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History of Four in a Row (Connect 4, Captain's Mistress)

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Four in a Row, more commonly known as Hasbro MB Games 'Connect 4' or Captain's Mistress is a ubiquitous but straightforward strategy game in which counters are dropped down vertical shoots with the objective of getting four counters in a row horizontally, vertically or diagonally.


It is not clear exactly when the first Four in a Row game appeared.

The earliest claimed ancestry is a legend surrounding early explorer Captain Cook. The author has spent some time investigating the veracity of this but has found no hard and fast evidence. The first appearance of the story found so far is on a version of the game called Captain's Mistress sold by North West Corner of Washington copyrighted in 1987. This company produced several historic games that have since been copied - a copy of the Captain's Mistress game was produced by British company Nauticalia for some years. On both versions it is stated that Captain Cook spent so much time stuck in his cabin playing the game against his fellow travellers naturalist Joseph Banks and botanist Daniel Solander on his voyages that it become known as the Captain's Mistress. Whether this was just a sales-led invention or if perhaps there is a grain of truth in it remains to be seen - please email if you come across any evidence either way...

More certain is that Milton Bradley (now Hasbro) started selling their massively successful version of the game called Connect 4 in February 1974 (1976 in Britain).

To the right is Robbie Bell's Four Balls game which he dated to the early 20th century. On the left is a Travel Captain's Mistress game by Nauticalia that sold until 2010.

But the game has certainly been around for much longer than that. In a book by Robbie Bell, there is a picture of a 4 in a row game that he calls "Four Balls". It is a wooden game made to exactly the same design as the Northwest Corner game earlier mentioned - the implication being that Northwest corner copied an earlier version. This is a higher quality example though being made from Mahogany with beech balls for pieces. Bell says that the date of the game is uncertain but he estimates that it is Edwardian c. 1901 - 1910. On the bottom of the game in gold lettering is inscribed "Remy Martin Cognac".


Modern Versions of Four in A Row

Apart from Hasbro's Connect 4, many modern games manufacturers make a version of Four in A Row from small cheap plastic travel versions to larger nicer looking versions in wood.

A recent trend since around the turn of the century has been the production of Giant versions of the game for parties - the UK company Garden Games market a version licenced by Hasbro called Giant Connect 4 (although it is called 'Up for It' in North America). A longer running competing product from Spanish company Feber is called 'Mega 4 in a Line' - another brightly coloured robust Giant version of Four in a Row that can be seen all over the place in garden centres and play areas etc. The old games company Jaques make a Four in a Row game called 'Score Four' that they also make in a very large version.

To the left is a 3D Four in a Row game called Score Four. To the right a giant version of Four in a Row called Mega 4 in a Line.

Another corollary game derived from Four in a Row is a 3D version of the game. This was first sold by a company called Funtastic in 1968 under the name Score 4 and again clones of it abound to this day - including the inevitable Hasbro version. The classic version of the game, however is made from wood and consists of a 4 x 4 grid of vertical poles sticking up from a board. Players drop wooden beads down the poles.


More Four in a Row

Masters Traditional Games have a comprehensive range of Four in a Row games including Giant Connect 4 and Mega 4 in a Line.

More information about Connect 4 can be had from a relatively inexpensive book entitled The Complete Book of Connect 4: History, Strategy, Puzzles by James Dow Allen.







Email to jm at tradgames.org.uk

Copyright 1997 - now by James Masters.