Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Here I am, slowly working through the stuff I need to do to revamp my website - new maps, new descriptions of civilisations in my conworld, etc, etc - and it strikes me that one of my 'Societies', the Telik peoples who speak the Ákat language, are a bit too touchy-lovey and tree-huggy for my tastes. So I've decided to give them some vices. A gambling vice, to be precise.

So I've had to come up with a game they can gamble with. Now I'm sure they have six-sided dice, and I'm certain their money has coins with different images on each side, so there's two methods of gambling right away. But I decided that they needed a game which is a little bit different from the norm. A game which requires a bit of skill and thought, but is simple to play. Also a game where chance is minimised to the opposing player's mistakes rather than by the roll of dice or shuffling of cards. A sort of cross between backgammon and mancala (seeding games fascinate me because of their apparent simplicity).

I've called the game òicustiỳtac (joicustijytac), which very roughly translates as dogfight, though an alternate name for the game could be òicusỳdahczy!ut (joicusjydahczy!ut) which is the action form rather than the object form of the word. The logographic rendering of the word is:

The field of play was traditionally a large branch, cut in half lengthways with 10 "traps" carved into each half of the branch - though any board with 20 (2 x 10) divisions will do. Two players sit opposite each other, with the playing area between them - the branch closest to a player is their "Land". For each player, the six rightmost traps on their Land - known as the "whelping traps" - are traditionally coloured light green (the colour of new life), while the two leftmost traps - known as "home traps" - are coloured blue (the colour of safety). The remaining four traps are either unpainted, or are painted brown:

Each player starts with 15 white or 15 black stones. The game is played in rounds, where each player attempts to score points by "bringing down" opposition stones or "bringing home" their own stones. The first player to score 21 or more points wins the round, and the first player to win 3 rounds wins the game. There are numerous betting strategies, including winning the game, winning rounds, scoring more points than your opponent in each round, bringing down or bringing home more stones, etc. It is common for 2 or 3 strategies to be employed for each game. I'm going to assume that playing the game without betting is unheard of.

I've tried to keep the rules down to a minimum:

1. All the stones are placed in a bag and each player draws out 5 stones. The player with more white stones has the right of first turn. If both players have equal numbers of white stones, then both will draw a further stone, with the player drawing a white stone against the opposite player's black stone winning the right to first turn. Bets are usually placed on who wins the right.

2. The player who wins the right to first turn takes 15 black stones, the opponent takes 15 white stones. Black plays first. Play moves in turns, during which each player may move one or two of their own stones or, if three of their stones occupy the same trap, those three stones. Moving more stones than permitted in a turn gives the opponent the right to "bring down" a stone of their choice before commencing their turn.

3. Each stone must first be introduced - "whelped" - to the field of play by the player placing the stone in one of their whelping traps. Up to two stones may be introduced in each turn. A stone can be whelped at any point in the round, and once whelped can be moved in any permitted way across the field of play. A player may choose to whelp a new stone and move another as part of their turn.

4. A player may move a stone vertically into the opposite trap in their opponent's Land.

5. A player may move a stone diagonally to the left out of the opponent's Land, the diagonal movement being either 1, 2 or 3 traps to the left.

6. An individual stone may only be moved once during a turn. An individual stone may only be whelped once during a round.

7. A player cannot move a stone to a trap if that trap is already occupied by a sufficient number of opponent stones, where at the end of the player's turn the trap will have two more opposition stones than the players stones. For instance white player cannot place a white stone in a trap already containing 3 black stones, but can place two or more white stones in that trap. If the trap contains 3 black and 1 white stones at the start of the turn, then white player can move one or more white stones into that trap. If the trap contains 4 black stones and no white stones, then the white player will have to move 3 white stones into that trap (assuming they wish to move stones into that trap).

8. Players may remove - "bring home" - their own stones from the field of play if the stone is in one of their own Land's home traps, but only if such a move leaves at least one stone (of any colour) in the trap. Bringing home a stone scores the player 2 points. Once a stone has been bought home, it may not be re-whelped to the field of play.

9. A trap may not contain more than 5 stones after a turn. If a trap does contain more than 5 stones, then the player who has just played their turn may remove - "bring down" - sufficient of their opponent's stones from that trap until it contains just 5 stones (for instance, if white player moves 3 white stones into a trap already containing 4 black stones and one white stone they will bring down 3 black stones, leaving 4 white stones and one black stone in the trap). If a player has to remove one or more of their own stones to bring the number of stones in a trap to 5, the stone must be given to the opponent as if it had been bought down by them. Bringing down an opponent's stone scores the player 3 points per stone.

10. The player who wins the round wins the right to play the black stones in the next round.

The problem with these rules as they stand is that I have no idea how workable they are, whether they lead to one colour almost always winning, how quickly the game proceeds, what sort of strategies are available - though I've played the game against myself and already found that the most obvious starting moves can be countered by good defensive play. My experience to date has been that the game is more of a cat-n-mouse effort than a proper dogfight - the player to make the first mistake often loses; I'm also beginning to think that the player who is too defensive, or too reckless, will also tends to lose.

In other news, I've finished my Open University writing course. Hopefully I'll be able to post a few micro-short stories here in the not-too-distant future.

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