Traditional Board Games

Renju: the Aristocrat of Five-in-a-Row Games

A home-made renju board with glass pieces.
A home-made renju board with glass pieces.

Saturday, 2nd July 2016

Many people are familiar with games of three, four and five in a row.  Renju is a five-in-a-row game from Japan, invented at the end of the nineteenth century and refined in the decades since.  Many row games naturally favour the first player, and Renju was an attempt to balance out the game by placing restrictions on what the first player can do.  Twentieth-century refinements include the addition of set opening moves and an elaborate kind of pie rule, both of which can be dispensed with in casual play.

Up to chapter 11, A Book of Historic Board Games has a distinct lack of building games.  Building is one of the four categories of human activity modelled by traditional board games, in the system adopted by the book.  Nine Men's Morris, the feature of an earlier chapter, is a hybrid game of building and war, so I needed a pure building game to complete the set.  Many such games, like noughts and crosses, are too trivial to provide any scope for entertaining strategic play, so I adopted Renju as an example of this category.

If you're interested in reading the book then please visit its page on the Lulu web site.


I have another building game that might be worth a mention: The Native Maori Game called Menga Menga. It's nigh impossible to find stuff on it, but from what I understand the rules are as such:

1. It starts with an empty 11x11 sized board. At the start of the game pieces can be placed on any part of the board except for the central nine, as filling the central nine squares as much as possible is the goal of the game.

2. Each player takes turns placing a single piece on the board, trying to place their pieces in lines of three. After one player completes a line of three, the next line has to be four, then five, then six etc (I'm not sure if this applies to both players at the same time or if each player has to make lines of 3, 4, 5 then 6 etc on their own).

3. Any pieces used in one line can't be used in subsequently formed lines. However, upon the completion of a line one piece is removed from it and placed in the central nine squares.

4. Depending on where a piece is placed within the central nine, the opposing player will be allowed to reclaim anywhere from 1 to 4 of their own pieces from the board so that they can play them again (the absolute middle = 4 pieces, one pair of opposing corners = 3 pieces, second pair of corners = 2, remaining 4 squares = 1 piece).

I was actually looking here because building games in general seem to be under-represented and wanted to look at Renju as a point of comparison. Assuming my info is accurate (which I sincerely hope), then Menga Menga I feel would be a contender for being a deeply strategic building game.

I'm so frustrated at my inability to find it anywhere, much less any mention of it, that I'm going to make my own board.

MisterDuckerDude - 16:33, 07/07/2020

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