Apr 07

TAKE THE BRAIN: we explore and support the concept of STUPID CHESS

FT + TMFD31 comments • 11,556 views

smessi. “take the brain” was aggressively marketed in 1970, with ads which mainly (as i recall) featured kids yelling “TAKE THE BRAIN!!” in a “crazy” way, and the pieces being wackily wiggled at the camera. I wz a sucker for EVERY boardgame and fell for this. It was not a hit in the family — I don’t actually recall EVER playing it (however see point ix)
ii. it is a highly simplifed chess — the board is seven squares across to eight deep; each side has in effect a king (the brain), four queens and seven pawns (which become “queens” if they reach the eight rank)
iii. but unlike chess, the board is not uniform — click on the image to see how each square is marked with the directions a piece is allowed to go
brainiv. this has a massive and unpredictable effect on strategy — and (at least initially) puts actual real capable chessplayers at a disadvantage to chess-allergic opponents who sat down for the first time at the TtB board
v. as we discovered, playing it at the poptimism all-dayer yesterday, it’s really QUITE HARD to remember you can’t move except according to the arrows glaring you dayglo-ishly in the face — pieces look vulnerable which aren’t (and vice versa, since the “pawns” can move backwards if the arrows say they can))
vi. you sit, glowering at the array of pieces, thinking “WHY AM I EVEN APPLYING THOUGHT TO THIS STUPID GAME!?” — it rather dazzlingly undercuts the reverence and awe that a millennium of strategy, brilliance and nerdy grief has condensed into old-skool chess, which i at least sort of enjoyed (i think the element cementing the indifference is that you feel the array of arrows is almost certainly arbitrary)
vii. presumably a lot of time spent would produce gambits appropriate to the board’s somewhat random terrain and learned tomes on endplay — BUT SURELY NO ONE WILL EVER DO THIS!
viii. i assumed the game sold poorly and was not recommissioned — but googling provides more information: it was designed by sit-com writer PERRY GRANT; it was marketed in the US as SMESS; and re-packaged later in the 70s in a less frenetically wacky manner as ALL THE KING’S MEN
ix. i beat pete baran and martin skidmore — i attribute this to PURE LUCK, as, despite owning the game for 37 years it had remained unwackily in its box… i txted my sister to check: “did we ever actually play TAKE THE BRAIN?”; she replied “we did — i won”

UPDATE: ps i should have noted that, as well as “King” = THE BRAIN, queens” are called NUMSKULLS and “pawns” are called NINNIES — SMESS seems to have been described as “Ninny Chess” in some of the er literature


  1. 1
    Tommy Mack on 7 Apr 2007 #

    Do the Queens and King have greater freedom of movement than the pawns or does each piece move only one square at a time, according to the arrows?

    God, I’m ashamed of myself for even wanting to know this.

  2. 2

    “king” can only move one square; “queens” can move as far as board allows, except they can’t jump other pieces (ie must either stop this side of another piece, or — if it is an opponent’s piece) take it

  3. 3
    Tommy Mack on 7 Apr 2007 #

    Crikey, so Queens could gib about all over the shop as long as there was nothing else in the way.

    Can pawns move sideways?

    It is a deep, deep shame.

  4. 4

    they can go any direction the arrows let them (click on the image for a map of this)

  5. 5
    jeff w on 10 Apr 2007 #

    I have definitely played this game once. I have 0 memory of when – it must have been later than 1970 tho – or whose game it was, but just the mention of Numskulls brought it all back.

  6. 6
    Maria on 28 Jan 2008 #

    does anyone know where i can buy this game. Loved it as a kid

  7. 7
    tim on 20 Sep 2008 #

    I still have this game in its box but a missing one numskull. Didn’t know wether to throw it or keep it.

  8. 8
    Joe on 28 Nov 2008 #

    I still have this game and play it at least every month. I let slip once I own it in mint condition btw and a friends dad offered me £50 there and then for it, lol. They should bring it back, it was so cheap but anyone can have a go because unlike chess the moves are defined by the board so it’s so much easier than chess because aslong as a square doesn’t have an arrow pointing at you you’re safe!

  9. 9
    Mike on 11 Dec 2008 #

    I really liked the game when I was little (Im 43) and mothers being what they are, mine never throws anything away, with the result my neices enjoy trying to beat uncle Mike. And want to take it home with them
    So being uncle Mike , and fairly nice at times, Ive tried to get a second hand edition. £60 off ebay!!
    I looked into printing the game board up and getting the pieces cast in resin, and even that came to about a ton. Would almost have been cheaper to get it cast in bronze and silver (that worked out at about £120 for the figures)

  10. 10
    Jilana on 27 Dec 2008 #

    I too loved this game as a child and would dearly like to find a copy for my children to play with.

  11. 11
    Rachel on 27 Apr 2009 #

    I love Take the Brain! The Ninnies look like Ralph Wiggum in the Simpsons lol

  12. 12
    Christine on 22 Jun 2009 #

    I loved this game and i kept it untill it disappeared a few years ago iI think someone borrowed it. I want it back

  13. 13
    Alex on 9 Oct 2009 #

    Ha ha, my dad was mad for this as a kid and got me into it, i agree it is nothing compared to the pure brilliance of chess, but it does have a certain cheesy fun element to it. I think we got lucky on ebay and got it for £14 but it can be very expensive.

  14. 14
    HR Pufinstuf on 19 Dec 2009 #

    I’m a keen on-line chess player but I loved my christmas persent of Take The Brain when I was a kid. It disappeared ( someone indeed did take the brain!) and have been looking on and off for years to buy it for younger members of my family. Reading your comments above made me laugh and its good to know I’m not alone!

  15. 15
    David b on 9 Jan 2010 #

    I’ve owned this game for39 years and it comes out every Christmas, it’s great fun and we always have a tournament, I am always amazed at the reaction of people who have never seen it. My kids play it. And I hope one day there’s will as well. D.

  16. 16
    Mark Wheelhouse on 4 Apr 2010 #

    I have just found my “Take The Brain” board game I had when I was a kid.It is in very good condition with all the pieces and the rules.The box lid was split on the corners but I have repaired it.I am open to offers if anyone wants to buy it.My mobile number is 07909113055.

  17. 17
    John on 23 Sep 2010 #

    This was one of my all time favourite boardgames… simply because it turns chess players to mush. I even went as far as producing a ‘de-luxe’ version, some years back containing 6″ pieces that I cast from moulds and housed in a suitably over-the-top wooden case, which folded out to reveal the board (half on each side of the case). I still have it and my daughter (nearly nine) is almost at the point where she’s a real threat, when we play! John, Wakefield, UK

  18. 18
    Tracy Chappell on 15 Nov 2011 #

    I have just found the game at my parent’s house but the rules are not with it! Can someone please tell me what they are as I can’t wait to play it with my son?

  19. 19
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 15 Nov 2011 #

    the purpose is to capture the opponent’s brain
    a piece captures a opponent’s piece by moving onto its square (as in chess)

    pieces move as per arrows only
    the little ones move one square at a time, in any allowable direction
    the tall ones move as far as you like, in any allowable direction
    brain i think moves one square at a time, in any allowable direction
    pieces can’t jump over other pieces; nor can two pieces occupy the same square

  20. 20
    Tracy Chappell on 16 Nov 2011 #

    So the numbskulls move in a straight line and can take out opponents ninnies and numbskulls? They can go straight until they take out opponents peice?

  21. 21
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 16 Nov 2011 #

    yes, every piece moves in a straight line (sorry, i’m not in my flat this week, and far away from my board and the rules, so i’m explaining them from memory), and every piece can take an opponent’s piece if it’s in range

  22. 22
    thefatgit on 16 Nov 2011 #

    The Brain either has a SPECTACULAR moustache (yay! Movember) or it’s an upturned book resting atop his rotund blue belly. Kewt.

  23. 23
    takethebrain on 31 Jan 2013 #

    Take the brain for android available now for free on google play:

  24. 24
    Veronica Andrews on 8 Feb 2015 #

    I brought this game when it first came out still have it in good condition today as a family we have loved playing it and now my grandchildren age 5 year – 12 years also love playing it would love to know how much it is worth today against the few pounds we paid for it over 40 years ago

  25. 25
    Mary Truby on 25 Apr 2015 #

    We have played and loved this game for two generations. If you had played it more often, you would have discovered that there are strategies that develop through play, just as in chess. It’s an excellent educational game for kids and introduces them to chess in a less scary way. It is, after all, for fun!

  26. 26
    Charlie Stott on 5 May 2018 #

    I wonder if anyone can provide me with odd pieces, or sufficient photographs for me to create 3d models for 3d printing, so I can recreate this game for my son.

    I promise to return pieces and printed spares.

    I played it with my grandparents 50 years ago.

  27. 27
    Ethan emsley on 31 Aug 2018 #

    anyone know a link for the advert?

  28. 28
    Matthew Taylor on 6 Dec 2018 #

    I have recently purchased this game after hunting for a good condition version. I am looking at scanning the models so that I can 3D print spare figures if needed. I played this years ago with my grandparents who have lost there copy of the game. Hopefully 3D printing spare figures will allow many more years of fun for Nephew and Grandson

  29. 29
    Phil on 4 Feb 2019 #

    Hi – I have just found this game when clearing out my loft and decided to play it 40 years after my last game. However, I cannot find the instructions. You wouldn’t have a copy you could photograph and email to me would you?

  30. 30
    mark sinker on 4 Feb 2019 #

    Hi Phil, the rules can be found here: https://www.chessvariants.com/other.dir/smess.html

  31. 31
    Steve on 22 Mar 2020 #

    This was my favourite childhood game, probably because I sucked at actual chess.

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