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Reversi – An Introduction and Beginner’s Guide

Reversi, or Othello as it’s most commonly known, may resemble the game of checkers, but it offers a vastly different gaming experience.

We’ll primarily be referring to Othello’s rules and accessibility as it basically took over the role of Reversi when it was patented in 1971, but there are a few subtle differences. We’re going to provide you with the history and evolution of Reversi in the next section, as well as the Othello comparison.

Regardless of what you call it, the concept is straightforward. You flank your opponent’s disc on both sides to convert it to one of yours. The discs are double-sided, so you flip over the pieces when ownership changes hands.

The attraction of Reversi is that it’s one of the absolute easiest games to learn, but it’s extremely challenging to master.

Once you’re a few moves in and the board begins to fill, you have a lot to watch and a strategy that’s ever-changing. You may have your next play set in your mind, but your opponent could change everything just through one optimal placement of a disc.

To play the primary game of Reversi or Othello at home, you don’t need to learn a complicated scoring system or memorize a lengthy list of rules. The objective is merely to end the game with more discs than your competitor. The one with the most discs is declared the winner.

The History of Reversi

Most of the time, when we put forth a story of a game’s origins, it’s relatively cut and dry. The game could have been derived from a more primitive one hundreds or even thousands of years ago. But the relatively new creator receives credit for the modern update.

It’s never been 100% established where Reversi originated. The less publicized theory is that it came from a Chinese game called Fan Mian.

Waterman and Mollett

The probable story of Reversi, though, is that it was created in England in the late 19th century by one of two men. Both Lewis Waterman and John W. Mollett claim ownership of Reversi as they both marketed somewhat similar games.

Waterman’s game was, indeed, named Reversi, though. It was also played on the same 8 x 8 square board used today.

Mollett produced a cross-shaped board with similar rules, and his invention was called Annexation.

Although Waterman’s is a closer fit, and he officially patented Reversi in 1888, Mollett declared foul, as his Annexation game dated back to 1870.

Goro Hasegawa and Othello

In 1971, Goro Hasegawa patented a new game named Othello in Japan.

Othello, named after Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, used an 8 x 8 board and two-sided black and white discs for the playing pieces.

Even though Othello is a close representation of Reversi, Hasegawa maintained that he was, instead, inspired by the game of Go. Go is an ancient Asian game of capture that uses black and white stones to differentiate between the sides.

Othello was produced by the Japanese game giant Tsukuda Corporation, but Hasegawa continued to promote the game. He established the Japan Othello Association and the first formal competition. He also secured a licensing deal with the US Anjar Corporation. Anjar was tasked with releasing the game internationally.

The combination of all three marketing efforts paid off well for everyone involved. More than 40 million Othello games have been in circulation, and the World Othello Championship is an annual global event.

In some countries, like Japan, there have even been televised and media-covered Othello competitions.

Goro Hasegawa passed away in 2016 at the age of 83. After his success with Othello, he had gone on to publish multiple books on the game’s strategy.

The Differences Between Othello and Reversi

Serious game players and historians may cite the differences between the games of Othello and Reversi as being significant, but most would agree that they are relatively minor. They’re mainly the same game with just a few tiny and relatively insignificant differences.

The Game Boards

While Reversi has been played with any color of board and all different colors of discs, Othello has a traditional color scheme. The board is always green. The double-sided discs are black and white.

The Start of the Game

Reversi doesn’t have a traditional starting point. It just mandates that players must start their play in the central four squares. Othello has two discs from each player diagonally placed in the center area, so the colors alternate.

The Legalities

Othello is a licensed game with a registered trademark. The name Reversi can be used by new game developers.

A Reverse to Reversi

These days, you will find Othello in multiple formats to accommodate online and mobile players. But it’s more common to see the original Reversi name used instead.

As Othello is a registered trademark, developers who converted the concept for the virtual play were able to do so with a few minor tweaks and by reclaiming its original Reversi branding.

Setting up a Game

As the Othello game set is much more prevalent, at least for in-person gameplay and not virtual, we’re going to refer to Othello and its starting position. As we just mentioned, the similarities between the two games make them near identical matches. It’s just the starting position that makes the most significant difference in the game itself, although it wouldn’t be apparent to you unless you’re an incredibly experienced player.

The Othello Set

An 8 x 8 game board – uncheckered and entirely green

64 discs – double-sided black and white

The Starting Game Position

A game of Othello starts with four discs in the center, four square section.

The discs are placed in alternating colors. So, the two black discs are diagonally set, and the two white discs are also diagonally positioned.

The starting position for a game of Reversi

Black Discs Play First

The player with the black discs will have the first opportunity to play. The color designation can be chosen by flipping one Othello disc or by flipping a coin.

As the black discs play first, the white will usually be last to act. In Othello, that’s an advantage called parity.

Popular Reversi Terms

When it comes to individual terms used in the game of Reversi or Othello, it’s not necessary to know them to play the game. But they do define some strategy. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: the rules are simple, but the game is challenging. Luck isn’t a factor as strategy is everything.

The following are a few commonly used terms that may help you to formulate your playing style.

Corners

Corners refer to the four corner positions on the board. They are the four safe spots in the game. If you can make your way to a corner, there’s no chance of your disc flipping. You’re in the clear.

Edges

The edges of the game board, although not assuredly safe, are better places for your discs to reside as it is more difficult to be flipped when you’re not wide open from all sides.

Mobility

Mobility is a state of play where you have flexibility in your gameplay as you’ve stayed open to plenty of options by forcing your opponent into not so good spots. You’ve laid the traps, and your competitor fell into them and is a bit more caged in, providing you with the controlling position.

Parity

Parity is the position of being able to make the last play of the game. The final Reversi play is a sure thing. It can’t be flipped.

Endgame

The endgame is the last third of the game, and it’s the time when flipping your opponent’s discs and retaining as many of yours as possible is vital. If you’re the player without parity, you want to protect your pieces so that the last move doesn’t result in more than one flip on your opponent’s behalf.

How to Play Reversi

As we mentioned right at the beginning, there aren’t a lot of rules associated with Reversi or Othello. In fact, when it’s your turn, there’s only one action that you can take.

You need to place a disc in a position where you can take control of your opponent’s disc or discs.

The way to flip a disc to your color is by flanking it on both sides. You can do that horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.

When it’s your turn, you must place a new disc in the final (second) flanking position that allows you to capture and flip the disc over to your side.

For example, let’s say you’re playing the black color, and there’s a horizontal line on the board that has a black disc, then a white disc, followed by an open space.

You could place your black disc on the open space, thereby flanking the white on both ends. You then flip the disc from white to black, and you now have three black discs in a row.

That’s the basic gameplay. Flank your opponent and flip the disc to your color.

There are a ways to secure multiple discs at once, though.

1Flank a continuous line of your opponent’s discs.

Using the scenario that we outlined above, let’s add a few white discs to the same line. So, instead of this:

Two discs on a Reversi board
Securing multiple discs at once in Reversi

It shows as this:

You would place your black disc in the open space to the right and turn over all three of the white discs at once.

2Place your disc in a position to turn over discs in two directions.

Let’s say that there’s an “L” shaped set up as follows:

Converting discs in both directions with one move in Reversi.

You could set your black disc in the open spot and then flip over the whites in both directions.

A Few Rules of Othello

There are just a few things to keep in mind.

  • Every disc you play has to result in you flanking at least one of your opponent’s discs. It’s not a legal move to just set down one of your discs without being able to flip one of his or her discs over at the same time
  • If you do have a legal move to make, you can’t just forfeit your turn. You have to make a play whenever one is available
  • A game isn’t over if one player doesn’t have a move but the other can still keep playing. After each play is made, the first player can re-evaluate and act if something new opens up on the next turn

Winning the Game

Whether you’re playing Othello or Reversi, the object of the game is to be the player who has the most discs on the board.

The game ends in one of three ways.

  • All of the discs are on the board
  • Both players no longer have a move to make
  • The time limit (if applicable) is reached

Usually, the game is played for an outright win. So, whoever has the most discs at the end of the game is the winner.

However, there are a few ways to score the game. They’re typically used in conjunction with tournament action, but they can be implemented with home games as well.

Option One: Points per Game

A simple way to score is to give the winner one point, the loser gets a zero, and a tie game is a ½ point for each.

Option Two: Points per Disc

Tournament finals tend to use a system of points that correspond to the discs that have been played. Obviously, the winner will have more discs on the board, so they will get a higher score right off the bat. But the winner will also count the empty or open squares as points.

So, if the black disc player has 40 discs on the board, and the white disc player has 20 discs on the board, the scoring would be as follows:

  • Winning player – black: 40 (discs) + 4 (open squares) = 44 points awarded
  • Losing player – white: 20 (discs) = 20 points awarded

In the case of a draw, each player gets 32 points. If a player is unable to complete the game, the winner gets 64, and the loser is left with a zero.

What Is the Best Strategy for Reversi?

Before we get into some specifics as far as tactics you can use to develop your winning strategy, let’s talk about dividing the game into thirds. You’ll want to approach your gameplay based on the part of the game you’re playing.

1The Opening and Early Game

The beginning of each game is a time to be cautious and reserved. You’ll want to be conservative when flanking your opponent.

It’s not the time to make big captures at this point because all you’re doing is leaving yourself with more exposure. You want to be selective about your positioning and try to set yourself up for more significant captures in your mid to late game.

2Mid-Game

In the approximate middle of the game, you’ll need to strike a balance between your offense and defense. The central point of a match is the time to head for the edges and the corners and flip as many of your opponent’s chips as you can without leaving yourself vulnerable.

You’re striving for mobility. That means you want as many options as possible while limiting those of the competition.

3Endgame

Mobility isn’t as important in the endgame. The final third (or so) is the time for you to claim as many discs as possible. You want to look for big plays and anything that will prevent the other player from making big moves on you. Parity, the last action of the game, can help make or break it in a close match.

Now that you have a general idea on how to approach the game as a whole, it’s time to look at some specific tactics that may give you the edge.

Play for the Corners

The one position that’s entirely safe for any disc is the corner. When you make it to one of the four corners, there’s no way for your opponent to have her disc on both sides of you, so you’ve made it to a safe haven.

Less Is More

Even though you want to end up with the most pieces on the board, you’ll want to save your big turnover for later in the game. In the beginning, you’ll want to keep your discs to a minimum. You don’t want to give your opponent the opportunity to flank a large number at a time and change the course of the game.

The Edges Can Give You the Edge

While there aren’t any genuinely protected spots aside from the corners, the edges are safer places because there are fewer ways to surround your discs. Staying the center leaves you vulnerable, so head for the borders.

Think About the Move After Yours

It’s not enough for you to find the best open space. You’ll want to think about how your action affects your player’s next decision. Balancing the offense with the defense could result in an easy victory for you.

Use Those Checker-Like Traps

You may have seen a checker player do multiple jumps all over the board and end up with the win, even from a losing position. The best players are patient and wait for the optimal time to strike.

In the second half of a game, it’s useful to prompt your opponent to make a particular move so that you, in turn, can make a better one. Allow him to line up as many as possible in one row, and then you can flank and turn over four or five discs at once.

The Last Move

Parity is the term used for the advantage given to the last player to act. In most games, the player with white discs will have parity. But if one player is unable to make a move at some point during the game, parity can shift. You want to strive to be the last to play as your last flank can’t be changed.

Alternative Reversi Boards

Although having an Othello game set is ideal, there are other things you can use to play the same game. The most common replacements for an Othello board are chessboards and checkerboards. You would ignore the checker pattern as it doesn’t apply in Othello or Reversi, but both boards are 8 x 8s, so they’ll work just fine.

The pieces aren’t as easy to replace, as you need 64 of them divided into two distinctive colors or patterns. The best substitutes are Scrabble tiles. One player can play the blank side, and the other will have letters. As there are 100 pieces in a Scrabble set, you’ll have plenty to use for Reversi.

More Reversi Games

Rolit

Rolit is an entirely different game marketed and sold separately. It features custom ball-like pieces that have four colored sides instead of the two-sided discs. Up to four players can participate, and the gameplay is mostly the same as Othello or Reversi. But with more people in the mix, there are additional challenges and opportunities for board domination.

Quasi

Quasi is an online four-player Reversi game or like internet-based Rolit. It provides four colors of discs and the same rules and objective as Reversi but adds more players to the virtual table.

Reverse Reversi

Reverse Reversi is played with the same board and two-sided discs. In fact, it’s the same game as traditional Reversi or Othello, but the winning objective is to have the fewest number of discs on the board at the end of the game.

It’s a flip on the strategy and forces you to play entirely differently, not only making timid moves but forcing your opponents into bigger plays. Keep in mind that, in Reversi, you have to flank your opponent when it’s your turn as long as you have an opening on the board. So, you can see how Reverse Reversi could be even more challenging, especially if you’ve been playing the standard game for a while.

Othello Online

If you prefer a virtual game of Reversi, you certainly have options. Whether you’re looking for a website, a mobile site, or an app, there are plenty of Othello games developed. Each offers some different graphics and a slightly different look, but they’re basically the same when it comes to the gameplay.

One thing to note is that you’re more likely to find the game listed under Reversi than Othello. You’ll even see other names like Revello used.

Othello is a registered trademark, so it’s not available for online production without express permission. Reversi, on the other hand, is not currently restricted, so game providers are free to offer it to players as long as they don’t label it as “Othello.”

Reversi Tournaments

  • The World Othello Federation was established in 2005 in Reykjavik, Iceland, and is currently officed in Stockholm, Sweden
  • The website states that “The World Othello Federation (WOD) is a federation of countries that seek to promote the game of Othello”
  • The Federation oversees 70 worldwide associations as well as hosts the annual World Othello Championship
  • Othello’s popularity is partially attributed to local associations. Goro Hasegawa initially promoted the new game through the establishment of the Japan Othello Association and its events and tournaments. The Japanese Association was formed in 1973 and hosted the very first national Othello championship one month after its inception
  • These days, there are established organizations in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. The WOF maintains player ratings and an international calendar of events
  • If you find that Othello is a game you’re excited about, and you want to better your play, joining a club or participating in a tournament may be a great way to test your skills and widen your circle of players

The Tragedy of Othello… Or Is It Reversi?

There’s only a handful of parlor and skill games that you can just jump right into with a ten-second explanation of the rules, and Reversi (or Othello) happens to be one.

Don’t let the simplicity fool you, though. The strategy is highly complex, and you can play for years and not master the game due to its delicate balance of offensive and defensive planning. It’s a game that you can play with your children or grandchildren for fun. You can also up your game and face off with an experienced competitor for a challenging match.

Grab a board, log on to your computer, or find an app on your smartphone. Reversi is everywhere, and if you think it sounds simple, you may be quite surprised.

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