Calvin’s Commentaries: Megiddo

On occasion one has the opportunity to turn back the calendar a chunk to review a game that has been around for a good long time.

That’s the case this week as we look at Megiddo which was first released back in 1985 by designer Steve Baldwin.

This is a game that received some early recognition having won the ‘Best New Game’ at the International Toy and Hobby Fair held at Olympia, London 1986.

Megiddo is played on a round board consisting of six rings connected by six spokes. Each player in turn places a stone on one of the intersections in an attempt to get six pieces in a row in one of several configurations.

Let’s start by noting the board, which in this case is a rollable material akin to some versions of Pente, is very nice with excellent graphics.

Since the playmate rolls, this is a game in a tube, which for some will not be appreciated as tubes typically do not store on game shelves as well as boxes.

It is also good to mention Pente because Megiddo reminds, at least superficially of the five-in-a-row classic from the 1970s, particularly in the sense one can win by capturing six (or more) of the opponent’s stones.

Two (and only two) adjacent stones are captured whenever bracketed by two opposing stones. The captured stones are then removed and replaced by two of the capturing player’s stones.

You may also win by placing six stones in a row consecutively (Megiddo), either in a radial, circular, or spiral path.

Visualizing the varied ways to get six-in-a-row, and remembering you can move rather than placing a piece while avoiding capture traps makes this a game demanding your full attention – which is what the best abstract strategy games do.

The pieces here are glass beads, nice, but nothing special.

At its best – as is the case with almost all abstract strategy games, Megiddo plays best with two.

It can be played with three and avoids the usual ‘kingmaker’ issues that plague multi-player abstracts, but it seems to lose the sharpness of play as with three it’s more reaction and less planned play.

You can play four – in teams – but why you would escape me?

So Baldwin became a cyberfriend via social media, which in turn led to the opportunity to pick his brain via email on designing Megiddo nearly four decades ago.

“I don’t know if I would fall under the category of avid gamer. That said, I have played games my entire life,” said. “I have played everything. As a youth I was a huge checkers fan, then chess, pinochle, hearts, and of course the usual Monopoly, Risk, etc. My favorite game since the age of eight has been the card game Gin — favorite strategy games are Chess and my own Megiddo.”

Liking his own game is quite natural, but what drew him to design it in the first place?

“I don’t know if there was a specific idea that led me to create Megiddo,” he admitted. In the early 1980’s I was an avid Chess player and tinkered with various mechanics to see if I could make Chess even more intriguing.

“I then decided I would like to come up with a game that simply had similar pieces that were all the same, with the same basic move and capturing mechanic. I wanted the board itself to be constrained within a tight confine, thus the 36 spaces. I wanted to give the game a 3-D effect, as opposed to the two-dimensional effect of most abstract strategy games.

“I initiated the circular board with the spiral to achieve that end, as the horizontal variations in distances between playing points trick the mind, so to speak.”

What is good to learn is that Baldwin remains satisfied with Megiddo 40 years later.

“I still see the game today as I did 40 years ago,” he said, explaining “Initially I marketed Megiddo as being playable by two players, basically through partners. Megiddo is best, however, as a two-player game.”

Baldwin’s goal for the game was direct – a bit of lasting recognition of his design effort.

“I was simply trying to create a game that would be lasting for generations; a game simple to learn, but layered in strategy — a challenging game,” he said.

In that regard, I’d say if abstract fans give Megiddo some table time even all these years later, they should enjoy the experience – much as would be the case with Pente and several other older creations.

“The best elements in my mind are several, the simplicity, but yet complexity, and the 36 playing point constraints within a circular playing surface combined with the 3-D effect illusion,” said Baldwin as he delved deeper into his game.

He added he also likes “The ability to capture and replace with your pieces and then to continue capturing during that turn.”

The roots of the game name are also interesting.

“When I was 8 years old I read about the ancient city of Megiddo in a Weekly Reader,” said Baldwin. “I was intrigued and kept that paper into my adult life.

“The city itself was circular and had six concentric rings of defense.

“That was the initial impetus for the circular board, the 36 playing points, the Star of David, the Egyptian figures (Megiddo was controlled at various times by Egypt or Palestine), and the name for the game itself, Megiddo.

“After some time spent on creating the game, in a dream, I envisioned the board, pretty much as it looks, and commissioned an artist to draw what I saw in the dream.

“I know that probably sounds a bit bizarre, but it was how the game came about. In the dream, I saw a hand moving across the board making a capturing and replacing pieces move.”

Ultimately, Megiddo is now of that age where the moniker ‘vintage’ almost fits – something at least 40 years old. In this case, we have a game that has aged quite well. It might not be a top-25 on a player’s abstract strategy list, but if you have an opportunity to add this one to your collection you most certainly should.

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