The Chess Variant Pages



Smess

Also known as All the King's Men and Take the Brain.

Smess was created by sit-com writer Perry Grant, and it was produced in 1970 by Parker Brothers. It was also published under the name Take the Brain, which was apparently the British name for it. Take the Brain was identical to Smess except for the name. In 1979, Parker Brothers released All the King's Men, which was mostly the same game as Smess but with a completely new look. While Smess and Take the Brain were both based on a motif of childishness and mild insanity, All the King's Men was based on a medieval motif. This was presumably an attempt to market Smess to people who had thought of it merely as a children's game. While I played Smess as a child and continued to think well of it as an adult, I can understand that some people may have dismissed the game as a children's game without ever playing it. It was, after all, presented as a dumbed-down version of Chess for children and morons. The name Smess was an irreverent parody of Chess, and its subtitle was The Ninny's Chess. Despite this, Smess proved to be a very good game for both children and adults, as well as ninnies and brains. And it should be understood that the name Smess and the presentation of the game were meant in fun, and taken in that spirit, they add to the enjoyment of the game. Smess did not take itself as seriously as All the King's Men later did, but this was part of the fun of playing Smess.

Board & Setup

This is the initial setup for Smess and Take the Brain. Close inspection reveals that the board for All the King's Men is slightly different. Where there are one-way hand-shaped arrows on the Smess board's b and f files, the board for All the King's Men has two-way arrows. You can see this by inspecting the photo of All the King's Men shown further below. Aside from this difference, the boards for Smess and All the King's Men have the same configuration of arrows.


Image created using Fergus Duniho's implementation
of Smess as a Zillions of Games rules file

Pieces


Ninny
Moves one square in the direction indicated by the square it's on.

Numskull
Moves any number of squares in the direction indicated by the square it's on. May not jump other pieces.

Brain
Moves one square in the direction indicated by the square it's on. If captured, you lose!

Rules

The object is to capture the Brain. Like Chess, this is a turn-based game in which you move one piece per turn on a checkered board. But unlike Chess, the Smess board has arrows on every space, and these arrows indicate which directions a piece may move. Ninnies and Brains each move one space in any direction indicated by one of the arrows on its space. Numskulls ride in a straight line in any direction indicated by one of the arrows on the space it begins its move from. When a Ninny reaches one of the spaces that a Numskull began on, it promotes to a Numskull. The rules are ambiguous on whether it must be a captured Numskull. The official rules say "It is removed from the board and replaced with a NUMSKULL which had previously been captured." But this may just be a line of instruction telling players what to do when a Ninny promotes to a Numskull. In the Zillions implementation by Fergus Duniho, the rule is interpreted without any restriction, allowing any Ninny to promote to a Numskull when it reaches a Numskull space. Although it's included in the official Smess rules, I have not found the promotion rule in the official rules for All the King's Men. So these two games may have slightly different rules.

Pictures

Here are some pictures of an actual Smess board. This board belongs to Fergus Duniho.


Smess board without pieces.
Click on image to display larger version.

Smess board with pieces.
Click on image to display larger version.

All The King's Men Set

Here is a photo of an All the Kings Men set:

All The King's Men Rules

Here is a photo copy of the rules for All the Kings Men:

Zillions of Games

Smess may be played with Zillions of Games.


Written by David Howe and Fergus Duniho. Smess board courtesy of Fergus Duniho. All the King's Men Set Photo and Rules courtesy of David Vander Ark.
WWW page created: August 21, 1999. Last modified: December 13, 2000.