Synopsis of Toy

Tech snobs think it’s too old-fashioned. Chess snobs think it’s too unsophisticated. Age snobs think it’s either for really old people or really young, and no one in between. But what other game has moves like the Goose Walk, Wyllie's Switcher Winder, the Boomerang, and best of all, the awful 350-year-old Canalejas Cannonball, with which you can squash your opponent in just five brisk moves.

At an ancient temple in Thebes, there are inscriptions that portray King Ramses III having a go at an early checkers-type board, which dates the game several thousand years B.C. There is also ancient pottery that shows Greek warriors Achilles and Ajax, they of Trojan War fame, doing the just same. And those are just the noteworthy early showings—checkered boards have been spotted throughout history. The only problem with chronicling the game of Checkers is that the same type of board was also used for chess, backgammon and morris, all of which are also very old games with very long histories. There were checkered boards in medieval times, which all classes of people apparently played on. And we know from old documents and wills dating back six and seven hundred years that gaming flatboards, both folding and reversible, were considered very valuable property.

Checkers, which is called draughts (pronounced “drafts”) in the U.K., has also been known as Alquerque, as Fierges or Ferses, and as Dames—depending on which century and which country it was found in. But in all of these incarnations, there were twelve movable pieces on each side of the board, and a player didn’t have to take enemy pieces when he jumped over them. That rule came about in mid-15th century France, where the game was called Jeu Force, and it sticks today.

By the 17th century, Checkers as we know it had spread across Western Europe. It was played on boards with 32, 64, 100 and 144 spaces—the 64-cell board being probably the most common. With the bigger boards (which were hung on walls when they weren’t being played on), the pieces were painted red and black, though in the game’s many versions, they have also appeared in white and black. Nowadays, serious Checkers players use red and white playing pieces on green and yellow checkerboards. And don’t wriggle your nose—that’s the palette the American Checker Federation deems official.

The rules to modern Checkers are deceptively simple: Each player lines his twelve pieces up on the black squares (it’s just better contrast that way) closest to him. A player takes his turn by moving one of his pieces diagonally forward, and after the initial moves, when an opponent’s pieces occupy those adjacent spots, the player must “jump” over the opponent’s piece, collect it for himself (deemed a “capture”), and land in the vacant spot just ahead of the square where the captured piece was.

It sounds much worse than it is. Captures are compulsory, but if there are more than one capture choices, a player can choose whichever best fits his needs—but once he begins a capturing move, he must continue on that move’s path until all his opponent’s capture-able pieces have been picked up. When the pieces reach any of the squares in the row opposite to them, they are “crowned,” and whereas an uncrowned man may only move forward, the crowned may move backwards and forwards.

A game is won when a player captures all of his opponent’s men, or renders them unable to move. But a draw can result too—which is what often happens when two strong players compete—and this is when neither player can force a win.

Like screwball comedian Jerry Lewis, Checkers is inexplicably popular in France. And there, like much of Europe, the 100-square board, which has its own set of rules and obviously, far more intricate move possibilities, reigns supreme. The U.S. fancies the 64-squarer, Canada the 144-squarer. Some argue that this is why Checkers was never as popular as Chess—because it’s not the same game the world over. But if games could talk, Checkers would probably tell us that actually, its lesser status is just fine. It never did take itself as seriously as those other checkered board games did, and thank goodness for that. Game snobs are like food snobs—you just don’t want them at your party.

Release History of Toy

???? - Checkers

Sub Categories of Toys

board games

Toy and Game Manufacturer

Pressman, Milton Bradley, Snappy, various

Other Toy Links