Because I’m a good geek, I wrote a quick post about Star Trek: The Next Generation and poker. There’s a few more Star Trek games to discuss: 3-D Chess, Strategema, Darts, Tongo, Dabo, Pool, and of course, the time-honored game of Fizzbin. And that’s not even all of the games Star Trek made-up or showcased over their decades of runtime. Spending too much time in space? Try bonding with your crewmates over a good honest game of skill or chance. Note there are spoilers ahead for each Trek series.
Here are the top 20 games played by the main characters in Star Trek, from The Original Series through Voyager
As Quark says, “Bet early and bet often.”
The Original Series:
3-D Chess – While the game shows up again here and there (we see it in the background of TNG), this is primarily known for Kirk and Spock’s favorite way to challenge each other. While it would seem that the logical Spock should win every time, Kirk holds his own regularly, through creative and unexpected moves. That time Deanna Troi won against Data (using ‘intuition’ in Conundrum) seems highly unlikely. It’s possible Data uses handicaps when playing against humanoids, but we’d never expect that of Spock.
Fizzbin — Kirk’s hysterical card game from A Piece of the Action. Kirk made it up on the fly to distract some mobsters, featuring unorthodox rules, like what day of the week you have a Jack on and if your hand is played during the day or at night. I did enjoy the callback to fizzbin on Deep Space 9, when Quark offered to teach it to Odo (in The Ascent). Apparently, fizzbin caught on.
The Next Generation:
Between the holodecks, sporting rooms, board games in Ten Forward — and pleasure planets for shore leave — no one ever gets bored on the Enterprise.
Poker — I wrote an entire post about how it’s really unfair for any of the TNG bridge crew to play against regular people. They each have a superpower where they could cheat and win every time. How do they manage this disparity? Would Geordi’s VISOR trump Deanna’s empathy? Somehow it works, and poker is a strong symbolic gesture of their connection and fondness for each other. That Captain Picard eventually joins in out is a sweetly wistful cherry to cap off the great show that was TNG (All Good Things…).
Even the junior officers get in on the poker action, emulating the senior staff in Lower Decks.
Besides the crew’s obsession with poker, there are other games that get attention as they trek through known space.
Black Jack (in The Royale) — This entire episode plays out in a space casino and is great fun if you can disconnect your brain for 45 minutes. The casino has all the games one would expect in a casino setting, including Black Jack. As you would expect, Data rules. Like in Peak Performance below, The Royale is a guilty pleasure episode.
Strategema ( in Peak Performance) — This is one of my favorite guilty pleasure episodes. I found it’s great to watch this just before The Best of Both Worlds, as it really makes Riker’s Borg/Command arc stand out. As for the game itself, it doesn’t seem very exciting. Strategema seems to be about flicking your fingers to square your opponent out of each level.
Strategema reminds me of an 80s video console game with similar rules. (That’s not Tetris or Qbert I’m remembering. It’s more about blocking out the biggest squares on a level in your color. Someone help me out here, please.)
Dom-Jot — Played by three Nausicans against Jean-Luc in Tapestry, this appears to be a sort of billiards with a futuristic pool cue that adds a pin-ball-esque flair. Remember how Picard lost his natural heart in this game? A pivotal moment in the Captain’s life.
The Game — From the episode of the same name, where Wesley outwits the seductive power of an early mobile VR device. Just called The Game, this is intensely creepy stuff. If you try it once, you become addicted to it…and it gives you orgasms when you let it “practically play itself.” When young Wesley finds his mother playing The Game in their quarters, you can see how uncomfortable it makes him. When the bridge crew holds open Wesley’s eyes to make him play, it reads as squicky as you’d expect. (On a fun note, Worf sports a huge goofy grin in this scene. It might have been a dry spell for him.)
Here is Star Trek getting away with sexual shenanigans without actually admitting it. Would you play it? Put another way, imagine if Pokemon Go gave people climaxes when they captured Pikachu…
3-D Chess — As from The Original Series, you can see the 3-D Chess board appear from time to time. One background moment that stands out is at the very end of Lower Decks, where the game can be seen behind Worf in Ten Forward. That Ten Forward keeps sets of games for crew use is a lot like today’s coffee shops and brewpubs.
Deep Space 9:
Dabo — Quark’s most popular game of chance. It looks like Roulette, and has scantily glad Dabo Girls spin the wheel each round. When you win, you get to shout DABO! Seems boring as hell, but what do I know?
Move Along Home — The absolute worst game in the known galaxy. An entire episode is devoted to this terrible dice travesty where neither skill nor luck seem to matter. It’s just some cracky contest devoted to a fake sense of jeopardy. “Double their peril. Double their winnings. Choose their path!” You also get to slap some sticks together, which seems more fun than the actual play.
This episode also introduced the irritating hopscotch earwig Alamerain.
You’re welcome. 😉
Seen only in the episode by the game’s name, Move Along Home is not surprisingly one of the worst Star Trek episodes in canon. This game actually works better if you think of it as an Escape Room, albeit a super annoying one.
Racquetball/Tennis — Julian Bashir was going to be a pro tennis player if he didn’t become a doctor. He and Miles O’Brien have an entire episode dedicated to their Racquetball Tournament, hosted, of course, by Quark. The game almost kills O’Brien. They move on to darts ever after.
Darts — Bashir and O’Brien play darts intensely for years to pass the time in Quark’s Bar. Once Bashir’s spiffy DNA enhancements come to light, Bashir is made to stand way back in the room to make the game fair to his bromantic best friend.
Tongo — Seen played most often by Quark’s Ferengi employees (and Dax), this game looks pretty cool, and apparently is very difficult to master. There’s a spinning wheel, two sets of cards (round and rectangular), dice, and a pot on top to hold your latinum bets. Acquire, Retreat, Evade, or Confront? A thoroughly Ferengi game about gaining and hoarding the most wealth. Remember, a Full Monopoly always wins.
Want to learn to play Tongo for real? A few fellow nerds worked out some of the rules here.
Parrises Squares — Apparently this physical game is quite dangerous, and throughout the Trek oeuvre parents always caution their younger children not to play. Sometimes they do, and in one memorable Voyager episode, the Doctor’s daughter died from brain trauma during a tournament (Real Life).
Throughout TNG, even older kids and adults showed up in sickbay with broken bones and sprains from this and other active holodeck games. Fortunately, in the 24th century a fracture can be knitted and healed in one day.
Kal-toh — Tuvok introduces Harry Kim to this mind-puzzle in the mess hall. Kim never stops trying to win it. As a Vulcan game made to test one’s mastery of logic, no one normally can beat Tuvok at Kal-toh — although he lost once to Icheb, the brilliant Borg teen (Alter Ego), and on one memorable occasion, to Seven of Nine (The Omega Directive). In the final episode (Endgame) we learn Kim kept up with the game even after being promoted to command his own ship.
One can play Kal-toh alone or against an opponent. It seems vaguely like Pick-Up Sticks, but each piece you remove you have to add back in to create a specific geometric final form.
I think 3-D Chess and Kal-toh are the two best games designed by Trek, with Fizzbin and Tongo rounding things out.
Kadis-kot — Seven and Neelix, along with Delta-Quadrant-born kid Naomi Wildman, seem to enjoy this Chinese Checkers type game. Seven even plays this remotely with Neelix as the series winds down.
Pool — Tom Paris’ first holodeck scenario, and Voyager’s equivalent to TNGs poker. Paris likes to share his holo-programs with the crew, and his Marseilles pool hall was one of the best received. Even Janeway gets in on the action, showing she can hustle with the best of them.
These guys love to entertain themselves between exploring spacial anomalies, fighting quadrant-spanning wars, and outwitting the Borg. So, what games did I miss? Which are your favorites, and what would you play?
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