I have started an indiegogo campaign to raise funds to purchase some custom pawns to make a Senet board to sell here online and at SCA event, craft sales, and farmers markets. Drop by the Campaign and donate. Every little bit helps.
Part of the plan with Past Times is also to develop and sell game boards. I have begun working on some prototype designs and am ready to unveil my first prototype. The Game of Five Lines is the first board I am ready to reveal. It is a simple race game where the goal is to get all pawns onto the “Sacred Line” which is the centre line. The game begins with each player having five pawns, one on each line on their side of the board. The pawns are moved clockwise around the board with the goal of getting all of the pawns on the Sacred line on the opposite side of the board.
The game can either use one die or four casting sticks to determine how many spaces a pawn may move on a given turn. Once the die is cast a pawn can move the number of spaces shown, but cannot land on an occupied space with the exception of the sacred line, the sacred line can house as many of either sides men as necessary. If there are no valid moves then the turn is lost, however if there is a valid move then it must be made, even if it means moving a pawn off the sacred line forcing the pawn to go around the board again to get back to the Sacred Line.
Senet is an board game from ancient Egypt. It is not known how far back in history the game originated, but it dates back to at least 3100 BCE, which is predynastic Egypt. The game has been found in tombs and archaeological digs throughout Egypt, in King Tut’s tomb four complete sets were found leading to the belief that it was probably his favourite game. The rules to the game have long been lost, but there have been attempts to reproduce the rules that seem realistic given the information we know about the game.
The game is a relatively simple chase game, the board is a 10X3 board as shown below. The pawns move in an s shape around the board and off, moving left to right on the first row, right to left on the second, and finally left to right again on the final row.
A player cannot land on a square occupied by another of their own pawns, but they can take the square occupied by an opponents pawn. When this happens the opponents pawn gets moved back to where the capturing pawn started from. A pawn on any of the specially marked squares cannot be captured.
Each special square has its own purpose, they are as follows:
The final five squares:
- the first of the last squares (the 26th square) is the House of Happiness. This is a mandatory square and no pawns may be moved off the board without first landing on this square.
- The house of Water comes next, this is a dangerous square to land on, if in the next turn the player cannot roll their pawn off of this square they are sent back to the House of Rebirth
- The next few squares do not have specific recorded names, but a player that lands on them needs to roll exactly enough to get off the board to move from the square.
The centre square (15th square) is the House of Rebirth. This square is where pawns who get banished from the house of water end up.
The game of Senet does not use dice but rather casting sticks. The image to the right shows some simple casting sticks I made out of craft Popsicle sticks. The one side is marked the opposite side is not. Traditionally Senet is played with four casting sticks. Counting is as follows:
- One marked sides face up
- Two marked sides face up
- Three marked sides face up
- Four marked sides face up
- Zero marked sides face up
Each player starts out with seven pawns each, shown on the left are the standard shapes for the pawns, so one player would have seven cones, the other would have seven spools. To set up the board the first fourteen squares (remembering that the squares are counted in an “S” shape) alternate cone and spool starting with cone, which places a spool as the last pawn on the board on square fourteen. Because spool has the advantage of having a man closest to the off the board the cones always go first. The casting sticks are cast to see how many squares they can move, the game begins.
The first player to successfully get all of their men off the board wins.
Stoolball is one of the games I outline in the upcoming book Past Times: Sports and Games of Medieval Europe. It is actually the game that made me interested in historical games. I had recently been told about a game called Tablero and was told by several people that it was completely SCA period, and then by a whole bunch more people that it was completely fabricated by people within the SCA. The debate over the accuracy of games played in the SCA got me curious about games, and I realized that chess and 9 man morris were about the only games regularly played at events. I started digging around and found Stoolball. I won’t go into too much detail on how the game is played as I have written on this subject repeatedly in many other places, this is more reminiscing about some fantastic games of stoolball I have played.
When I was researching how to play stoolball I discovered that there were likely highly regionalized rules so when I run a stoolball game I make the team captains decided on the final rules, the base rules are the same, but the number of stools, and how rough the game can get is all decided on the spot. It makes for an interesting game, and you can always tell someone who has played stoolball before because they add rules that seem so odd, such as no hiding the stools. In my experience stoolball ALWAYS devolves into pure silly fun.
One of the first games I ever organized was in London Ontario with the SCA Group Trinovantia Nova at their annual event Winter War. The game was very well received and everyone was having fun. Because there were kids involved we did not use the soak em rule (which is getting a runner out by throwing the ball at them). At one point the ball was hit and the runner ran, one of the fielding team grabbed the outfield stool and ran away making it impossible for the runner to circle the stool. Both teams laughed themselves silly at this, but eventually the game resumed. During the same game a ball was hit, and the fielding team this time played a bit of a prank on the runner, someone ran off with their arms in front of them making it look like they had the stool, the runner chased the “stool thief” but another fielder with a long dress had lifted her skirt, stood over the stool and lowered her skirt back down so the stool was hidden. The runner finally caught up with the thief and realized that he didn’t have the stool and stood there confused while the pitcher threw the runner out, this maneuver became quite popular, always to hilarious results.
At an event called Fruits of Our Labour in the SCA group Ramshaven (Kitchener Ontario) I began an annual Stool Fool Tourney, the first Stoolball tourney was interesting, only two teams turned up, but we were able to at least play a game. We did make this a no kids game, you had to be over 16 to play in the tourney. The game started out civil enough, as they always do. Midway through the game the ball was hit into the at bat team that were waiting for their turn to hit. They decided to play a little offensive interference to allow their runner to score more points. It turned into one of the largest pileups I have ever seen to scramble for the ball. At one point I was on my hands and knees trying to crawl under the main pile up when I felt someone trying to climb over me, I grabbed the persons leg and flipped them over, I turned back to see it was an older lady, at first I felt bad, but then I noticed she was laughing uncontrollably so I continued to dig for the ball.
The game of stoolball can be quite amusing, if not taken too seriously. Hip checks, full on tackles, interference with the players the balls and/or the stools are all common occurrences depending on the rules. If you’ve never had a chance to play stoolball I highly recommend getting some friends together and playing a game ASAP.
Want to learn more about stoolball, read my article on Medieval Stoolball!
This weekend I had the great pleasure of being invited to Edmonton to sign and sell some of my books for the All Saints Medieval Fellowship. Prior to this the 1812’ers and the SCA was really my only exposure to reenactors, I’d met folks from Darc Company and a few other groups, but really they were all SCAdians and I only met them at SCA events. All Saints Fellowship and Ancient Arts School is a new organization, the Fellowship is an actual registered church and plan on opening a registered school to teach the long forgot arts such as blacksmithing, fiber arts, and much more. Since the parent organization (All Saints Medieval Fellowship) is an ecclesiastical organization they do require that all members believe in a supreme being, but they don’t seem overly concerned with specific personal beliefs, I met one gentleman who was a firm astaru believer (Old Norse religion).
Jeanette owner of Guinevere’s Games, maker of my favorite deck of cards, was there as well with her wares. She gave a great demo of medieval games and brought some for everyone to try some games. I got to play a little Noddy with my fiance Faye, but I was a little too busy talking to folks about games and my book to focus on the game.
Dan, the organizer, requested that I also give a little presentation. I wasn’t really prepared but I gave a small talk on period games, both board games and sports and showed off some period reproduction balls that Faye and I made. The group seemed to enjoy the talk and were really interested in the featheries (medieval golf balls) we brought.
If you live in Alberta, especially if you live in Edmonton, I highly recommend you look up the All Saints Medieval Fellowship, the school they are hoping to found will be a boon to re-enactors and casual history fans alike.
All Saints Medieval Fellowship is a group of reenactors who are looking at providing training in medieval/viking skills, and much more.
Jeffrey S. Johnston Author of Past Times: Ancient Board Games will be at the event signing copies of his book. Be sure to drop by and get your copy. There will also be other games and demos, magic, and so much more.
The event is a private event for the Fellowship, but strangers are welcome to come see what it’s all about.
I wrote a blog entry about the story of the time my protective cup ended up on the list field in the middle of a bout here. Well it appears the tale has spread once again and a fellow scadian (member of the SCA) decided it was time to write a poem about the event and so I give you:
Cu And His Cup
By THLaird Colyne Stewart, March AS 49 (2015)
Attend and hear a story that I swear to be the truth
Of events that befell Cu in the lost days of his youth
He planned to fight in tourney but his shield was missing sooth
He could not find it anywhere, nay any other sleuth
A kindly lady gave up hers and so he took the field
But his helm was hungry and his skin it ripped and peeled
With cloth he blotted up the blood, and took up sword to wield
But marshal said, “Ah hell no, son, this battle you must yield.”
So Quilliam, king, then came to him and offered royal helm
Cu, so honoured, fought so well his foes were overwhelmed
Feeling bold he faced one more among leafing oaks and elm
And then fate struck a nasty blow now known across the realm
As battle raged, our Cu felt odd, and marshals called a hold
For now a piece of armour lay upon the grassy wold
It was his cup upon the ground, now rocking where it rolled
How it came free we’ll never know, for no one has been told
Cu then turned to free his head but the helm was stuck quite tight
It took combined the strength of three—the king, baron and knight—
To pull and wrench the helmet off, and end poor Cu’s sad plight
And allow him to pick up his cup, which like his face, was white.
I figured what this blog needs is a dose of humour, and since a man who firmly believes in the old addage “Laugh at yourself and you will never cease to be amused” I will tell the tale that my fiance loves to bring up to anyone new who meets me in the SCA. I suppose for those who are reading my blog but are not familiar with the SCA I should give some background. The SCA is a medieval reenactment group that is focused on Pre 16th century European court. One of the more popular activities is Heavy Combat, or sword fighting in full armour using rattan swords. We use rattan because they mimic the approximate weight of an actual steel sword while minimizing the risk, the swords aren’t padded, so they do hurt if you get hit in an area that is not substantially covered with armour. If you wish to read more read my Beginners Guide to the SCA.
It all began at an event called FOOL or “Fruits of Our Labour”, the event was primarily a teaching event rather than marshal, but that year they planned a torchlight tournament which I thought would be fun, so I brought my armour, or so I thought. It turned out I brought all my armour except my shield, a pretty crucial bit of armour. I managed to borrow a shield from a friend who was not fighting in this tourney as she was taking on a entourage duty at that time (basically walk around with the “King” and/or “Queen” and be all official like).
I began the labourious task of armouring up for battle. When putting my helm on it slipped and slammed into the bridge of my nose leaving quite a nasty gash. Still unperturbed and determined to valiantly fight any foes I quickly ran to the washroom and cleaned up my wound. Upon my return to the field I found that the marshal had examined my helm and found it lacking padding thus declared it illegal to fight in the tournament in that helm. I was crestfallen, I was all geared up but no headgear. Luckily the then King of Ealdormere (Ontario, Canada) was watching and graciously loaned me his helm. The helm fit perfectly snug and tight.
So, finally, the tournament began. There were only four combatants so it was determined the fights would be several rounds of best two out of three. I won the first bout, lost the second, but won the third, meaning I was moving on to fight the winner of the other pair. I lost the first bout, and won the second, it was on the third bout, both myself and my opponent were struggling, fighting our hardest. I knew this opponent well I had fought him many times in practice, but until today I had never bested him, so I was on a high after beating him in the second fight of the second round. We were fighting hard my sword swung at an opening, and I saw his sword coming towards an opening created by my swing, I knew I could not block it, I could only hope his shot would be glancing and mine would would strike true, but we will never know, a hold was called and we stopped. The marshal cried out that there was a foreign object on the field and everyone stopped to see what it was (tripping hazards could be quite dangerous in armour). It appeared someone’s protective cup had made its way onto the field, that is when I noticed a distinct lack of pressure on my groin where my cup should be protecting me from harm. I admitted that the cup was mine, though I have no idea how long it lay there, nor how it managed to come out of it’s strap, but it meant that I would have to do some impromptu equipment repair before I could continue.
I went to remove my borrowed helm to discover that the helm was a little too perfectly fit for my head. The chin strap would not go over my nose. It took a knight, a baron, and a King to pry the helm from my head, yup three men to remove one helm from my massive cranium… Prior to this my SCA name was just Cù Allaidh, but I decided it important to add a descriptive byname to this (before someone else did) Dona means “The Unlucky” thus I became Cù Allaidh Dona
And so ends the tale of Cu Allaidh Dona and the Dancing Cup
A cute chart showing if a board game is Lighthearted or Friendship-Ending, as well as Short n’ Sweet or Neverending.
I recently purchased a Flemish deck from Guinevere’s Games. I will state for transparency sake that the owner of Guinevere’s Games is a friend of mine, however I would not be writing this review if I did not believe every word of it 100%.
I own a couple reproduction decks, and this is by far the best deck I have every purchased. Now part of that is bias, because I have always had a fondness for the Flemish Hunting Deck, it’s oval shape and unique pips have interested me for quite some time. I even worked on creating my own hand painted reproduction, but never got very far with it. The truth is though, this deck is actually designed for every day use, it’s meant not just to admire (and it is worthy of admiration) but to be played with. To me that is the hallmark of a great reproduction game, after all why purchase a game that you don’t intend to play with. Now I know collectors editions are specifically designed to be admired an not played with, but to me playing with the games is what is really exciting.
The cards themselves are printed on 300 gram cardstock with a glossy finish for a nice smooth slide so dealing the cards is easy. The cards shape is one of the most attractive aspect of the deck, these cards are oval just like the originals, and they are hand cut which lend to the artistic nature of the cards, they don’t feel like they are mass produced. The oval shape makes it a little odd to hold in your hand, but despite the large size they fan out nicely in your hand so actually playing with them is nice.
The suits are unique and hunter themed (thus this deck being called the Flemish Hunter Deck). There is the horns, the collars, the noose, and the tether.
The Court cards are all individually unique and each suit contains a king, a queen, and a knave. One of the many things that makes this deck unique is most extant decks from the area and period have Uber and Unter’s instead of Knaves. If you would like to take a look at pictures of the original deck click here.
I would say that the Flemish deck from Guinevere’s games is well worth the $45 price tag, it certainly holds a special place in my collection.