Chinese Checkers didn’t come from China, nor is it a variation on the game of checkers. The game was originally called Halma and is of European descent. But American game manufacturers didn’t think that Halma sounded like a really fun game, so they gave it a more exotic moniker and the rest is history.
The history of the game is somewhat murky, with some giving credit to a late nineteenth century Victorian Englishman and others recognizing German game manufacturer Ravensburger as the creator. However Halma began, it evolved over time from the original board into one in the shape of a six-sided star (or stern, in German) with a no man’s land in the middle.
Although played here and there in America as early as the late eighteenth century, it wasn’t until legendary game magnate J. Pressman brought it out of obscurity in 1928 that it entered the public conscience. Realizing that young tykes might not line up to play Halma, he cleverly changed the name. Other companies began coat-tailing on Pressman’s success, among them L. G. Ballard, who introduced “Star Checkers” and Milton Bradley with their own version in the early 1940s.
Anywhere from two to six players can play Chinese Checkers (excluding five). General rules give each player ten colored marbles arranged like bowling pins located in one of the star’s points. The object of the game is to marble-by-marble move your way across the hexagonal landscape and fill the star point opposite from the one where you started.
Players can move one space at a time or “hop” other pieces, including their own. Despite this similarity to Checkers, traditional Chinese Checkers (sometimes referred to as “Hop Across”) doesn’t allow a player to capture opposing players’ marbles.
Strategies abound for crossing the board, most involving ways to create bridges with early pieces so that the following pieces can jump several spaces at a time, sometimes crossing the entire board before stopping. More cutthroat players will play with an aggressive stalling tactic, blocking opponent’s from reaching their base while they try to continue shuttling theirs. However it’s played, the ultimate goal is to move all ten pieces into the opposite base, the first to do so being the winner.
Chinese Checkers is still popular around the world today. Granted, you can’t bark out “King Me!” like you can in traditional checkers, but that clack-clack-clack sound of your marbles jumping from spot to spot on that wood playing board is still pretty nice. And, while the name might not be all that accurate, it hasn’t stopped Chinese Checkers from remaining an enduring classic in the game world for nearly a century.