Saturday, October 17, 2015

A game at a cafe

Once again I’ve been remiss in updating you, my dear readers [1]. So I’m back and stand ready to inform you about the many things I’ve been doing, to include having been busy getting short stories in minor publications on both coasts, and editing the massive quarter-million word story on AI and the coming rebellion. Not between human and robot, but a more complex fragmentary civil war.

But again, it wasn’t so much the busyness that got to me but the odd places visited out here in the Inland NW. The most recent place was another cafe that one could only consider seditious (if Fox news is right about real America... we have no reason to doubt that amazing news source).

I knew right away that this cafe was odd, when I walked in to see a perturbing painting. Now, if its subject was odd, the realistic brush strokes were certainly not. One look from a few inches away—and mind you this 10’x10’ painting was best viewed from afar—and one knew it was the work of a master. The facture, the everything was breathtaking. It was simply the face of a man—and now that I think on it, I’m not so sure why it still disturbs me—and on one side the man was youthful with angry eyes, and the baby-face of a just blossoming youth, but as one shifted their eyes to the other side, the face slowly gained scars, imperfections of skin beaten, sunken cheeks, and finally sad wise, old eyes—the ones that say, 'oh no, this was it'—and wrinkles etched in deep. The man was wearing a hat which was only slightly faded on the “old side.”

Now this isn’t the only reason I’ve been busy, I just want to set the state of mind forced upon me once I entered the cafe and saw this: already alert, mind you, from the aroma of well roasted coffee enticing a Pavlovian reaction out of my addicted body.

This cafe, out in the hinterlands of the USA’s northern Rockies, was in a square shape, 4 shipping containers connected by a madman’s welding job (I’m not kidding, a closer look at the welding and I could see Arabic patterns better suited for Southern Spain) to create window and straight lines of view to the garden. It was a bright and almost-hot summers day and thus the tops of the containers; gardens unto themselves, were all very inviting, yet after I grabbed my coffee from a barista with tattoos of jokes and horse-radish skin to highlight those beautiful arts, I chose to go to the darkened and now stuffy back room to look through the games they had back there.

Now, usually most cafes lack imagination when it comes to their game department, usually a mix of chess, scrabble and maybe checkers. Expecting nothing more than this, I found myself moving through chu-shogi sets and coming across something called the Game of Khans. I stared at the mean-mugging Mongol on the front of the box and pulled out its innards. Or so I thought. The game box was empty. I asked the apathetic barista, who shrugged.

I finished my coffee and went on google to find the game or something that could help me find out more about the game. There was a short, and weak Wikipedia article on the matter, claiming that Genghis Khan had the game invented after conquering all that he did and feeling that go and chess were much too weak as it were (and merely raising the stakes, as his generals were wont to do during a game, wouldn’t make a difference). So, the hapless artisans from several conquered city were forced to come up with a game that would replace all other games.

In the end, though, the game never caught on. The wiki entry had nothing else on it, in terms of the rules or even the pieces involved.

In fact, nothing on the internet had much on the game. So, of course, I took it upon myself to search as many online resources as the local library would allow me. And so it goes, I suppose, but I was annoyed that I had never read of this game before.

Finally, after searching thousands of article on Khan, I found a small excerpt on the game. Genghis had indeed forced a thousand artisans to come up with a game better than chess or go at mimicking life.

The results were not pretty: the first artisan came up with a game that, on a 19x19 go board, one placed their chess pieces and then fought in a chess style game. Apparently the Khan was not amused and had his horses crush the man after he was rolled into a rug. The second artisan had a similar game, except they had die involved. He was allowed a speedier death. Apparently this went on as the frightened artisans tried to think of what exactly the Khan would care for.

Some tried overly baroque pieces, giving minimal thoughts to the rules; after all, shouldn’t the savages be impressed with the shiny pieces? While others came up with odd hybrid games which had ornate rules. All failed. It came down to the last artisan who took it upon himself to survey as many Mongols as possible to find out what exactly took their fancy.

And so he came up with a game board that mimicked some of the great Mongol battlefields, a castle on each side, and various pieces, mainly horses, and 3 die [2] to allow one to place and move their pieces as they felt appropriate.

Like chess there were weak and strong pieces, with some pieces unable to kill others, while as in go, surrounding was another way to kill. Another way was getting all 1s on the die roll, which would be lightning and would allow for the person to take off one piece of the other. Higher ground also allowed one to fight/defeat a stronger opponent, whereas normally one couldn't.

The game was loved by Khan, though I’m not sure why it failed to pick up after his death. Perhaps as his sons and generals fought over his kingdom, things fell apart. Nevertheless, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can figure out the rules and the board with all its pieces.

[1] Note how a blog requires the plural, whereas a novel really begs for the singular reader. That must say something about these two mediums and the kinds of things we write, and expect as readers, doesn’t it? Perhaps Franzen is right, perhaps he sees this subtle chance as the difference between an intimate conversation between confidantes and a political rally (the internet, now) where mere slogans are blurted out and the masses add their two cents—but oh my, I digress, dear readers. 

[2] An odd aside is that the original chess had a die, but it was not allowed as that randomness would allow one to get too close to mimicking God; the Khan had no such reservations.

Of course, this is a play off the great new board game revival. Interesting games out there. Here's one place to check them out.

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