Kensington was a bit of a chance find in the charity shop. Bonn collects vinyl, so he always keeps an eye open for it and when he first picked up Kensington that’s what he thought it was. Kensington is certainly packaged differently to any other board game I’ve come across. The board is inside what looks like an LP sleeve and as it was a game from the 70s I’m guessing that this was done so that it would just slip inside a record rack, which most people seemed to have then. You could almost imagine someone pulling it out with a flourish after deciding what record to put on after dinner.
History of the game
Kensington is described as an abstract strategy game and it was devised by two British guys who, according to the blurb on the back of the game, seemed rather proud of their creation.
“Kensington is the brilliant outcome of arduous research by two eccentric British friends to develop a game of pure skill that can be easily learnt and as enjoyably played by children and adults in each and every country of the world.”
The Kensington board is supposedly based on a design found in flowerbeds in London’s Kensington Gardens, and that’s where the name of the game comes from. It is a geometrical board based on a rhombitrihexagonal tiling pattern, which means that it contains hexagons, surrounded by alternating triangles and squares. All these patterns interlock. The board has a total of 7 hexagons on it. Three at the middle coloured white, two red ones at one side and two blue ones at the other side.
Set up of the game
The two players (or the two teams) in the game are allocated either red or blue and are given 15 counters of their colour. The game starts with all counters off the board. Once play is ongoing counters are positioned on the corners of the triangles, squares and hexagons on the board.
Aim of the game
The aim of Kensington is for you to surround one of the hexagons (either a white one, or one of your colour) with one counter on each corner.
How to play
Play falls into one of two phases. In phase 1 each player takes turns to position one of their counters on the board. Once this stage is complete you move on to the imaginatively titled phase 2.
In phase 2 players take it in turns to move one counter at a time on the board. To move a counter you can slide it along one of the green lines to an adjacent corner position.
The twist in the game is that if you make a move that means you take control of either a triangle or a square on the board (by occupying all three or four corners) you can then move one (or two if you’ve taken control of a square) of your opponent’s counters. The rules sounds a bit vague here, but having checked online, you are allowed to pick up any counter(s) and put them on any unoccupied position anywhere on the board.
What we thought of Kensington
At first we were a bit bemused by the whole game. We started off by putting our counters on the board, without really knowing, or understanding, where was “good” to position them. We also then went on to make the mistake of forgetting about what happens when you take control of a square or triangle. The game’s quite dull if you do that!
Once we’d checked the rules again, and realised what we were doing wrong, we understood better the advantages of positioning yourself so that you can keep taking triangles and squares, and the advantage that gives you in the game. Suddenly you go from something quite pedestrian, to a much more challenging and tactical game.
We can certainly now see why it was compared to chess and draughts in terms of the strategic gameplay needed to try to win.
Online research (thank you BoardGameGeek) suggests that the version of Kensington we found was actually the second one released. The first came in a traditional board game box and also included 20 of each colour counter, rather than the 15 we have. I understand that made the game even harder, as there was less space on the board to move, or reposition, counters to.
I also came across a Commodore 64 version of the game (on cassette, of course) which vaguely rang some dim bells from childhood. Although I seem to recall it being quite dull and I’m pretty sure that playing against a computer (who would be making their moves following very specific rules) would be somewhat harder.
The game’s instructions include variants for four and six players. In each case you still have a total of two teams, with each player being allocated a certain number of counters (8 in a two player game and 5 in a three player game). Players then work in a team, but do not communicate with their other team members. Based on my experience of needing to concentrate on what you are doing in Kensington I can’t imagine it being a very sociable game to play with six players. More of a strange silence descending on a dinner party.
As I touched upon at the start of this post, the version of Kensington we have is in a record sleeve design. Whilst the board fits nicely inside, this it does mean that the playing pieces are rather strangely attached to the back cover. To be honest they are a complete pain to get out of here, and if you were playing it regularly I can see the packaging getting quite damaged by repeated attempts to get the counters out.
Kensington – the facts
Kensington was published in 1979 by Whale Toys Ltd, and was designed by Brian Taylor and Peter Forbes. It is for either two players, or two teams, which can each have either two or three players in them (so four or six players in total). The recommended age range on the packaging is 7 – 107. I’m not convinced that all 7 year olds would get the strategy aspect of the game, but they certainly would understand the rules of play.
A secondhand version of Kensington is currently available on Amazon here, with further copies available on eBay. Interestingly, Amazon also have available a book with the title Winning at Kensington. Priced at £48 I’m not going to be rushing out to buy a copy, but I’d certainly keep an eye open for it when doing my usual trawls of charity shops and secondhand book shops!
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