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Dexterity Games for Those Without Any

Frank Branham

September, 2000

or...Gee Mr. Wizard, physics is fun!

I am a big fan of games requiring manual dexterity. Having grown up on a steady diet of classic videogames in my youth, games that actually test hand/eye coordination really appeal to me.


But that appeal is far from universal. Many of these games require carefully flicking a disk (Carabande), or taking a very steady hand to add or remove something from a stack (Jenga, Kapitan Wacklepudding). Many people I know just loathe these games. Some hate the basic idea, but many just do not seem to have the dexterity to play these games.

There are some games in this class that are not really dexterity games. That is, the games us real physics and balance, but do not require a steady hand to play. So, below are some examples of games that do not really require much in the way of dexterity.

Theta is a German company that makes absolutely beautiful games. Fire Their games include giant wooden pieces, and are designed to be visually pleasing. Fire is a great example of this. The game comes with a large wooden frame containing short dowels in 3 colors and sizes. When set up, the orange, red, and purple rods resemble a fire. Play is simple, the object is to push out rods from the structure that do not cause the rods above them to shift. There is no dexterity at all needed here, but quite a bit of staring at the structure to try and figure out which rods are not supporting any weight above them. The game comes down to a statics problem from hell, made trickier by a curved bottom to the frame, which requires a balance in distribution on the bottom of the stack to keep the entire mass from shifting.
BallastAnd for those who find Fire too simple, a less attractive but similar game on offer from Gigamic. Ballast has rods in various sizes enclosed in an acrylic ring. The evil bit here is the the ring is allowed to roll freely on the table, which makes the shift in weight much nastier to try and guess.
Theta has two other games that are TriBalance based entirely on a principle of balance. TriBaLance is basically a reverse Bamboleo (described later in this article.) Players take turns adding weights in various sizes to a triangular platter. In this game, you choose a weight and a space, and plop it down. If the plate still touches the table it is resting on after it balances out, you have to remove your piece. Once again, no dexterity required, but you must learn to choose your move carefully.
But for the most part, you don't want Tribalance because you can buy Saturn from Theta instead. Saturn does require a decent amount of dexterity to set up the game, but none to play. Players Saturn take turn placing varying sized balls on the three rings around a central base. The clever part is that each ring is balanced on another ring at a rotation of 60 degrees. And your move is invalid if any of the three rings touches the table. And a move on one ring may cause one of the other rings to shift wildly. (Our gaming group is filled with Georgia Tech students and alumni, all of whom are forced to take lots and lots of physics classes. Pulling out this game created a big stir with people staring at the arrangement and "oohing" and "aahing" for some time.)

Finally, our last game actually does require a small amount of dexterity to play but not too much. Bamboleo Bamboleo from Zoch Spiele is a large wooden platter which is carefully balanced on a cork ball. This is raised above the table on an 8" stand. (The game is available with round and cloverleaf platters as well as in a couple of giant versions.) The platter starts covered with lots of wooden pieces in various shapes and weights. Players take turns removing pieces, trying to avoid making the platter fall. Once again, Bamboleo it takes a bit of dexterity to set up. The actual play, on the other hand involves just removing objects form the platter. The part that requires dexterity is that this needs to be done S-L-O-W-L-Y. Not painfully slowly, but with enough care that the platter does not suddenly begin swinging about because a large chunk of weight has been ripped off of it. As a nice touch, Zoch includes two cork balls with different diameters which varies the skill level of the game significantly.

So there do seem to be a few games out there that would work. And I know I have missed lots of games. (Ideal did zillions of games during the 60s and 70s about which I know very little. Goldsieber also recently released a game called Golf Masters which uses a small weighted golfer.) If you know of a good choice, email me ( and I'll track down a copy for my collection.

- Frank Branham

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