Tag Archives: Chess

Playing with Money at The British Museum: Currency and Games

Following on from their visit to see the “Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered” exhibition at the V & A Museum of Childhood, under beautiful blue skies, Blue and Pink set out to Oxford Parkway once more, to visit The British Museum to see their “Playing with Money: Currency and Games” exhibition.  Entry to The British Museum is free, which is excellent value given the number of truly remarkable, internationally significant exhibits that are there, including the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles.

The British Museum
– Image by boardGOATS

Of more interest to gamers are a large number of pieces from the Lewis Chess Set, one of which was recently discovered in a drawer in a family home in Edinburgh.  These are actually a number of pieces from at least four sets and maybe more, but are iconic and were used as the basis of the design for the Chess set in the film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  In addition to the Lewis Chessmen, The British Museum also has a permanent display entitled, “Games: People and Pastimes”, which includes a Nigerian Chess Set, a Syrian Mancala board, and a selection of Iranian playing cards.

The British Museum Exhibits
– Image by boardGOATS

There is also currently a specific exhibition entitled “Playing with Money: Currency and Games”, which is available until the end of the month.  This is in a small, side-gallery and and really focussed on the development of money in board games, from it’s use in The Landlord’s Game and Monopoly, to more recent games like Speculation, Dominion and Black FridayThe Noble Game of Swan, Ratrace, and Magic: The Gathering also featured, though the gallery was quite small so there were not as many exhibits as there were at the Museum of Childhood, nor were they as varied.  One of the most interesting displays was perhaps some of the money cards from Alhambra with the actual coins that inspired the artwork on the cards.

The British Museum, "Playing with Money: Currency and Games"
– Image by boardGOATS

Given the other exhibits, The British Museum is well worth a visit although the “Playing with Money: Currency and Games” exhibition is only open till 29th September 2019.

The British Museum, "Playing with Money: Currency and Games"
– Image by boardGOATS

Boardgames in the News: The Million Pound Lost Lewis Chess Piece

The iconic Lewis Chess pieces were found nearly two hundred years ago in the Outer Hebrides.  Also known as the Uig Chess pieces, they were made in the twelfth century and were carved from walrus ivory and whale teeth.  The “set” consists of seventy-eight pieces, most of which are exhibited at the British Museum, with the rest housed at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.  The British Museum suggests the pieces were made in Norway and belonged to a traveling merchant who lost them on his way to Ireland.

Lewis Chess men
– Image from britishmuseum.org

Although the collection is often referred to as a Chess “set”, the pieces show a large variation in size suggesting they may actually comprise several different sets, albeit with several pieces missing.  Six months ago, one of these turned up in a drawer in a family home in Edinburgh.  The walrus tusk “Warder” (the equivalent of a Rook) had been bought in 1964 for £5.  Now that authenticity has been confirmed, it is due to be auctioned at Sotheby’s on 2nd July and is expected to fetch up to a million pounds.  The original hoard contained a total of ninety-three artifacts, the whereabouts of four of which remain unknown. The moral?  Have a clear out – you never know what may be hiding in your sock drawer!

Lewis Chess men
– Image from Sotheby’s

5th February 2019

Far from being over-run by new people flocking to games night in response to our advert in the Parish Newsletter, it was one of the quietest weeks for ages.  With Ivory still on “sabbatical”, Mulberry in the States, and Pine, Pink and Red all having something better to do, for the first time in ages, we were down to just five and a single game.  Burgundy was just finishing eating and Blue was waiting for the imminent arrival of her pizza, so the group decided to play something short that could be played while feeding.  After a brief discussion the group began a game of Walk the Plank!, and inevitably, Blue’s pizza arrived just as it started.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Walk the Plank! is an old favourite that has been somewhat neglected by the group of late.  It is a very silly programming game where players control pirate meeples who try to push each other off the ship and, when plans go wrong, occasionally jump overboard.  The idea is that each player begins with a hand of action cards and simultaneously everyone chooses three cards to play and the order they are going to play them in, placing them in a stack with the first card on top.   Once everyone has chosen their cards, the players take it in turns to take the top card off their pile and carry out the action using one of their three “pirate-eeples”.  Actions include shoving other players meeples closer to the end of the plank (or into the sea); running towards the ship; retracting or extending the plank, and even changing along the plank pushing another player closer to the sea.  As we were playing with the Limited Edition which comes with some extra cards, so for a bit of variety, we added the Dynamite and Ghost Pirate cards.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

The first of the extra cards, “Dynamite”, pushes everyone on a given piece of plank one space closer to the sea. The other, the “Ghost Pirate”, scares everyone on a a piece of plank so much that they run away, half towards the sea and half towards the ship.  The newly bespectacled Green was of the opinion that the extra cards were generally a little over-powered, so we house-ruled it so that they could only be played once each.  When we play this game we include a couple of other house rules too:  according to the rules as written, the last piece of the three piece plank should not be removed when shortening the plank and the game is supposed finish when there are two meeples left.  While we understand why these rules exist, we find that sharing victory means the game feels a little unresolved so we play through to the bitter end.  Similarly, we quite like the madness removing the last plank adds, and in such a short game, crazy chaos seems entirely appropriate.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

And chaos there was aplenty this time round too:  Burgundy was quickly out of the game when the third and final of his meeples was banished to the deep.  As the first person to be eliminated, Burgundy was given the slightly dubious honour of returning as a Ghost.  In this mini-expansion, the player returns as a white pirate-eeple doomed to haunt the ship and generally cause mayhem for everyone else by playing one shove card per round.  When the last of Black’s pirates joined Burgundy’s there was some discussion about a second ghost, but we decided it would just prolong the game.  It wasn’t long before he had company on the sidelines though, leaving just Blue and Purple.  With both of them perched precariously on the end of what was left of the plank and Blue set to go first the game was her to take.  However, she decided she couldn’t take advantage of the position and instead retracted the plank unceremoniously pitching both of them into the drink.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

With Blue finished with her pizza, and it clear that nobody else was coming, the group decided to move on to the “Feature Game” which was to be Through the Desert.  This is an old game, but one that is very simple to play, though difficult to play well.  It is an area control game with pastel camels that many feel is reminiscent of the classic game, Go.  The game begins with players placing one camel in each colour on the board.  Each of these has a rider (Leader) in their own colour, so these camels are the start of the player’s camel trains or Caravans.  After the initial placements, on their turn, players take any two camels from the general supply and add them to the board.  There are a few rules about placement – each one must be placed next to camels of the same colour to become part of one of that player’s caravans, and must not be placed next to a caravan of the same colour belonging to another player (as this would cause them to join).

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

The aim of the game is to gain points through via the four sources.  Firstly, there are several oases marked with green plastic palm trees; players who connect a caravan to an oasis get five points.  There are also watering hole tokens—players who place a camel on these spaces can claim these tokens which are worth up to three points.  Players who finish with the longest Caravans in each of the colours are also rewarded with points at the end of the game.  The most lucrative source of points, but also the most risky is enclosing areas.  It is in this way that it is most like Go.  Go is a very ancient game played on square grid with black and white stones.  People often try to compare it to Chess, though in truth, beyond the facts one play plays black, the other white and the game is played on a rectilinear grid and both are very old, the two games have almost nothing in common.

Chess
– Image by Unsplash contributor sk

Chess is a game with a very rigid structure where players control armies that are lined up to face each other.  Each piece has a clearly defined role and movement pattern and games develop in a very particular way.  The highly structured nature of the game means strategies are developed by analysing all the possible or likely moves which makes it highly programmable.  In contrast, Go is all about territory and pattern analysis, which has traditionally made it much more challenging for computer programmers and it is only recently that software engineers have been able to use machine learning algorithms that have the ability to beat Go champions.  In Go, players place their stones on the intersections of a rectilinear grid with the aim of marking out territory.  There is a lot of psychology in the early moves with players declaring their space; if a player is too aggressive at the start, they won’t be able to defend their position, if they are too timid with their opening they will have lost before they’ve begun.

Go
– Original image by Tomasz_Mikolajczyk on pixabay.com

Ultimately however, Go is a complex game of strategy where players are trying to capture their opponent’s stones and with i,t territory.  A single empty space inside a group is called an eye; for a group to remain alive it must contain at least two eyes.  Creating eye spaces in a player’s groups and trying to prevent their opponent from making eyes is one of the key aspects of Go.  It is in regard to building territory that Through the Desert is similar to Go, however, there are two significant differences.  Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, the game is played on a hexagonal rather than a square grid.  The main difference is in the game-play though:  in Through the Desert pieces must be added to an existing caravan and surrounded pieces are not removed from the board.  Nevertheless, despite the differences it is unquestionably true that the Through the Desert is reminiscent of Go and was likely inspired by it.

Go
– Original image by Przemek Pietrak on flickr.com

With five players, everyone starts the game with Leaders mounted on four of the five different colours of camel.  Starting placement was quite difficult because nobody really knew constituted a good starting position, though some claimed to know what a bad one was.  Maybe there was an advantage in going last, or perhaps Black had a better idea than everyone else, but it quickly became apparent that that he had a large corner of the board all to himself.  This put Burgundy in a very difficult position as he was the only one who could do anything at all about it, but he had other plans.  In the end, Burgundy decided to do his own thing because the damage he could do to Black was minimal and it would be a significant expense to himself.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

Elsewhere, Burgundy was in a four-way tussle with Purple, Green and Black for access to an oasis and Green and Burgundy combined to prevent Blue from connecting two of the oases.  Meanwhile, Purple collected a pile of watering-hole tokens, and Burgundy was attempting to enclose an enormous space in the middle, while Green and and Blue were hoping to fly under the radar and get away with discretely annexing small areas at the edge of the board.  It wasn’t long before the number of pale blue camels was dwindling and Black was left trying to decide whether it was in his interest to bring the game to an end.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

When Blue reduced the handful to one lonely looking camel, Black could resist no longer leaving Burgundy’s audacious attempt to claim on the large central area incomplete and looking temerarious as a consequence.  Everyone had thought Black was so far in front that they were playing for second place, however, it turned out that the game was much closer than expected.  Green had scored slightly more for his oases and the length of his Caravans than Black and Black’s large corner hadn’t given him quite as much territory as it had first appeared.  It was very close, but Green took it by just two points.  As the group packed away, feelings were generally positive, but everyone was agreed that they’d play it differently next time, so we’ll have to give it another Go sometime soon.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

With five players, the options were limited – we generally try to avoid two-player games and we were a bit short on good five-player ones.  In the end, it was either yet another game of Bohnanaza, or the 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres winner, Isle of Skye, and Isle of Skye won easily.  Although this is a game we’ve played quite a bit and know reasonably well, we decided not to add the new Druids expansion as it is a while since we last played the base game and we felt we could do with a reminder.  The game is a sort of upgraded tile laying game with a lot in common with Carcassonne, but with an auction at the start of each round and scoring at the end of each round.  The scoring is one of the interesting parts of this game as the four scoring criteria change from game to game and, and each one scores three times during the course of the game.  Choosing how to prioritise these to drive a strategy is one of the keys to playing well.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, points were available for cows in the largest field; brochs; completed areas, and lighthouse-longboat combos.  The game proceeded along its usual course:  Burgundy had stacks of money but no tiles because everyone kept buying them while Blue and Black had plenty of tiles, but no money.  Black with a very linear kingdom was reminded by Purple that the goal for that shape wasn’t in use this time.  It didn’t seem to matte as he stormed off into the lead with a large field full of cattle, but it wasn’t long before others gave chase.  The winner in this game often comes from the back, because there is a “catch-up mechanism” where players get money in the later rounds, with those at the back getting more.  So, when Green and Blue eventually caught up with Black, the positions were important and Green looked ideally placed one point behind Black who was one point behind Blue.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Although the points awarded at the end of the rounds are valuable, it is usually the end game scoring through the scrolls that is critical.  These provide personal targets for each player, and score twice where terrain is “completed” (i.e. completely enclosed).  So towards the end of the game everyone scrabbled to maximise their points.  Green took a tile Blue wanted to keep, so Blue took one that Burgundy had priced very highly giving him even more money, but not the one tile that was really crucial to his plans.  Black added a couple more farms, while Green went for ships Purple went for light-houses and Blue tried to get both.  Burgundy and Blue were also working on the communal, end of round scoring for the brochs (prehistoric circular stone towers found in the highlands and islands of Scotland).  In the case of scoring for brochs though, one would give one point, two would give three and three six points.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

With two players fighting for them brochs were scarce, but by the final round both Blue and Burgundy had managed to get their quota of six.  They were less than impressed when Black pointed out that the brochs only scored if they were in the same mountain region.  Although Black had read the scoring in full, somehow it had failed to make it to the end of the table as both Blue and Burgundy had missed it.  Green pointed out that anyone affected should be called out for cheating, but Burgundy was in such dire need of points nobody was going to contest him claiming them.  The scoring at the front was a bit closer though.  As the points were calculated though it was clear that Green needn’t have worried.  Although he was only one point behind Black, Blue’s fleet of ships meant she was twelve points clear, and it was obvious that even allowing for the extra points, she would still have won.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  If the rules are that important to your game-plan, clarify them first.

Boardgames in the News: Drawing Out the 2018 World Chess Championship

The World Chess Championship is run by the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE), and in recent years has been settled on a two year cycle with the reigning champion playing against the winner of the Candidates Tournament.  The Candidates Tournament is an eight player double round-robin tournament and this year was won by Fabiano Luigi Caruana, an Italian-American Chess prodigy.  Currently number two in the world rankings, Caruana become the youngest ever Italian or American Grandmaster, earning the title in 2007 at the age of 14 years and eleven months.  Caruana is playing Sven Magnus Øen Carlsen (known as Magnus), a Norwegian Chess Grandmaster.  Carlsen is currently number one in the world rankings, a position he has held since 2010, when the became the youngest person to achieve the highest rank at just nineteen.  In 2013 Carlsen won the World Championships for the first time, retaining the title in 2014 and 2016.

Chess
– Image by Unsplash contributor sk

This year the protagonists are very evenly matched, ranking one and two in the world and separated by just eighteen months.  What is remarkable though is just how evenly matched their Chess has been:  the World Chess Championship is a twelve match game played over three weeks, and for the first time in history, all twelve matches have ended in a draw.  Each of these matches was played against the clock with a maximum possible time of over three hours.  Since these ended in a tie, the players will be challenged further by increasing the speed of play, increasing the chance of errors.  Thus a series of four “speed chess” tie-breaks will initially be used to decide the match each taking approximately half an hour.  If this fails to separate the combatants, there will be up to five mini-matches of best-of-two blitz games (five to ten minutes each).  If the match is still tied, this will be followed by an an “Armageddon” game where White starts with five minutes on the clock and Black with four minutes, with both players receiving a three second increment after sixty moves.  In the case of a draw, Black wins.

Chess
– Image by Unsplash contributor Felix Mittermeier

The tie-breaks will be played on Wednesday 28th November, with the winner taking 55% of the €1,000,000 prize pot, and of course, the title of “World Chess Champion”.

Boardgames in the News: Rolling the Dice in the British Virgin Islands

With Hurricane Maria currently devastating the Caribbean, people are once again battening down the hatches and preparing for winds that could reach over 150 mph.  While they are waiting, they could do worse than play a game or two to try to take their mind off it.  That is exactly what the Virgin tycoon, Richard Branson, did when Hurricane Irma struck his home, Necker Island, in the British Virgin Islands.  According to his blog, Richard and his team settled down to an evening playing Perudo (aka Liar’s Dice) before the whole team slept together in two rooms, listening to the parrots chattering away next door, waiting for the arrival of the approaching menace.

Perudo
– Image from virgin.com

This is not the only time Richard Branson has shown an interest in games.  He has expressed a love of chess previously, but he also nearly had a commercial interest in another well known game.  Back in the early 1980s, a friend in Canada, introduced him to a new board game.  It was such a hit that developers invited him to travel to Quebec and seal a deal to distribute the game globally.  Since Richard was incredibly busy with Virgin Records at the time, the trip was postponed so the developers sold the game, Trivial Pursuit, to another company, and the rest is history.

Boardgames in the News: Biscuit Boardgames at Bake Off

This week on The Great British Bake Off, it was biscuit day.  So, Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith set the remaining eleven bakers the challenge to bake a biscuit-based showstopper with a boardgaming theme that could actually be played.  Now on its eighth series, The Great British Bake Off recently moved from BBC to Channel 4, a change that was accompanied by a rejuvenated presenting team including Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding.

The Great British Bake Off
– Image from Channel4.com

Sadly, the games depicted were all variants on traditional games like Snakes and LaddersCoppit (similar to Ludo), Operation and Chess rather than some of the fantastic modern classic games now available.  Nevertheless, there were some interesting renditions, including from one contestant, Kate, who went for something slightly more modern, basing her creation on Jumanji, the game from the eponymous film.  Stacey was more ambitious deciding to design her own game called “Get to School”, as well as bake it.  There wasn’t time to play test that, but Paul Hollywood did challenge student Liam to a game of Noughts and Crosses played with his compendium of biscuit games.  In the end, the title of Star Baker went to Steven, the Marketer from Hertfordshire, for his “Check Bake Game”, based on Chess.

The Great British Bake Off
– Image from Channel4.com

The episode is available to watch on on demand for another three months.

Game Plan: Rediscovering Boardgames at the V & A Museum of Childhood

Inspired by the recent articles on Saturday Live and the Today Programme, on Easter Sunday, Pink and Blue decided to visit the V & A Museum of Childhood to see their “Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered” exhibition.  Catching a train from Oxford Parkway and negotiating the London Underground, they arrived in Bethnal Green.  With its vaulted ceiling and exposed metal work, the Museum building looks for all the world like a re-purposed Victorian Civil building, a train station, swimming pool or maybe some sort of pumping station.  Much to their disappointment, however, after extensive discussion and investigation, it turned out that the building was designed for the purpose, albeit after relocation of parts from “Albertopolis” on Exhibition Road.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

The exhibition itself was well presented and occupied a sizeable portion of the overall floor space.  Although it was located in one of the upstairs galleries, the exhibition was well advertised and, from entering the main hall, games were brought to the visitors’ attention with table space and signs offering the loan of games should people want to play.  It wasn’t an idle promise either, as there were several family groups making full use of the opportunity, albeit playing what might be called classic games rather than more modern, Euro games.

Senet
– Image by boardGOATS

A quick look at the model train cabinet and brief spell side-tracked by one or two other exciting toys preceded entry to the exhibition which was shrouded by an eye-catching red screen.  The first exhibit was a copy of Senet, arguably one of the oldest games in the world – so old in fact that we’ve lost the rules and nobody knows how to play it.  This was followed by some traditional games including a beautiful wooden Backgammon set made in Germany in 1685 and decorated with sea monsters and a lot of fascinating Chess sets, old and new.  Next, there were some ancient copies of Pachisi (which evolved into Ludo) and Snakes and Ladders, both games that originated in India and were originally played seriously by adults.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

Further round there were many other curious games, for example, The Noble Game of Swan from 1821, which was an educational game for children, itself developed from the much older, Game of the Goose.  Education was a bit of theme and there were a lot of games from the nineteenth and early twentieth century designed to teach geography in some form or another.  These included Round the Town, a game where players had to try to cross London via Charing Cross, and Coronation Scot, a game based on travelling from Glasgow to London inspired by the eponymous 1937 express train made to mark the coronation of George VI.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

Education didn’t stop there either:  for those that had been members of RoSPA‘s “Tufty Club“, there was a game promoting road safety featuring Tufty the Squirrel and his mates Minnie Mole and the naughty Willy Weasel.  However, when designing this roll-and-move game, they clearly ran out of imaginative “adventures” with a road safety message, as they had to resort to “Picking and eating strange berries – Go back three spaces…”

Tufty Road Safety Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Progressing through the late twentieth century, there were the inevitable copies of the childhood classic games, including Game of Life, Risk, Cluedo, Mouse Trap, Trivial Pursuit, Connect 4, Scrabble and the inevitable Monopoly, all of which risked bringing a tear to the eye as visitors remembered playing them as children.  The exhibition eventually brought us up to date with modern Euro-style games, presenting copies of Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan.

Pandemic
– Image by boardGOATS

More interestingly, there was also an original prototype of Pandemic supplied by the designer, Matt Leacock, complete with his scribbles and bits of paper stuck over infection routes he decided to remove as the game developed.  One of the final display showed how the influence boardgames have had on the computer gaming industry is sometimes strangely reciprocated, with a copy of the Pac-Man game, including the title figure wrought in sunshine yellow plastic.

Pac Man
– Image by boardGOATS

Leaving the exhibition, there was just one last game – “What’s Your Gameface?“.  This cute flow chart entertained Blue and Pink for far longer than is should have as they tested it out with all their friends, relatives and fellow gamers (nobody came out as “Cheater”).

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

With the exhibition done, there was still time for a wander round the rest of the museum and a quick cuppa in the cafe.  Reflecting on the exhibition, perhaps one of the best aspects had actually been the quotations that adorned the walls.  It seems luminaries from Plato to Roald Dahl have all had something to say on the subject of games.  Perhaps George Bernard Shaw supplied the most thought provoking comment though, when he said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  With this in mind, we did what gamers do when they travel, so tea and cake was accompanied by two rounds of Mijnlieff, the super-cool noughts and crosses game.  With the museum closing, it was time to head home, but there was still time for a game or two of 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel! on the train back to Oxford…

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

The Exhibition is only open till 23rd April 2017, so there isn’t much time left and it is well worth a visit.