Half Term Family Event in Newport, 22 February 2019

We were pleased to meet two new families at today’s event, as well as seeing some familiar faces.

We played a selection of ancient games (Picaria, Five Field Kono), 1980s classics (Space Faces, Stay Alive, Rubik’s Race), and modern games (Ghost Blitz, Rainbow Rage, Acquisition, Spot It Jr.! Animals, Frog Rush).

All these different types of games were popular, some for the speed of thought processes, some for working out the best strategy, and some for grappling with the luck of the dice.

This was a successful event, with all the families telling us how much they enjoyed the chance to play games new to them.

Newport, 15 February 2019

Today at our Adult Board Games Club we played an ancient game new to us – Moving Tigers, from Nepal, where it is called Bagh Chal. This is an asymmetric abstract strategy game. It is asymmetric in two ways: the players have a different number of pieces, and a different way of winning. One player has four tigers, which start on each corner of the board. The other players has 20 goats, which start off the board. The tigers win by capturing five goats. The goats win by blocking the tigers so they cannot move. The goats do not capture: they move around the board trying to block the tigers. The game board is identical to Alquerque.

The goats are placed on the board one by one wherever they choose. In between, the tigers move around the board, in any direction, to the nearest available intersection. Once all the goats are on the board they can move to the nearest available intersection. Tigers capture in a way similar to draughts – they jump over a goat in a straight line and land on an empty intersection.

We played two games, swapping roles between tigers and goats. In both games the tigers won. I have won this game in the past playing goats, but today I was not able to fully implement my goat strategy: I missed a crucial opportunity, starting losing goats and was then doomed to lose.

Other games played today were Foxy, Brainline, Draughts, Push and Picaria Quad.

St Thomas of Canterbury, 8 February 2019

This week at Bletchley Juniors we learnt about The Shadow’s Code.


The Shadow was a pulp fiction hero from 1930s America. He dressed all in black, lurked in the shadows, and leapt out to perform heroic deeds in his war on crime. Stories about The Shadow often included codes, and the following one from ‘The Chain of Death‘ is rather cunning.


Each letter of the alphabet has its own symbol. There are four direction symbols (straight up, turn right, upside down and turn left) which show which way up the key needs to be held. This means each letter can be encoded up to four different ways, depending on how many lines of symmetry the symbol has (E and F both have two lines of symmetry, so only encode in one way). This is an example of a polyalphabetic substitution cipher. Is the fact that the most frequent letter in the alphabet – E – always encodes the same way a bit of a flaw?

I had great fun preparing the material for this session. I chose song lyrics from Disney films as my ciphertext, and enjoyed listening to the songs on You Tube to help me decide which ones to include. I have to include a link to my favourite – ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King‘ from The Lion King.


Some of the children found this code harder than I expected them to. We usually do a decoding example together on the whiteboard before I hand out the ciphertexts, but that wasn’t possible this week: I drew each symbol on the whiteboard but did not put a letter next to each symbol due to the fact that it depends which way up the key is held. The children did get the hang of it, once they remembered to always look for the direction symbol. I had made this easier by using red for the direction symbol and black for the letter symbols.

Our second code this week was the Knot Code. This ancient code involves tying knots in a piece of thread or string, and sewing it inside an item of clothing to be worn by the messenger, where it would be found, removed and decoded by the recipient. For the key, I made a long strip of paper and wrote on it every letter of the alphabet at 4cm intervals. For the ciphertext I used the name of Disney films. I took a long piece of string, lined up one end to the left edge of the paper strip, held down the string until it reached the first letter of the ciphertext and tied a knot at this point. I then moved this knot to the left until it touched the left edge of the paper strip, and again held down the string until it reached the second letter I wanted and tied a knot. I repeated this process until I had encoded each ciphertext. If your ciphertext includes lots of letters from the end of the alphabet you will end up with a very long piece of string! The children enjoyed exploring this unusual method of communicating a message. One boy asked to take home a long piece of string and the key so he could encode his own message at home.

We are taking a three week break from Bletchley Juniors due to an inset day and half-term.

Newport, 8 February 2019

At our Adult Board Games Club we played chess for the first time. I had not played for some time, and was rather rusty, but I remembered to take control of the centre of the board and develop my pieces. Luckily my opponent missed my blunder which should led to me losing my queen. I gained a lot of material and was able to find a checkmate.

We also played Draughts, Foxy (which we played for the first time three weeks ago and really enjoyed) and Picaria Quad, the game we invented as a family and sold as part of our games pack.

St Thomas of Canterbury, 1 February 2019

We explored the Pigpen cipher at Bletchley Juniors this week. I had written a different riddle in pigpen for each child. I asked them what a riddle was. The answers were a little unclear so I explained that it takes the same form as a joke (a question followed by an answer) but is designed to make them think hard and/or creatively to get the answer, which may involve a double meaning. I gave each child their riddle and the pigpen key, and asked them to decode the ciphertext question, think about the answer, then turn over and decode the ciphertext answer. An example was: ‘What starts with an ‘e’, ends with an ‘e’ and has one letter in it?’. Of course the answer is ‘envelope’! The child with this riddle had a Eureka moment when they understood the answer.

To introduce some variety we played a game in the second half of the session. I chose Zoo’s On Top as it involves both players (we actually played in teams) setting an animal code and trying to be the first to crack the other side’s code. It is a good game of deductive reasoning, a key skill for codebreakers. Each team chose four animal tiles and slid them into their zoo tower, in an order of their choosing, to set their code. Each team took turns asking questions with Yes or No answers, with an extra turn given when the answer was Yes. An example was ‘Is the kangaroo above the gorilla?’. Each team had four cardboard animal tiles to replicate the other team’s choice of tiles and help keep track of the information gained, which was used to deduce the animal code.

With four tiles in the code, it did not take very long for a team to win. We then increased the difficulty by using five animal tiles. This game lasted quite a bit longer and the children required a bit of guidance to help think about the possibilities of where each tile could go. We did have a winning team, but the other team would have won on their next go when it was their turn to give the solution!


Family Board Games Event at Lord Louis Library, 26 January 2019

Today we held our first event at Lord Louis Library. We had a space in the children’s library for 90 minutes, set up several tables and chairs, and put out lots of games for people to try. Games from around the world included Picaria, Five Field Kono and Mancala. Games from our 1970s/80s childhood included Foxy, Stay Alive and Rubik’s Race. We also had Bridg-It, Joggle, 3D Noughts and Crosses and Spot It Jr.! Animals. We set aside two tables for the children to practice Ghost Blitz (versions 1 and 2), in preparation for the 2019 Ghost Blitz Championship. My friend could not have put it better when she said this game is fabulous for the children’s cognitive development. Read one of my previous blog posts for a full description of the game.

As we were approaching the end of the event, I decided it was time to start the 2019 Ghost Blitz Championship. Six children entered, all aged from 8 to 11. I had chosen 20 cards from Ghost Blitz 1 which were all of the type where both items are the wrong colour. This was an individual timed challenge, with each child competing against the stopwatch to be the fastest to get all 20 cards right. The winning child had an impressive time of 65 seconds. I gave prizes to all six children. The look on their faces as they received their prizes and applause was genuine and heart-warming, and made the whole event worth the effort of organisation and planning that went into it.

We enjoyed the opportunity to meet new families and show people the games that we enjoy so much. Thanks to the Friends of Lord Louis Library for their help in publicising this event.