Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Middle Eastern Games and the A&S 50 Challenge

In case you weren't aware, the 50th year anniversary of the SCA approaches fast! In 2016 there will be a grand celebration and a lot of arts going on. Someone put out a challenge to make 50 things on a theme and present it at the anniversary event. That sounds awesome to me! When I heard about this a few years ago I was knee deep in games research and classes (both learning and teaching) because I love games and I wanted to make a games manual from the middle eastern perspective. I decided then that I was going to generalize for the sake of the challenge to just medieval games, but when possible I am putting a middle eastern spin on them.

Game of the Camel modeled after Game of the Goose
I've completed around 30 games so far (if you count variations research) and have plans for so much more. At first I thought this might be limiting. Who says I have to just make games...the dice, the pieces, the boards, cards, research all counts given the theme I went under. So now my project has gotten way out of hand. One of my dream projects is to make woodcuts for printing based on a limited set of arabic playing cards found in a museum (info here). That would be near 50 things on its own, so maybe not for this challenge unless I want to make a single set scribally. 

As for the rest of my project, I have decided to ignore uber period presentation for practicality. When I sew or take commissions for things I tend to consider things like durability and portability more so than period methods. So most of my projects are period plausible or using the research and making it a functional piece that won't get ruined by dirty little hands or drunks. With that said, I made a lot of my games in one of two styles: Roll and tie, or bag. 

Bag style alquerque. The bag can played on and the pieces and rules can be slipped inside and tied shut when done.
Fabric boards have drawstrings all the way around that can be cinched and then tied around the outside with the pieces bag rolled inside.

The whole package can be tightly rolled to the size of a small kitten. Teek shows her approval.
Materials for the fabric boards have been canvas or poplin. I will sometimes line the back in cottons or linens (of course everything has been pre-washed to make sure that there are no accidents later). I've been using a combination of cotton embroidery and crochet threads to embroider the boards. I should point out at this point that I'm am still really new at embroidery. I took a class at a University event so that would understand basic embroidery before I started delving into Ottoman embroidery. 

Game of the Camel

If you are familiar with game of the goose (if not go here) you know that there are taverns and wells and geese. I really thought the game was fun but not very middle eastern appropriate so I made my own version. I kept the numbers and spacing of things but changed the special spaces. The function of geese in the game is to move people around the board...which seemed silly to me...and it was replaced with the most iconic method of desert travel, the camel.

Space 42 is where there is typically a maze (or a really interesting answer about life the universe and everything). I decided that a mirage would suit the theme best and also made an open desert marker on space 30 (where you are supposed to move back to).

In some versions of GOG there is a bridge to move players forward 6 spaces. I replaced it with a flying carpet, because why not? I also made a tassel on space 12 so I didn't have to write down the rules to keep with the game.

Alcohol is not permitted in most of Islam (I will be writing a very long post about this generalization later) so a tavern was right out. I replaced it with a coffee pot like you might see in a coffee house. Coffee houses had a similar function to taverns as they were a place to drink and be merry.

I replaced the jail with quicksand...and there is a poorly embroidered man flailing in a quicksand amoeba. 

Additionally I fringed the edges and added tassels at the corners. This was both a decorative effort and the tassels were heavy and helped hold the board down from wind intrusions. This was one of the first games I made and is also my favorite.


This is a super fun and challenging game of Turkish checkers. I took a class on this at Pennsic and have been trying to put together more and more research on it because it's not well represented on the internet or print sources and it should be. The game is largely played like checkers but huffing rules are enforced.

The game starts is on an 8x8 board and the players start with their back row empty. 

Because lots of "kinging" is highly possible I made wooden (bead) pieces with sticks glued into them to hold "crowns" on better.

Again this is a canvas board with embroidered lines. I'd gotten a lot better at chainstitch embroidery by this point.

Other considerations for my pieces having sticks was ease of use for little hands or big hands trying to grab small pieces. 

This is a roll and tie bag like GOC and can still be used to play draughts and checker variants. If you like checkers you should give this a try. When I took the class I was a little slow to catch on. I walked into class late because I'd just come off the field and thrown water at myself before running all the way from the serengeti to the games tent. My brain hadn't been re engaged yet and my partner whooped me. By the time we got to the second round I'd caught up with the game and promptly stomped him. He realized my strategy too late and was keen to point out that I was either a "shark" or thoroughly evil and and sneaky. 

Goals for the Challenge and Beyond

I'd like to make some hand carved or cast pieces for some games like shatranj and some bone dice. I am using glass beads for a lot of my games right now because it is what I have sitting around. I would also like to make an illuminated and hand bound game manual a la "alphonso x" of middle (and near) eastern games.  I will post more on specific middle eastern games as they come about. I have several games in progress towards my 50 that are not middle eastern related. 

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