Have pen and paper? Play SCRIBE

So Andrew had his [[!Big Show|andrew/big_show]] recently. We had a great time watching him perform in his four gymnastic events, but not so much fun waiting 20-30 minutes between events. Without any suitable flat surface, the other boys and I couldn't play any of our favorite icehouse games, but we did at least have pen and paper. If only we had a great, engaging game to play, (and I'm not talking about tic-tac-toe).

I think SCRIBE is the perfect game for a situation like this. Mark Steere invented this game in October 2006, and I discovered it in a recent issue of GAMES magazine. It's really a fantastic game, so I thought I'd give a brief overview of it here.


First, draw 9 3x3 grids in a 3x3 pattern. That is, make a 3x3 pattern of tic-tac-toe grids something like this:

 | |   | |   | | 
-+-+- -+-+- -+-+- 
-+-+- -+-+- -+-+- 
 | |   | |   | | 

 | |   | |   | | 
-+-+- -+-+- -+-+- 
-+-+- -+-+- -+-+- 
 | |   | |   | | 

 | |   | |   | | 
-+-+- -+-+- -+-+- 
-+-+- -+-+- -+-+- 
 | |   | |   | | 

(Amusingly enough, the coloring sheets the kids got at a restaurant last night were printed with nine grids exactly like this.)

So there's a super grid with 9 mini grids inside it. Now, each player will take turns putting their symbol, (+ or o), into one of 81 possible spaces. But, here's the trick, the position you play within the mini-grid of one move mandates which mini-grid you must play in for your next move. For example, if you play in the upper-left corner of the center mini-gird on your first move, then for your second move you must choose one of the available spaces from the upper-left mini-grid, and so on. (Each player puts a slash through their last symbol played to help keep track of where there next move must be played.) If the mini grid you are supposed to play in is full, then you can select any mini grid with empty squares for your play.

The goal is to win the most mini grids by earning more points in each mini grid than the opponent. Points are earned for symbols that form one of the following 19 glyphs (reflections and rotations count of course):

1 point:          * Single

2 points:        ** Double

3 points:       *** Line

4 points:         * Pipe        *** Squat-T     ** 4-block
                ***              *              **

5 points:       ***              *
                 *  T           *** Cross
                 *               *

6 points:       ***             ***               *               *
                *** 6-block      ** Bomber      *** Chair       * * J
                                  *             * * (or Llama)  ***

7 points:        **              *              * *             * *
                * * Earring     *** House       *** H           * * U
                ***             ***             * *             ***

8 points:       ***             ***
                *** Ottoman     * * O
                * *             ***

9 points:       ***
                *** 9-block

Note that subsets of a glyph do not count for anything. So if you end up with a shape like:

*   L is not a glyph (0 points)

you don't score anything for this shape, (you don't get any points for the pipe that appears within this for example).

So here's an example of a completed mini grid:

++o   Pipe = 4 points for +
o+o Double = 2 points for o
o+o   Line = 3 points for o

And o wins this grid 5 to 4.

At the end of the game, the player who has won more of the mini grids wins. (Or for a more advanced game, score the super grid according to the same glyph rules as used for the mini grids.)

OK, so that wasn't so brief. I suppose I should have just linked to Mark's original complete rules (PDF) in the first place. Also, see this printable board which conveniently contains diagrams of all 19 glyphs in both margins. But also, I've found that after playing a single game, most players will find that all the glyphs are committed to memory, (just remember that there are 19 glyphs and draw them out before you start playing to make sure you remember them all).


I won't comment too much on strategy since I don't know much yet. But I will say watch out for the end game. There's not a lot of freedom at the end, so both players may find themselves making moves they don't want to make. Also, look out for chains of forced moves that can lead you (or your opponent) to ruin several mini grids in a row.

In general the way that the current move is intertwined with future move possibilities gives the game a lot of rich tension, and I've found it extremely satisfying.

Posted Fri 01 Jun 2007 12:23:49 PM PDT Tags: games