Connect Four

Connect Four

“Pretty sneaky, Sis.”

Commercials come and go, but catch phrases live forever. The final quarter of the twentieth century heard just such a phrase moaned from the lips of one young boy after having lost a game to his sister. While no boy in his right mind wants to lose to a younger sibling, losing at Connect Four ranks with Sorry! and Risk in the pantheon of crushing defeats. Perhaps that’s why before Milton Bradley marketed the game in 1974 under the goal-oriented name “Connect Four,” it was simply and somewhat quietly known as The Captain’s Mistress.

The “Mistress,” as it turns out, is nothing more than a hybrid version of Tic-tac-toe: a vertical yellow grid of six rows and seven columns standing on two blue legs. But Connect Four ratchets up the duplicity with strategy mired in subversion and backstabbing. Connect Four begins when a player drops one of twenty-one Checkers-like pieces into one of the columns. Any similarity to Checkers ends there. While the fatter red and black cousins moved all over the checkers board, once one of the smaller, sleeker Connect Four pieces had been played, it stayed where it was. And, as the title indicates, once a player had made a row, column, or diagonal of four tokens, smug victory went to the winner while the loser sulked, screamed, moaned, groaned, or licked wounded pride.

Strategy, in turn, requires seeing several moves in advance. The novice quickly discovers that while simply trying to stack or lay pieces in the grid, the expert is simply guiding their hand, blocking when necessary and making victory possible through the novice’s own moves. The harmonious blend of offense (aggressively trying to make a row of four) and defense (blocking the opponent’s attempts to complete a sequence of four) is the key to triumph. Because amateurs tend to neglect the fateful permanency of their moves, or the sly threats scattered in the seemingly random pieces in play, seasoned veterans construct double threats, a tactic not unlike a checkmate, where they can win in one of two ways, leaving the opponent in a “damned-if-I-do, damned-if-I-don’t” stupor. Paranoia is not an uncommon side-effect in Connect Four, with players constantly asking themselves if the opponent’s last move was a block or an attack. Maybe both?

A few years after its initial release, Milton Bradley upped the ante with an electronic version of Connect Four with varying degrees of difficulty, record-keeping, and most nerve-wracking of all … sound effects. Various online and CD-ROM versions also circulate today.

Connect four presents the perfect cat-and-mouse scenario, with each player stumping the other, searching the setbacks for opportunities, and luring the unsuspecting into sealing their own doom. And like the little boy in the commercials some three decades ago, victory doesn’t go to the bold or the brave, but to the sneaky.

Were you ever beaten at a game of Connect Four by a sneaky little sister? Or, were you usually the ones handing out the defeats? We hope you’ll take a moment to share all of your memories of this addictive game in our comments section below

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