In quest of the perfect board game

Yehudi Menuhin says it's the perfect game to play between rehearsals. Omar Sharif writes, ''It's my first choice after bridge.'' Even Queen Elizabeth became an enthusiast recently, while staying with the Duchess of Devonshire at Chatsworth.

Three years ago, the creators of the game, Brian Taylor and Peter Forbes, were unemployed and on welfare. Today they have a thriving new company called Whale Toys.

The game?

''Kensington,'' a new board game. It swept across Britain last year and is now being released in the United States.

Messrs. Taylor and Forbes say that basically what they did was take a complicated idea and make it simple - the opposite of what most people do. The game they came up with is a cross between chess, backgammon, and tic-tac-toe. The purpose is to form the first hexagon on the board with your marker, and prevent your partner from doing so. The game is all strategy, no markers leave the board once they are all on, and players move one marker per turn.

The two men didn't set out to be inventors, and certainly not businessmen. Mr. Taylor is a painter and Mr. Forbes is a former architecture student.

But they had the confidence to devote themselves wholeheartedly to a fresh idea when everyone else was telling them they were crazy and ought to get jobs.

Taylor says today: ''Industry is afraid of new ideas. The economy is grinding to a halt and everyone is baffled. It's because they're basically stale and afraid to try anything really new.''

''If there were 10,000 people like Forbes and me in the world right now, there wouldn't be a recession. What the world needs is imagination - and people with the courage to make their dreams come true.

Forbes recalled their first meeting: ''It turned out we were both games buffs who couldn't find anything that really suited us. . . . Just about every game ever invented since chess and checkers depends, in some measure, on luck. We wanted to invent a game that was as easy to learn as draughts (checkers) and as complex in its possibilities as chess.

They were browsing through the bookstalls on Portobello Road (a London flea market) one day when they came upon a book of ancient Islamic patterns. Because the Islamic faith believes the use of representational imagery in its temples is idolatrous, the complex designs used in mosques must imply whole worlds, without using human or animal figures.

Taylor looked at a pattern consisting of five hexagonal shapes with connecting lines that formed squares and triangles, and said, ''That's it!''

Once they got started, they couldn't stop until they had finished.

Says Taylor: ''At first we met in pubs, but we didn't have any money so we had to find another place to work. We ended up on a park bench in Kensington. That's how the game got its name. We spent six months on that bench.

''Finally it was finished. But then came the hard part - producing and marketing it.''

They took the game to anyone they could think of. No one was interested. Finally, they talked to a travel agency about offering the game as a bonus prize to tourists booking trips. The agency agreed and set up a company (Whale Toys) on a 50-50 basis, never thinking for a moment that the game itself would sell.

But they hadn't reckoned with Taylor and Forbes.

Once they had the games manufactured, they took them around to anyone who would sell them. Some stores took 12, some 2. Gradually the word got around and the game caught on.

In just four months it topped the sales for the entire year of the ubiquitous Rubik's Cube, and won the 1981 ''Best Game of the Year'' award from the British Society of Chess and Checkers.

They realized then that they had money to see more than just their own ideas become reality. Whale Toys now operates as a clearinghouse for new ideas.

''Every idea is looked at,'' says Taylor. ''This year we're putting out six new games that we've received from all sorts of people. One is by a 13-year-old boy. And it's very good!''

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