Tag Archives: Chess

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.

Boardgames in the News: Risking Imprisonment to Play

We are very lucky:  when our little game group meet, the worst anyone risks is a telling off for staying out too late.  In some parts of the world, however, gamers could be risking their liberty or worse.  Just imagine a world in where playing Puerto Rico or Agricola risked imprisonment or torture.  It seems absurd, but for for some people this sort of response is a reality.  In February, police in the Thai resort of Pattaya arrested thirty-two elderly Bridge players when they raided their local Bridge Club.

Bridge
– Image from innontheprom.co.uk

In Thailand, there are strict anti-gambling laws, so despite the fact the Bridge players declared that they were not playing for money, they were arrested for “possessing more than one hundred and twenty unregistered playing cards” in violation of section eight of the Playing Cards Act of 1943.  In this case, the members of the club were released after twelve hours, but Bridge is not the only “risky game”.  According to the Saudi Grand Mufti, Chess is forbidden in Islam, a view which could mean that players in some parts of the world genuinely risks a fate worse than death at the hands of fundamentalists.

We are very fortunate in the UK.

Chess
– Image by BGG contributor unicoherent

Boardgames in the News: Google plays Go

Go is an ancient Chinese two player game played with black and white stones on a nineteen by nineteen grid.  The game is one of territory where the aim is to surround the most intersections.  Although the game itself is very simple with players taking turn to place stones on the points of the grid, There is significant strategy involved in the game, and the number of possible games is vast (10761 compared, for example, to the estimated 10120 possible in Chess).

Go
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ManCorte

In addition to the huge number of possible moves, Go has also always been considered to be particularly challenging for an Artificial Intelligence to play well as strategy involves patterns rather than specific moves with a finite solution tree – something that humans generally do better than computers.  Thus, for twenty years, devotees Go, have smugly pointed out that while Deep Blue first beat the then World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov in February 1996,1 a computer has never beaten a Go Champion.  Yesterday, however, Google announced that it’s AlphaGo software (part of their DeepMind project) had beaten the reigning three-time European Go champion Fan Hui winning five consecutive games.  The work has been published in the scientific journal Nature,2 which seems to have been making a bit of a habit of publishing boardgaming articles recently…

Go
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ManCorte

1 Campbell, et al., Artif. Intell. (2002), 134, 57; doi:10.1016/S0004-3702(01)00129-1.
2 Silver et al., Nat. (2016), 529, 489; doi:10.1038/nature16961.

Boardgames in the News: Bridge is not a Sport, Yet…?

A review began last month following the funding body, Sport England‘s decision not to class Bridge as a sport, and the High Court ruling was announced today.  Mr. Justice Dove declared he was “satisfied that the defendant’s adoption of the definition of “sport” contained in the European Sports Charter was in line with both a proper interpretation of the 1937 Act and also a proper construction of the objects and powers contained with in their Royal Charter”.  He concluded that “the claimant’s application for judicial review must be dismissed.”  The English Bridge Union (EBU) are reported to be “very disappointed”, however, since the organisers of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo have invited both Contract Bridge and Chess to apply for inclusion, this argument may not be over yet.

Bridge
– Image from goodsamchurch.wordpress.com

Boardgames in the News: Is Boardgaming a Sport?

A judicial review of the status of Bridge, began earlier this week, following the funding body, Sport England‘s decision not to class the card game as a sport.  Sport England have reportedly claimed that Bridge was no more a sporting activity than “sitting at home, reading a book”.  In contrast, the English Bridge Union (EBU) contests that Bridge is a “mind sport” that exercises the “brain muscle”.

Bridge
– Image from innontheprom.co.uk

Contract Bridge is a trick-taking card game for four players where the two teams bid for how many tricks they will win.  Once the contract has been made, the hands are played out and if the number of tricks agreed is achieved, the team who made the contract win.  The case against Bridge being classed as a sport depends on the definition of a sport:  Sport England defines a sport as an “activity aimed at improving physical fitness and well-being, forming social relations and gaining results in competition”.

Bridge
– Image from goodsamchurch.wordpress.com

The case for Bridge as a sport includes the fact that other EU countries (including the Netherlands, Ireland and Poland) recognise Bridge as a sport, and that Sport England include angling, model aircraft flying, quoits and rambling in their list of sports as well as popular pub games like darts and pool.  Perhaps more importantly, sports are defined in the 2011 Charities Act as activities “which promote health involving physical or mental skill or exertion”.  Lawyers for the EBU are reported to have told the High Court that Bridge was based on rules, fairness and competition – just like other activities classified as sports and Heather Dhondy, winner of three world and five European gold medals made the case in the Independent last year based on the stamina required for tournament play.

Bridge
– Image from bbc.co.uk

The bottom line is that this is all about funding.  If Bridge is classed as a sport they can apply for National Lottery Funding allocated by Sport England.  Sport England has a finite pot and claim it is their job to get the nation fitter, but in reality they are probably concerned they will be heavily criticised by the media and the general public if they give money to a bunch of people “sitting about playing cards”.  Of course, the courts cannot really decide if bridge is a sport, only whether it was reasonable for Sport England to have ruled it was not.  To date, judgement has been reserved and at the end of the High Court hearing, Mr Justice Dove gave no indication as to when he would give his ruling.

Chess
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

The final say, however, will perhaps depend on the International Olympic committee (IOC). In 1999, the IOC said that Bridge and Chess should be considered “mind sports”.  If this is taken to its logical conclusion, Bridge, Chess and perhaps other boardgames like Scrabble will eventually become Olympic sports and medals will be awarded every four years.  Indeed, Chess and Bridge are among twenty-six sports that have applied for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.  Since Team GB are the Kings of “sitting-down sports” (cycling, sailing, rowing, equestrian etc.), it seems inevitable that these would be sports we should excel at.  If there were even a small chance of increasing Britain’s tally of Olympic gold medals, Sport England would undoubtedly change their view.

Scrabble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Susie_Cat