Straits is a chess-like game created by Anne Marriott Watson and patented in 1893 (now in the public domain). Not much is known about Anne Marriott Watson other than what is in the first paragraph of the patent:
“Be it known that I, Anne Marriott Watson, a gentlewoman, a subject of the Queen of Great Britain, residing at Parkins’ Land, Eastleigh, Southampton, in the county of Hants, England, have invented a new or Improved Game, or which the following is a specification.”
I discovered Straits perusing boardgamegeek.com and was immediately fascinated by the hourglass shaped board and pieces.
The rules are fairly simple and there are only 4 types of pieces.
- 1 Flag ship - moves like queen in chess (figure 2).
- 7 Turret ships - moves like a rook in chess (figure 3).
- 8 Torpedo boats - moves like a bishop in chess (figure 5).
- 3 Gun boats - (a pawn-like piece) moves 1 square any direction but can only capture diagonally (figure 4).
The winning condition is to either move your Flag ship into the center square or checkmate the other player’s Flag ship.
With a desire to recreate this game, I started modeling the pieces in Tinkercad so that I could 3D print them.
It was this process where I started noticing some interesting similarities with the piece’s chess counterparts. For example, the Gun boat with its sphere top resembles a pawn. The Flag ship is a tallest piece which makes it easy to remember as the most important. The Turret ship with it’s cylindrical flat top looks almost like a rook piece. And finally the Torpedo comes to a point at the top much like a bishop. It’s impossible to say if these designs were done this way intentionally. But I can imagine a game designer thinking of a way to provide visual clues to remember how each piece moves. In fact, this is how I remember when playing the game.
Next, I needed the board. I did a quick sketch using Excalidraw. It does the job, but at some point I would love to have a nicer looking board.
With the pieces and board printed, I was able to play a few rounds and really enjoyed it! Before discovering Straits, I had no idea who Anne Marriott Watson. Recreating her game almost felt like a journey of getting to know her. It’s amazing to think that this game may not of been played in over 100 years, but with a little curiosity and modern day technology, I was able to bring it back from the forgotten depths of expired patents.
Feel free to grab all the files from the Straits BoardGameGeek page. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.