these games have always been considered child's play.

During the 1980s, a game called Jenga came on to the market and quietly gained ground - and not just in the children's toys market. Jenga is a simple game, and consists of a large number of square rods made of wood.

First these are built into a tower by criss- crossing spaced layers of three rods each. In turn, and using only one hand, players extract a rod from the tower, then place it on the top. The loser is the one who brings the increasingly unstable structure crashing down.

Similiar games have appeared - I was given a beautiful hand-made set by a South African, who had not realised the idea had already been marketed. Topple, from Lagoon Games, uses flatter wooden pieces, giving players the option of placing struts thin or thick edge up.

It seems that manual dexterity games are forming an important new area of the industry. In the US, Parker Brothers have produced the elegant Bottle Topps, where players stack wooden discs on top of a wooden bottle, both high and wide.

Bausack from Germany has become Sack O'Bricks in Britain, and is distributed by Lord Carter's After Dinner Games Ltd. What you get is - literally - a sack of varied shapes of wood, all of which are well-finished, plus rules for five different games involving careful construction. Some strange-looking buildings can appear when playing.

Perhaps the nearest of these new games to Pick-a-Stick is King Tut. Layered wooden pieces form an Egyptian pyramid, and the idea is to slide pieces out without any other piece, or the roof, so much as quivering.

Unfortunately, my childhood skills have deserted me. I have become a duffer at these games. Towers crash, discs slip, roofs quiver. I'm sticking to playing and inventing the more cerebral kind.

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