Back in the Day: Score Four

The launching point for my voyage into abstracts

I can trace my love of abstracts to Score Four.

The game was released in 1967, and based on the cover art (seen in the header, above), my mother must have bought me a copy shortly thereafter. The box was an off-white, with a charcoal-like drawing of the board and containers for the wooden beads. (Tubes that were too small to work well.)

Score Four is a 3D, four-in-a-row game played on a 4×4 grid with thin metal rods at each of the 16 points. On your turn, you’ll place a wooden bead in your color (light or dark) on any one of the rods. Each rod can hold up to four beads. 

You win if you can create a four-in-a-row in any one of the following ways: 

  • Across any horizontal row at any level
  • Across any vertical row at any level 
  • Up any vertical post
  • Diagonally across and up any row

The game is decidedly simple, with no surprises. If you played it today, you’d be underwhelmed. 

However, it was the perfect game for a single-digit-aged me back in the late 1960s. I played Score Four with anyone who would agree to play it with me. (I suspect many did so just to keep me from bugging them to play) More importantly, I learned how to study the board. I recognized patterns—and how I could create certain patterns and turn them into winning moves. 

I also formulated My First Theory of Abstract Games*: Players win either because their opponent makes a mistake or by creating a double-win. (My phrase for a move that created two ways of winning, meaning if one way was blocked, I could still win with the other move.)

One August in the mid-70s, while on vacation with my family, I sat out on the porch and played multiple games of Score Four with my father. Growing up, he’d repeatedly beaten me at Nine Men’s Morris, (or Mill, as his version was called) but I won every game of Score Four against my dad that evening. 

It was a real accomplishment—one I even appreciated as it was happening. I knew I understood the game so well that I needed to find another game to challenge me.

Looking back, Score Four is probably part of the reason I think I should be better at most abstracts than I am.

* This is the updated name. Back then, there were no Abstract Strategy Games, there were only games

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About the author

Tom Franklin

By day, I'm a mild-mannered IT Manager with a slight attitude. By night I play guitar & celtic bouzouki, board games, and watch British TV. I love abstracts, co-ops, worker placement and tile-laying games. Basically, any deep game with lots of interesting choices. 

You can find my middle grade book, The Pterrible Pteranodon, at your favorite online bookstore.

And despite being a DM, I have an inherent dislike of six-sided dice.

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