I like testing – by which I mean in this case I like investigating and understanding things – and so it’s not surprising that over the years I keep coming back to a few games that revolve around trying to work out what’s going on faster than someone else. Penultima is one of these.
The rules are pretty simple:
Two players sit down at a chessboard and play a game of chess. They take turns to play a move and the aim for each is to capture the opponent’s king. However, the rules for each piece are known only to a third (or more) player who acts as both spectator and umpire.
On their move, a player attempts to make a valid move until such point as they succeed in a valid (though not necessarily good!) move. Then it’s the other players turn. They continue until one checkmates the other.
As a group we’ve tend to play such that the spectator/umpire names all the pieces to both players up front, where the names produce a theme and give hints as to how they might move.
Part of what makes this interesting, is not just that you’re trying to explore, discover and understand what’s going on, you’re trying to keep your understanding secret! That means that you want to test your understanding in subtle ways – not just blandly play the best moves you think you’ve got. On the other hand – you’ve also got to play the game, so don’t waste time making terrible moves!