Shut the Box
April 30, 2011
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There are lots of traditional games whose history is very little known. This is one of them. The best that I could find out is that it was popular among sailors of Normandy in the late 19th century (according to David Parlett, The Oxford History of Board Games), and that it was brought to England from the Channel Islands in 1958 (according to Timothy Finn, Pub Games of England). It is usually played with two dice and a special box that has tiles with the numbers from one to nine. Wikipedia describes the game thus:
During each round, a player repeatedly throws the dice to
cover the tiles of the box. The round ends when no tile can be covered on a throw and the player counts each successfully covered number as a point for his score. If, for example you
put down the numbers 3, 5, and 9, you get three points. The goal is to cover all numbers, that is,
shut the box, which finishes that game. Play continues until each player has completed three rounds, at which time scores are compared and a winner is declared.
I tend to be skeptical about
traditional games that require some special device. Three things make it plausible in this case:
- The game could just as well be played with two dice and nine standard playing cards—and any old box, if you want one.
- There are numerous names and rule variations, which is usually the case with traditional games.
- The chances for winning are very low. This could make the game interesting for con artists, who might well invest in such a special device.
Though it is supposed to be a good game for children to develop and practice simple arithmetic, I don’t think there are a lot of computer implementations, at least it took me ten years to come across the first one. Now, I’ve found two in a row. Unsurprisingly, both are for 16-bit Windows.
Michael Ennis tries to emulate an actual device with the graphics of Flip ‘Em (1992). It looks nice, even though the colors don’t quite match and perspective of the dice is a bit weird.
Chad Alan Olson of the ChAOs Computing Group takes a more geometric approach with his Frustration (1993). This game has twelve tiles instead of nine, but the rules are the same. The chance to win isn’t any higher either, so the name is quite appropriate.
Conaga by Jeff Martin is from 1997, a couple of years later than the other two. There’s not much more to say about it.