by Derick Green
first published in the Games and Puzzles Journal issue 18, 2001

There are possibly as many board games as there are people who play them, but most are either variants of those played before them or old games with a new theme. Although there is nothing wrong with this as it keeps many good games alive, and in the case of variants many games evolve and some improve, it is very pleasing to find a game that is totally new in play and concept.

I discovered Watch back in the early 1980s and since then it has become one of the few games that I regularly play both face to face and postally. The copy I own, produced by the MPH Games Company (who claim to be the 'Making People Happy' people), is in an A4-size blue flat box covered in red and yellow lettering. The board and pieces are in good quality plastic. Watch, I have been informed was invented and produced in the mid to late 1970s. Unfortunately no designer has been credited. This was a common fault that I am glad to say has been rectified in most games produced over the last few years.

The box contains a 5×5 board that has the square a1 removed and replaced at the top of the board as the extra square b6. I can see no logical reason for this and no explanation is given in the rulebook. The board is white, with the squares outlined in black. Twenty five tiles in ten colours are used to decorate the playing surface; these are 1 dark green, 2 light green, 2 dark purple, 2 light purple, 2 pink, 2 dark blue, 3 orange, 3 yellow, 4 red, 4 light blue. Tile colours do differ slightly between sets, e.g. grey instead of light purple etc. Each player also needs a playing token, e.g. one black and one white pawn. Sets can be made by using painted draughtsmen and two pawns from a chess set, or indeed unpainted black and white draughtsmen.

The game is for two players and after deciding who will begin the game the players must 'dress the board'. To do this each player in turn must place one of the 25 coloured tiles on a square of the playing area in a random manner. While placing tiles each player should be thinking ahead, e.g. to the placing of their pawns and possible positions to capture the opponent's pawn. Once all the coloured tiles are in position, player A places the white pawn on any tile, followed by player B placing the black pawn. The black pawn may not initially be placed next to the white pawn (except diagonally) or on a tile of the same colour.

Each player in turn moves their pawn from one coloured tile to the next in an up, down or sideways direction, but never diagonally. Each time a player moves a playing pawn, the tile from which that pawn has just moved is removed from the board and the game. Moves are made between tiles regardless of the number of empty spaces there may be between those tiles.

A game is won when any of the following is accomplished: (1) A player moves onto the tile occupied by the opponent. (2) A player moves onto a tile of the same colour as that occupied by the opponent. (3) The opponent is unable to move. An interesting sales pitch mentions family tournament play, for which it recommends players buy several additional sets. Although Watch can be played as a single game, it is best played as a series of games with players keeping score from game to game. Each player should play the same number of games as both Black and White.

From experience I believe the game to be well balanced. Although the first player gets to place the 25th tile, the placement of this tile is already determined. There may be a small benefit in being able to place the first pawn, but this is offset by the second player being able to react by knowing which tiles surround the first player's pawn.

Thought must be given to tile placement, but a game can be won or lost on the placing of the pawns. For example, try not to place them on the edge of the board and certainly avoid b6. Avoid also having more than one tile of the same colour adjacent to your playing pawn both during initial placement and during game play. Game length varies considerably from two moves to the most I have seen in a game, that of twelve moves.

The scoring system may sound complicated, but means that the players' interest is maintained and that game scores can be carried over to the next tournament. With the aid of a few hand-made sets, I ran a 12-month tournament for a local games club, which worked very well. At the end of a game each player notes down the number of moves they have played, keeping a separate total for games within a series for Black and White. When that series has finished players compare totals. If a player has the lower total as White that player gains one point. The player with the higher total as Black gains one point. If each player has equal points in either Black or White each player gains half a point. However if both players have equal in both Black and White neither score.

Watch: Example Games.

Both the example games are from club play and played with a chess clock set at 10 minutes. The diagrams show the two arrangements of the coloured tiles

Game 1.
A:b1, e4, d4, c3, b5, d3, e3, c2, b3, e1, b4, a5, d2b3, c3, d3, d5, d2 wins
B:d5, a4, d1, b6, c5, e5, c2, a2, e3, a3, c1, b2d4, e4, c4, b4

Notes: (1) Set-up: It is often good practice not to place tiles of the same colour adjacent to each other on the board. The two light blue pairs b5/c5 and b2/c2 will act as barriers possibly directing play to the right of the board. (2) Player A achieves several things by moving onto the single dark green (c3). Player B can only move to the red on e4; any other move loses the game. The dark green is the only single tile and so player A is safe there and in the next turn will be able to move to d3 and c2 but not c4 or a3. (3) Player B has lost the game by becoming trapped between the light blue tiles. Player B's mistake was moving back onto the left side of the board. Better, but still losing, would have been :

A:b3, c3, d3, e3, e2, e4, c4, c2, d2 wins
B:d4, e4, e5, d5, c5, b5, b6, b4

Game 2.
A:b6, a4, b2, c5, b4, b3, d5, e5, e4, e3, a3, c4, a5c2, c1, b1, d1, d4, e4, c4, c5
B:e2, d4, d3, c1, c3, d2, e1, a2, d1, b1, c2, b5 d3, d2, e2, e3, c3, b3, b2, b4 wins

Notes: (1) Set-up: Both players have attempted during the set-up of the board to avoid placing tiles of the same colour adjacent to each other. (2) A's c2-c1 is a forced move. (3) Forced again is c1-b1. If c1-d1 then d2-d1 wins or if c1-c3 then d2-b2 wins. (4) B's e3-c3 restricts A's possible moves to d4-e4 only. (5) If scoring, the last two moves e.g. either c5-d5, b4-a4 or c5-b5, b4-b5 would be played out.