A LOOK AT EYELET (by Amabel Holland)

Mary Russell

Roll two dice, make two moves.

That's really all there is to my new game Eyelet. It's a board with unevenly spaced holes (eyelets), and moves are resolved by threading a shoelace through an empty hole. Roll a five? Then count five holes, and if that hole is empty, pull it through. Each turn you roll two dice; each turn you resolve two moves.

There are two laces at the start of the game. You can move the same lace twice, or you can move different laces. One lace isn't yours and the other your opponent's. You also choose which of the orthogonal directions you count in. So long as the hole is empty and you’ve enough lace to reach it, it's a valid move.

But if you can't resolve both die rolls, if you can't complete two valid moves? Then you lose the game.

That's it, really. That's the whole game. You win by not losing, by leaving your opponent in a position where they can't complete their turn, by trapping them. Of course, if they manage to escape it, then part of the trap they hand to you will be of your own design. Essentially, you're trying to paint each other into corners.

The dice matter. It's a roll-and-move game, so of course the dice matter. A bad roll at the wrong time can end you, and a lucky one can be your salvation. In some ways it's a variation of Backgammon, and this resemblance – perhaps only truly visible if you squint – comes into clearer focus when I tell you about rolling doubles.

Because as in Backgammon, if you roll doubles in Eyelet you get four moves instead of two. Of course, in Backgammon, there's no penalty for being unable to use all four, while in Eyelet missing even one will end you. You absolutely do not want to roll doubles.

Except sometimes you do. Because at the start of the game, each player gets one extra lace. A personal lifeline. Once during the game, you can resolve a roll of doubles by threading this new lace in any empty hole on the board. That's it, no other moves required, and now the lace belongs to both of you.

Of course, this may have just given your opponent room to wiggle out of the impossible trap they thought they had you in.

Unless you thread it in such a way to make it far less useful. Of course, there's still the risk that they'll escape, and now you've sabotaged your own position in trying to sabotage theirs.

Every move you make comes at your own expense. It is, like most of my work a profoundly weird game, but it's one I think that has legs. Long enough legs, anyway, that we're going to the trouble of ordering shoelaces; if you'd told me five years ago that we'd have a game coming out with shoelaces as a component, I wouldn't have believed you. Of course, if you had told me then that I was a woman, I wouldn't have believed that either. More fool I.

Where did this game come from? I don't know; wherever games come from, I suppose. Certainly I can trace the hints of its lineage from a couple of old word games I picked up at thrift stores. Those games were as much products as art, as much toys as games – games that could only be played with those specific components, that were designed with those specific components in mind. That's not something that usually fits into our bailiwick, but it did here: this game only works with that board with those holes, through which you thread laces fifty-five inches in length. Why fifty-five? Because forty-eight was too short, and seventy-two too long, and the size in-between that we could get in something approximating bulk pricing was fifty-five.


  • So basically you play until there is no more shoelace left, or no holes are available. At least add some game variants. Or some extra rules. On your turn, you can use one die roll to unlace one lace that number of holes and has to be able to put that lace in a hole that any spaces away, but that other die must be used to lace like regular.


  • Was hoping this would be available for the Hollandays sale. It sounds very interesting.


  • You’re brilliant!
    Bet you can tie your own laces, too…. B~)

    brian train

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