Connect 4 – Fear my Vertical play!

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Connect 4

My own picture of Connect 4 (No line of 4 can be seen. Don’t want to give away the ending)

Oh, how I spent many hours upon hours playing Connect 4. Not the analogue copy you see in the picture above but a digital one in the MMORPG RuneScape, at the Burthorpe Games Room which was members only access. So, I was paying a $14 (landline phone) monthly subscription at the time to play RuneScape, all so I could play Connect 4 (they called it Runelink) with some buddies around the world. There was a ranked mode within the Games Room so you could attain a higher and higher rank by defeating your foes and be a huge competitor for everyone to see. Your name would travel far and wide within RuneScape and you would have a target on your back!

Connect 4 is a simple and straight forward game that utilizes the vertical plane where 2-players, one at a time place a disc into any of the columns in-turn to line-up 4 of their own colour. The player that connects 4 of their colour is the winner. Easy as that!

Connect 4b

Designed by Howard Wexler and released under the brand of Milton Bradley (now Hasbro) in 1974. Connect 4 has had many brand variations and different names but still maintains popularity; as I was just able to pick it up from Kmart for $25. Other names include Captain’s Mistress, Four Up, Plot Four, Find Four and Four in a Line. Below is an interview with Howard Wexler about how he came up with the game with the use of dropping spheres into pipes.

Numerous websites claim that the origins of the connect 4 style of game is ambiguous, though there are rumors of Captain Cook being obsessed with the game – claiming he would always play Captain’s Mistress to relax with his fellow officers which gave it its name. Captain’s Mistress is the predecessor to Connect 4.

captains mistress

Captain’s Mistress. Source

Robert Charles Bell who is an author of books on Board Games and related material provided an image in one of his books (the exact book does not seem to be known) that shows the first use of a connect 4 style of game play from the Edwardian Period. The Edwardian Era relates to the reign of King Edward VII (1901 – 1910) which was a time prosperous for trade and manufacturing. The game used wooden balls to fall into the open slits on the lid of the box.

The materials for Connect 4 are the Grid (6×7), two legs (which aide the grid for vertical play), 21 red and 21 yellow chips. These bits are made from plastic which fit together smoothly and securely with each other and are easy to hold. As you play the game with dropping the discs into the columns they make a lot of noise so you can’t get away with playing this game late at night while trying to write about it and not wake people up (sorry). With ease assembling and disassembling the lid only fits on when the legs are off.

The game play is around 10-15 minutes long. That time can change when going against someone who is looking to always win and has a strategy in play. When rating is on the line you must make sure you always play the best move possible. However, since the release of the game a computer has solved the game. As to mean that there is such a thing as a “Perfect Game”, where the player that starts first is capable of always winning when they play correctly. Below is YouTube channel Numberphile explaining the computer process and the perfect game play.

“Perfect Game” is easy to execute when you have learned the moves that it requires. This knowledge takes away from the challenge and credibility of the game when playing it competitively. If the competition is one-game-win and elimination, then the player that goes second automatically loses. The game could already be decided by the first couple moves as the players would be knowledgeable enough to know how the game will end. Unlike Checkers or ever to some extent Chess which have a larger variance of first play moves. There are the occasional Connect 4 tournaments around that have prizes so if you are dedicated enough, go for it. Do with this information what you will.

Overall I enjoy Connect 4. It is easy to learn and understand. I would always be up for a game [if I go first], especially if a cash incentive was involved. The replay-ability was more prevalent when I was a child. Though there are added incentives that are popping up in bars today when having an old-school games-night with cash and vouchers. Suggests that I dust off my skills and try and win. Nowadays though Connect 4 is more just to pass some time or revisit some nostalgia. Connect 4 is a good basic abstract strategy game to get kids involved with strategy gaming.

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