Finding old games
Desert Island Games
Letters to the Editor
Dexterity games are great equalizers. It doesn’t matter how great a tactical mind you have, or how silver-tongued you are, or how perfect your memory may be. It’s all about control over your body and an intuitive grasp of the laws of physics. Skills so basic, they appeal to us even as children. I recall countless hours playing such kids games as Air Trix, Topple, Bash, and Ants in the Pants, all of which emphasized physical attributes over mental ones. As adults, the appeal of dexterity games endures. Few games draw as large a crowd as Bamboleo or Carabande, and for good reason. They’re immediately comprehensible and easily approachable. Just as importantly, they’re attractive and distinctive. Arbos is the latest novelty to attract a gaggle of onlookers when played in public.
As the name implies, Arbos is about building a tree. There are no roots to contend with, but the trunk is quite enough to worry about. The simple hole-pocked wooden cylinder protrudes a bit through a ringed base. The result is a wobbly trunk that rests at an angle, supported by the edge of the ring. The whole structure tends to roll around the ring as its center of gravity shifts, creating an unstable platform for construction.
The pieces come in two flavors, green wooden leaves and natural wooden branches, each of which has a peg-like appendage at one end. The branches also have angled holes on their surface and another depression at the top end. A turn consists of adding a piece to the tree by inserting the peg end into a hole. Hopefully the rest of the structure remains intact and your turn ends, but pieces do not fit together tightly—these are very precarious perches. Misjudge the balance and the tree might pivot, upsetting the delicate balance and sending branches and leaves tumbling. Anything that falls gets added to your stock. The first player to use all his pieces wins.
The amazing thing about Arbos is how much the apparatus really does resemble a fichus tree as it grows. The simple wood pieces successfully create an arboreal illusion. Quite nifty, really, even if the game itself is rather pedestrian. The base can be adjusted to make the tree more or less stable. An intermediate position seems best— the game is best if the tree is allowed to grow a bit. Unfortunately if the tree only collapses occasionally, there’s insufficient redistribution of pieces to make the competition interesting. With more than four players you might as well eliminate anyone who causes more than two pieces to fall.
Fortunately the competitive element to a game such as this is secondary to the group experience. The fun comes from the collective moaning about the impossibility of making the tree grow any larger and the oohs and aahs when someone successfully builds on it anyway. It’s the tension of watching an acrobat walk the high wire—outwardly you’re rooting him on, but secretly you’re hoping for a grisly misstep. Arbos is about putting one foot in front of the other and making it across that wire.
The Game Report Online - Editor: Peter Sarrett (firstname.lastname@example.org)