Good afternoon Folks,
For those who still don’t know Reversi and Othello’s history, I’ll summarize it to you:
- Reversi was created in 1876 by John W. Mollet, from England, and was called "Annexation", and sold by F.H. Ayres, using a cross shaped board. In 1883, also from England, Lewis Waterman created Reversi, which was sold by Jacques and Sons, using an 8 x 8 board (with 64 playing position), but in both games the positioning of the 4 central discs depended on player’s criterion, and both game had the same opponent disc trapped turning mechanics. There were several disputes between Waterman and Mollet for the game copyright. During the 20th century it was manufactured by many companies around the world, almost always being called Reversi;
- In 1971, Goro Hasegawa creates Othello, playing on a 64 playing positions board, and the discs with reversed colors in the middle. He said he has never heard of Reversi, even though both play the same way. Hasegawa made the game popular around the world, creating the Japanese Othello Association in 1973 and the World Championship, being held since then.
Both origins have been mentioned for years. Recently, a new version showed up (speculated since 1981, but never take into account) that Reversi and Othello might be originated in China.
The alleged author for this hypothesis, Elvin O. Harbin, published in his book "Games of many nations", from 1953, edited by Abingdon Editions, that a game called Fan Mien has the same physical appearance and playing mechanics as Reversi, with the only minor difference that the discs are green and red in the example mentioned. In the link below I present the pages of the book I acquired, but it is also available as a full book at archive.org (https://archive.org/details/gamesofmanynatio00harb). That generated some discussion, as this version was not mentioned before. But let’s analyze this origin:
- Harbin was a priest, with experience with children games. For many of the games mentioned in the book, he mentions a person who was from the country or lives in the country of the game. In the book, no one that knows the game is mentioned;
- Harbin’s book is the only western book that mentions Fan Mien. All citations are done later and always refer to the same Harbin’s book. In the east, most books are usually Japanese, and don’t even mention Mollet and Waterman origin, only mentioning Hasegawa as creator;
- By the time the book was published, Reversi already existed all around the world, and as it didn’t have copyright in many countries, it was sold with different names. As a hypothesis, a Reversi game called Fan Mien might have eisted in China in 1953, but not necessarily before;
- Harbin’s book does not mention in any moment when the games was created or that it was created in China, only that it was played there;
- Consulting the BoardGameGeek website, the largest site for board games in the world, that even has an article about modern and older chinese games, there is no mentioning Fan Mien, even though many millennia old games were;
- I consulted with the chinese board games article author at BoardGameGeek, Taylor Lyss, that researched several sources in the internet, and he hasn’t heard of a game similar to reversi.
So, as there is no definite proof that Fan Mien came before Reversi, as this is not even mentioned in Harbin’s book, we can’t say the Fan Mien was a precursor of Reversi, only that it is a version of the game played in China.
Mentioning Waterman and Mollet, or at least one of those:
- MOHR, Merilyn Simonds. The Game Treasury - More than 300 indoor and outdoor favorites with strategies, rules and traditions. Chapters Publishing, Shelburne. 1993. pag 51-52.
- BELL, Robert Charles. Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations. 1960. 2 volumes. (https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=5viitl9PvBoC&printsec=frontcover&dq=the%20board%20games%20book&hl=en&sa=X&ei=HR5NU7HLLYjaOb-8gfgL&authuser=0#v=snippet&q=reversi&f=false)
- BERLEKAMP, Elwyn R., CONWAY, John H., GUY, Richard K. Winning Ways for your mathematical plays. CRC Press, 2001. 4 volumes.
That mentions Fan Mien as possible origin of Reversi (notice that they are all done after Harbin’s book, as only source of information):
- HINEBAUGH, Jeffrey P. More board games education: inspiring students through board games. Rowan and Littlefield, 2019. pag. 25-28. (https://books.google.com.br/books?id=GPd7DwAAQBAJ&pg=PA27&lpg=PA27&dq=%22fan%20mian%22%20reversi&source=bl&ots=B0XvuTSabd&sig=ACfU3U3ScYlG1VRmwf3MHNSnFZ2rn6xdRA&hl=pt-BR&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiai5aQsOvhAhUNGbkGHRGHBbAQ6AEwCHoECAkQAQ&authuser=0#v=onepage&q=%22fan%20mian%22%20reversi&f=false)