All in the mind, a board-game worthy of the Mensa brand

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The Independent Online

In a gladioli-print t-shirt and confessing that her motive for playing was the chance "to create pretty pictures with the pieces", Glenys Hopkins was hardly the picture of a vicious adversary as she shaped up for a board game in central Manchester yesterday.

In a gladioli-print t-shirt and confessing that her motive for playing was the chance "to create pretty pictures with the pieces", Glenys Hopkins was hardly the picture of a vicious adversary as she shaped up for a board game in central Manchester yesterday.

But there was no disguising the truth this picture of false modesty disguised. Mrs Hopkins, a Mensa board member and retired civil servant of undisclosed IQ, had arrived to demonstrate the organisation's first board game at its annual bash. Rarely had a bespectacled sixty-something seemed such a formidable prospect.

Mrs Hopkins and her fellow Mensans have spent years trying to find a game that passes muster. Several trivia games were put the organisation's way after the Who Wants to be a Millionaire TV phenomenon. But the organisation, which is anxious to dissociate IQ from general knowledge, declined. The game it has finally settled on to associate with is Connections, aimed at children aged 10 and up.

In simple terms, it is a cross between dominoes and chess; in Mrs Hopkins' terms, it is a board game in which players place a series of double-hexagon tiles (in six colours) onto hexagonal spaces and score points when the same colours are adjacent.

Combat began modestly with an Independent move to register a score of two with adjacent red tiles. To forestall any possible mathematical slip-ups, Mrs Hopkins did the totting up. "So one and one ... that makes two," she said. With customary diplomacy, she countered with just three adjacent yellows. "That looks nice," she said.

Cue some furious concentration from across the table which, if this were Scrabble at home, would have presaged the arrival of the egg-timer.

"The game is good because of the levels it can be played at," Mrs Hopkins said as she waited. "There are players like me who just find the pieces good to connect and strategists who can plan ahead."

Still waiting, she revealed herself to be something of a "word person" with a real penchant for opposites. Scrabble at Mensa conferences such as this had proved a challenge even for her.

"The last time I was up against a county champion who also composed crosswords in his spare time." She is also into quizzes. "Not in the general knowledge way, but in the ability to retain detail and find your way to a fact through different mental routes."

Mrs Hopkins glanced down at the table to be confronted by the sight of The Independent totting up five green, adjacent hexagons. "I think that's actually seven," she said. "Do say if I'm short-changing you."

Though her ability to figure who had scored what seemed to place her at a major advantage, a series of green hexagonal successes seemed to have Mrs Hopkins on the ropes as the game entered its 15th minute.

Then, in an unguarded moment, she murmured the comment which revealed why Mensa is so excited about the complexities of this game. "My yellows are going well. I must begin to make an impact on these blues."

So the aim of this game was to match tiles of all six colours, each of which had a corresponding tally marker. The player with the lowest score in any one colour is the loser. So Mrs Hopkins was nowhere near the ropes.

Other dimensions to the game emerged when Chris Leek, chairman of Mensa International loomed into view in his bold Mensa T-shirt. "The aesthetics of it all are great aren't they," he said, peering at the table. "And the pivotal challenge seems to be whether to maximise your own scoring or block opportunities for your opponents."

Blocking? Mrs Hopkins had not even started to unleash such a weapon on her increasingly world-weary opponent. She nodded sagely, rose from the table and politely retired.

There was a busy weekend with 200 delegates to start planning for: a trip to Manchester's Bridgewater concert hall, whisky-tasting, treasure hunt and - best of all - board games break-out sessions. "My best game is Settlers of Catan," Mrs Hopkins said. "All that strategy. A real challenge. Something to really pit my wits against."

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