“A Minute to Learn… A Lifetime to Master.”

When Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder were singing “Ebony and ivory, live together in perfect harmony…” they weren’t singing about Othello, but it might have seemed that way. When this board game’s black and white pieces were laid out, things appeared peaceful at first. But fortunes changed quickly, luck ran out, and come to think of it, there wasn’t any perfect harmony to be found at all. It was every man for himself.

Othello first appeared around 1883 as an English pub game called “Reversi.” It remained fairly obscure until a Japanese game company took interest in the early 70s. They solidified the rules and renamed it Othello as a tip of the hat to Shakespeare and his timeless drama of the same name.

It’s popularity grew in Japan, convincing the Gabriel Toy Company to licence the game for distribution in America. They released Othello in 1976, borrowing the japanese tag line “A Minute to Learn… A Lifetime to Master.”

The game board was made of bright green felt, reminiscent of something one might find in a casino. Sixty-four squares were printed on it, plus spaces on each side to hold the discs, which were black on one side and white on the other. One player controlled “black” and the other “white,” and each had thirty-two discs in their possession.

The game began with a disc of each color at the center of the board, and players took turns placing discs next to these. The trick was to “outflank” your opponent – positioning your color disc at either end of your opponents row of discs. Once the outflanking occured, your opponent’s discs were flipped to your color, and now they belonged to you.

The exciting thing about Othello was that the game could change dramatically at each turn. You could feel pretty confident that most of the board belonged to you, but with one strategically placed move, your opponent could end up flipping most of your pieces, sending you back to square 1 – so to speak.

Othello sold well in the U.S. throughout the 70s and 80s, and remains popular both there and around the world, especially in Japan. The World Othello Championship is held every year, and is a popular event attended by multiple countries.

Those people take their Othello very seriously, but most of us just played it because it was fun and easy to learn.

Every Othello box contained a warning that said: “Be advised: Othello may be habit-forming. We strongly urge you to eat and sleep between games.” There was certainly some truth to that advice, for Othello was one addictive game. It could fill you with elation one moment, then have you dumbfounded and angry the next, and that’s what makes for a great game.

Were you a fan of this addictive black and white game of strategy back in the day? We’d love to hear all of your Othello recollections in our comments section below.

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