How Sequence Works


Rumor has it that the signature stamp below the title ("Recommended by Bill Barrett") is both a marketing ploy and in-joke. Apparently, Barrett, a toy sales representative, mentioned to the creators that recommendations lead to better sales -- whereupon they asked if he recommended it, and he said "Sure!"
Rumor has it that the signature stamp below the title ("Recommended by Bill Barrett") is both a marketing ploy and in-joke. Apparently, Barrett, a toy sales representative, mentioned to the creators that recommendations lead to better sales -- whereupon they asked if he recommended it, and he said "Sure!"
Photo by Elizabeth Johnston/HowStuffWorks.com

You surreptitiously hold a red poker chip in one hand, scanning the board for configurations of blue chips, weighing the odds. In your other hand, you hold a suite of seven cards, one of which is the only card you need to connect the four chips you've already placed on the board -- and thus create a game-winning sequence.

Unfortunately, you'll need to wait your turn. And, as your opponent contemplates his next move, you can't help but wonder if he'll beat you to the punch and play a sequence of his own. Or if he holds a one-eyed Jack -- or a two-eyed Jack, or a copy of the card you hold -- that he could use to block your play. In a game of chance, even the best-laid plans can run amok.

Although you'll find it in the board game aisle, Sequence is both a board game and a card game. Players place chips on the board in spaces that correspond with the cards that they hold. The object is to place five chips of your color in a row -- horizontally, vertically or diagonally -- before an opponent does. You'll also need to watch out for wild Jacks, which allow an opponent to remove your chip or place a free chip of his own anywhere on the board.

In the original version of the game, a single player must make two sequences in order to win. Other Sequence versions, as well as games incorporating team play, may require only one sequence to win.

Sequence is manufactured and marketed by Jax Ltd., a Minneapolis, Minn.-based company known for its casino games and accessories, as well as other board and card games like Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Card Game, Kazink!, Take Away, Triple Four, Over and Out, and Shake Up.

The company also is home to a cornucopia of variations on the Sequence game, from Sequence States and Capitals to Bible Sequence, Sequence Jewish Edition, Jumbo Sequence, Sequence Letters and Sequence Dice [source: Jax Ltd].

How to Play Sequence

Here, the red player has nearly formed a diagonal sequence of five chips, but the green player blocked with a chip of her own.
Here, the red player has nearly formed a diagonal sequence of five chips, but the green player blocked with a chip of her own.
Photo by Elizabeth Johnston/HowStuffWorks.com

One night in the 1970s, Owatonna, Minn., native Doug Reuter had a dream. And out of this sleep-induced idea, a game arose: Sequence Five. Reuter spent years developing the concept before entering into a licensing agreement with Jax Ltd. in 1981 to manufacture, distribute and sell Sequence and its subsequent variations -- which later became a contentious arrangement.

During a series of legal disputes (ongoing as of early 2012), Reuter has claimed that Jax violated its licensing agreement, which would provide grounds for contract termination. Jax, in response, denied any violation and has gained restraining orders that have barred Reuter from contacting its customers, saying that his actions were intended to disrupt Jax's relationship with them. Meanwhile, both sides continue to profit from game sales. Jax garners 80 percent of its revenue from Sequence; Reuter receives 20 percent of their income from Sequence as royalty payments [source: Reuter v. Jax Ltd. Inc].

Despite being at the center of legal wrangling, Sequence itself has changed very little throughout the years. Just as it did in the beginning, the standard Sequence game comes with two decks of cards (52 cards each). The game board depicts two of each card in the deck -- except Jokers, which should be taken out of the decks, and Jacks, which are wild (more about that later). The cards appear in a 10-across and 10-down grid on the board. In addition, there are 135 poker chips included: 50 blue, 50 green and 35 red.

Sequence can be played with two to 12 players. If there are more than three individual players, they should divide evenly into teams (up to three teams of four players). To begin the game, one player shuffles and each player cuts the cards. The player with the lowest card deals.

The number of cards dealt to each player varies by the number of people playing:

  • Two players, seven cards each
  • Three players, six cards each
  • Four players, six cards each
  • Six players, five cards each
  • Eight players, four cards each
  • Nine players, four cards each
  • 10 players, three cards each
  • 12 players, three cards each

The player to the left of the dealer goes first. To play, you'll choose a card from your hand and place a chip on one of the corresponding spaces on the game board. The played card then goes face-up into a discard pile, and play passes to the left.

Each corner of the board has a free space that all players can use to their advantage. During your turn you can place a chip there (instead of discarding a card to place a chip as usual) -- but so can an opponent during his turn, even if the corner has already been taken. Making things even more interesting, Jacks are wild: Two-eyed Jacks can represent any card; one-eyed Jacks can remove an opponent's token.

The game ends when a player completes the winning amount of sequences: two for two players or teams, one for three players or teams [source: Board Game Geek].

Sequence Rules and Tips

Two-eyed Jacks are wild -- one-eyed Jacks let you remove a chip from the board.
Two-eyed Jacks are wild -- one-eyed Jacks let you remove a chip from the board.
Photo by Elizabeth Johnston/HowStuffWorks.com

Fans like Sequence because the rules are easy to understand, but the gameplay can be complex. This is especially attractive to people who don't want to spend hours reading a rule manual, but who do want to embark on a challenging quest to beat an opponent. Sequence is recommended for ages 7 and older, which makes it a game that both children and grandparents can play (as well as other generations in between). Plus, it won't take all day to finish; a typical game only takes about 30 minutes.

After you've mastered the basic concept of Sequence, there are few additional rules you'll need to learn -- dead card, loss of card and table talk:

  • Dead card: If you run through the draw deck during play, shuffle all the discard piles together to create a new draw deck. After you've done so, you may encounter a dead card. This occurs when you hold a card that can't be played on the board. For example, the cards in your hand include an eight of hearts, but when you look for the corresponding spaces on the board, you realize they're both already occupied by another player's chips. You now have a dead card, which you can announce as such and discard at the beginning of your turn. This allows you to draw a replacement card and play your turn as usual.
  • Loss of card: After you place a chip on the board and discard a card, you're supposed to draw a new card from the deck. If you forget to do so before the next player completes his turn, then you'll forfeit the right to draw a card. You'll have the distinct disadvantage of playing each turn with fewer cards than your opponents -- for the remainder of the game. It pays to pay attention!
  • Table talk: If your teammate hasn't noticed a potential sequence and begins to place his chip in the wrong space, mum's the word. If you utter advice (or give a pointed cough or even gesticulate wildly), every member of your team will have to place a card in the discard pile -- and play the rest of the game using a short deck [source: Jax Ltd]. This rule may sound harsh, but it adds emotional tension to the game -- and ensures that each player will rely on her own wits and learn from her mistakes.

Making Sequences

The full Sequence board, with no end to the game in sight.
The full Sequence board, with no end to the game in sight.
Photo by Elizabeth Johnston/HowStuffWorks.com

The idea behind Sequence isn't a new one, at least for many game enthusiasts in the southeastern United States. For years, a similar game known as One-Eyed Jack or Jack Foolery has been taking place on kitchen tables and living room floors. The only difference between these games and Sequence is that the board is homemade: A deck of cards is cut in half, and the halves are glued to a board (or simply dealt out on a flat surface) with the Jokers in the corners. Two fresh decks of cards and a set of poker chips are used for play [source: McCloud].

Whichever version you opt to play, the game can be used to illustrate basic mathematical principles. This can be especially useful for younger players, who can hone -- as the game's name suggests -- number sequencing and pattern recognition skills. For example, by considering which move to make next, as well as which move will help create a potential sequence, they'll practice visualizing and mentally manipulating spatial patterns.

One of the most valuable lessons, however, may come in the form of strategy. With every turn, players must decide whether they will add another chip to a potential sequence, block an opponent's potential sequence or start a new attempt at a sequence. And they must make each move without knowing whether they'll draw the card they need most, which adds an element of luck and suspense to the game.

According to Reuter, who invented the branded Sequence game now marketed by Jax Ltd., the most important strategy to follow is to start the game on the offensive by attempting to make a sequence and to continue this strategy through the middle of the game, switching only to defensive mode to block other players' sequences as the game nears its end. He also encourages players to watch for diagonal sequences, which can be harder to see when you're learning how to play the game [source: Reuter].

Author's Note

Although I'd never before played Sequence when I received this assignment, I was looking forward to it. I'm always up for a new board game and something about this one triggered a thought. Lo and behold, when I searched through my game cabinet I found a still-in-the-wrapper Sequence game. It was the first turn of good fortune in a game that requires a bit of luck.

After playing the game a half a dozen times, I have to admit I wished I'd cracked open the box sooner (three years ago when I received it would have been ideal). The game was fun, and I could already see there were strategies to employ, which left me intrigued.

Related Articles

Sources

  • Board Game Geek. "Sequence." (Feb. 28, 2012) http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/2375/sequence
  • Education World. "Box Cars and One-Eyed Jacks Math Game Archive." (Feb. 28, 2012) http://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/archives/boxcars.shtml
  • Jax Ltd. "Sequence." (Feb. 28, 2012) http://www.jaxgames.com/seq2.htm
  • Jax Ltd. "Welcome to the Home of the Fun and Games People." (Feb. 28, 2012) http://www.jaxgames.com/
  • McCloud, John. "One-eyed Jack." (Feb. 28, 2012) http://www.pagat.com/misc/jack.html
  • Owatonna Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. "Welcome to Owatonna." (Feb. 28, 2012) http://www.visitowatonna.org/places-to-visit/oh-wah-tah-na.php
  • Reuter, Doug. "Tips and Techniques." Play Sequence. (Feb. 28, 2012) http://www.playsequence.com/tips.html
  • Reuter v. Jax Ltd. Inc. "Memorandum Opinion and Order." United States District Court, District of Minnesota. March 29, 2011. (Feb. 28, 2012) http://courtops.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/preliminjnxn_10113594254.pdf
  • Stark, Steve. "Anecdote." InventorSpot Forum. Aug. 25, 2008. (March 7, 2012) http://inventorspotforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=2092