Missing Pieces: Squaring Off With Two Head-To-Head Retro Tabletop Games

Missing Pieces Square Off and Black Box

In Missing Pieces, we explore the thrift store shelves, searching out games from yesteryear that trigger our nostalgia, pique our curiosity, or just make us say, “What were they thinking?!”

Square Off

First up we have Square Off, the 1971 game from Parker Brothers that can go die in a fire.

OK, to be fair, it’s actually a pretty good game. Good enough, in fact, that it spawned other similar games such as the popular Rubik’s Race. To begin play, one player calls out a letter and the other rolls the die. The object is to create a path from the letter along the top to the number around the edge by sliding the tiles around the board. Once you complete a path, you pull the letter from the board and move on to the next letter. Whoever pulls the most letters wins.

My problem with the game is not in the premise, or the game play, or the mechanics. My issue is that it makes me feel old. Like, feeding pigeons in the park old.

Watching my kids play Square Off

Look, I understand it’s simply human biology that as we age, our reflexes slow. However, I don’t need some 40-year-old game reminding me that I’m no longer the young punk who would always win the hand slap game and who could consistently catch the dollar bill in the hold-your-fingers-apart-and-try-to-catch-the-dollar-when-I-drop-it game. Playing Square Off against my teenage sons, I could figuratively watch myself turning into Grandpa Simpson. By the third game, I could hardly resist the urge to hike up my pants and scream at neighbor kids to get off my lawn. I decided that was a fine time to bow out before I started buying groceries with pennies and voting Republican.

Black Box

blackbox

Another 1970s offering from Parker Brothers, but with no twitch skills required.

The object of Black Box is to find the five hidden balls in the fewest number of guesses. Player One marks five points on the game card using a wax crayon. They keep this card hidden. Player Two then begins by guessing a number. Drawing an imaginary ray from that number, Player Two tells Player One where that ray ends up. It will either hit a ball or exit the board by being diverted around the balls. A ray is diverted off in the direction of the corner which it hits.

From left to right: Hits, misses, and reflections
From left to right: Hits, misses, and reflections

A red marker indicates a hit, yellow indicates a reflection (exiting the board at the same place it entered), and the different shaped orange markers indicates where a ray enters and exits the board. Once a player is confident that they know the location of all five balls, they declare that they are finished. The guesser is given one point for each guess and is penalized an additional five points for a wrong placement. If the hider gave wrong information, the guesser is awarded -5 points for each wrong placement. Players take turns hiding and guessing, and the winner is the player with the lowest score.

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Like most vintage games, both Square Off and Black Box can be picked up online – if you’re willing to drop $25-$100. If you’re like me and lucky enough to find them for a couple of bucks each at your local thrift store, I suggest channeling your inner twitchy teenager and snatching them off the shelf as quickly as possible.

Randy Slavey lives near Denver, Colorado with his wife and two boys. When he's not writing code, you can usually find him behind a camera or on a trail in the mountains. Or both.