Games: Will lateral thinking bring inventor success?

WITH the love affair with computer games seemingly on the wane, it is good to welcome three intriguing new two-player strategy games, Quarto], Pyraos and La-Trel to the British market. These are perhaps the purest type of game; everything is always on view, there are no randomising factors - such as dice - and only good play leads to victory.

Games such as these represent particularly good value, as they can be played again and again using varying tactics, so giving infinite scope. Quarto], Pyraos and La-Trel have been produced to a quality that makes them a pleasure to play.

Quarto] was invented by Blaise Muller of Switzerland, and prior to its arrival in Britain had already collected a clutch of awards around the world. The playing board has 16 circles arranged into a square, and there are the same number of playing pieces made of polished wood. Each piece possesses four of eight different characteristics: light or dark; short or tall; solid or hollow; round or square. No two pieces are identical.

The idea is to form a line of four pieces, all containing one single characteristic - all dark, or all hollow, for example. Playing pieces start off the board, and you take turns to select any one of the pieces and pass it to your opponent, who places it in any circle of his choice on the board.

Not only do you need to watch what is happening on the playing board, but also what is left for selection. Being the one that selects your opponent's pieces, you have only yourself to blame if you lose.

Pyraos is the brainchild of a British inventor, David Royffe. It consists of 30 balls - 15 in each of two colours - and a two-level playing board. The lower deck is purely a channel in which the balls are placed at the start of play, so you can see at a glance how many you have available as the game progresses. The actual playing area is raised above this and has 16 indentations which form a square.

The object of the game is to place your final ball on top of the pyramid which forms as play develops. In turn, players place a ball of their own colour into any of the indentations. When a square of four balls has been formed, players may choose to stick a ball in its centre, either by taking another ball from the channel, or by elevating a free ball already on the playing surface.

By raising a ball already played, another has been saved for later use. But only unencumbered balls may be raised, not ones supporting others, or the pyramid comes crashing down.

If a player forms a square of four balls of his own colour at any level of the pyramid, he may return two balls already played to the channel, and the more you have in reserve, the better your chances of placing the last ball on top.

La-Trel was invented by another British man, Richard Morgan, who has taken the brave step of manufacturing and marketing his game himself. I sincerely hope that he emerges unscathed from this minefield, because this game deserves to succeed.

The playing board is as for chess. Each player has two types of pieces - attackers and defenders. There are three types of attackers, and their shapes are well-conceived to define their varying territorial moves. Defenders form the front ranks (like pawns in chess), but cannot capture any other piece. The winner is the player who captures all the opponent's attacking pieces.

These are mainly captured by jumping over an opponent's piece on a clear path, and landing on the empty square beyond. The same piece can then zoom off in another direction for further captures, all in one turn.

This bouncing around is great fun and very satisfying. However, should you become a La-Trel addict, you may well wish to progress to the advanced game, where two of the defenders are replaced by blockers which cannot be captured, nor are multiple captures (no bouncing) of other pieces permitted.

Quarto], Pyraos and La-Trel are available in various sizes from Just Games, 71 Brewer Street, London W1. Telephone: 071-734 6124.

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