Fictional games

Saturday, 9th January 2021 ◆ Enthusiast arranges stay in dream (7)

I almost exclusively read fantasy, and I love richly developed worlds which include linguistic, geographic and cultural detail. I am also a fan of board games, and as such I am particularly excited by the creation fictional games for such worlds. I have thought that creating the rules to a fictional game would make for an excellent game jam theme.

For now, I want to collate some of the fictional games I've come across. None of these games have their full rules decribed in the source material, and so they bubble away in my mind itching to have rules described for them...

Only these games come to mind - but let me know if you can think of others!

Stones (Robin Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings)

In Robin Hobb's Assassin's Quest, the third book of the Farseer Trilogy, we are introduced to a couple of unnamed games. The first game to be mentioned is said to be an old Buck game, and is taught to the main character by the enigmatic Kettle:

I soon found myself caught up in the play of the stones. It was strangely soothing: the stones themselves were red, black, and white, smoothly polished and pleasant to hold. The game involved each player randomly drawing stones from the pouch and then placing them on the intersections of lines on a patterned cloth. It was a game at once simple and complex.

And later:

There were quite a variety of possible moves, as a black stone could also claim the place of a red stone and force it to another intersection, and a red stone had similar powers over a white.

We get more information lightly scattered over the chapters which follow. We learn it is possible to win with the placement of a stone.

The game is reminiscent of Go, but interestingly, both players are placing stones of the same colours, meaning once placed they are not tied to a particular player. I plan to come up with an implementation of this game, but it's a challenge to find something which fits all of the information given.

Mountain game (Robin Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings)

The second game mentioned in Assassin's Quest comes from the Mountain Kingdom, and is described thus:

There is a game played among the Mountain folk. It is a complex game to learn, and a difficult one to master. It features a combination of cards and rune chips. There are seventeen cards, usually about the size of a man's hand and made from any lightly-colored wood. Each of these cards features an emblem from Mountain lore, such as the Old Weaver-Man or She Who Tracks. The renderings of these highly stylized images are usually done in pain over a burnt outline. The thirty-one rune chips are made from a gray stone peculiar to the Mountains, and are incised with glyphs for Stone, Water, Pasture, and the like. The cards and stones are dealt out to the players, usually three, until no more remain. Both cards and runes have traditional weights that are varied when they are played in combination. It is reputed to be a very old game.

This is also an interesting sounding game, but given it is a "complex game to learn", I don't think we have enough information to speculate too heavily about its nature. Coming up with rules for the game wouldn't be too difficult, as there aren't too many constraints.

Pai Sho (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

Pai Sho is a game played throughout Avatar, and appears to have special significance to Uncle Iroh and a certain secret society to which he may or may not belong...

Pai Sho

Given the popularity of the show, I have no doubt there will be countless implementations of the game. There are no rules presented in the show, however. To me, the board reminds me of Chinese Chequers.

Tak (Patrick Rothfuss's The Kingkiller Chronicle)

In Patrick Rothfuss's The Wise Man's Fear, the main character, Kvothe, is taught the game of Tak by another mysterious character: Bredon. There is an implementation, endorsed by the author, but I still include the game in the list since the book itself does not give the rules in full. This official game also uses wooden blocks, as opposed to the stones mentioned in the book.

I met Bredon on my fourth day in Severen. ... He thrust a black velvet sack toward me and I took hold of it with both hands. It felt as if it were full of small smooth stones. Bredon gestured behind him, and a pair of young men bustled into my room carrying a small table. I stepped out of their way, and Bredon swept through the door in their wake.

Some more description follows later:

He began to work the drawstring loose on the black velvet bag. ... He spilt a set of round stones out onto the marble tabletop. ... He began to sort the stones into their different colours. ... My next several hours were spent learning how to play Tak. Tak is the best sort of game: simple in its rules, complex in its strategy.

Throughout Kvothe's interactions with Bredon, we learn little snippets that illustrate the types of strategy at play. Various manoeuvre are given names, much as they are in Chess, and I gather that Tak fulfils the same niche in the world.

 Triad (Battlestar Galactica)

I was first introduced to Battlestar Galactica by way of the board game, which is based on a TV show of the same name (which itself is based on an even older TV show). In this show, the characters are often shown playing a card game called "Triad", with its distinctive hexagonal cards. I don't remember enough of the show to recall any specifics, but the game seems to fill the same niche as Poker



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