CLOSE

5000 Years of Board Games (Part Two)

This week, Keith Law is taking us though the evolution of board games. If you missed yesterday's installment, you might want to read that first.

While modern western board games trace their lineage through Europe to the Middle East, Asia has its own long history of board games, dating at least back to 300 A.D., where we find the earliest references to a Korean game called Nyout, first described in English by Stewart Culin in 1895. Nyout, one of the earliest of a style of game now known somewhat pejoratively as “roll the dice, move your mice” games, involved a game board with a circular track circumscribing a cross, where the goal for any player was to have his or her pieces (called “horses”) make complete circuits around the outer track. Horses can be captured by another player's horses should they land on an occupied space. Although the game itself is Korean, Culin argued that its roots were Chinese, and early Nyout boards included Chinese characters. Within Korea, the game was associated with gambling and considered plebeian.

Go (I-go) is a classic Japanese game of placement, originally known in China as wéiqí, and is described by Parlett as the oldest extant board game in the world, with its rules nearly unchanged for several thousand years. In go, each player places stones with an eye toward surrounding as much space as possible. While the earliest reference to wéiqí appears in 548 B.C., the game's popularity in China soared during the T'ang dynasty of 618 to 906 A.D., as Taoism rose in importance. [Image credit.]

A similar traditional game called mig-mang or ming-mang, meaning “many eyes,” is played in Tibet; the board is 16x16 and all pieces start on the perimeter, with each player occupying two adjacent sides of the square.

Wéiqí moved to Korea some time in the second century B.C., when the Han Dynasty expanded into the Korean peninsula, where the game, called baduk, remains extremely popular. Go arrived in Japan in the 5th or 6th century A.D., and by the end of the first millennium was an essential part of Japanese culture, factoring strongly in two great Japanese novels of widely different eras: The Tale of Genji, which was written around 1000 A.D.; and The Master of Go, written in 1951 by Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata.

Go became a favorite game of the learned classes of medieval Japan, as well as of warlords and military tacticians. When Tokugawa Ieyasu became Shogun in 1603, he created a government office for the regulation and development of go (as well as one for shogi, or Japanese chess). His first principal, Honinbo Sansa, also known by his Buddhist name of Nikkai, established a nationwide system of rules and four major go “houses” or academies, one of which, the eponymous Honinbo, lasted until 1940.

At first glance, the go board resembles a super-sized version of Reversi, but go is played on the vertices of a 19 by 19 square surface, and pieces are captured not through a line but by surrounding them on four sides, or on two or three sides at the board's extreme corner or edge. Any piece that is not yet surrounded by the opponent's color is said to have “liberty,” and thus the object is to take liberties from – rather than with – one's opponent. Due to its simple rules, zero-sum nature, and extremely high number of legal game positions – about 2.08 x 10170, roughly the estimated minimum number of atoms in the known universe squared – go has attracted attention from mathematicians and game theorists, and even led to the creation of an arithmetic continuum called the surreal numbers.

In India, Pachisi – bastardized in name and form for westerners as “Parcheesi” - is considered the national board game, due to its long history and mention in the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata. The name Pachisi comes from the Hindi word “pachis,” meaning twenty-five, the highest possible score that a player can achieve by throwing the cowrie shells used as a sort of binary dice. [Image credit: Micha L. Rieser.]

The game board resembles the cross found on Parcheesi boards, but pachisi is a four-player game involving two partnerships, as in bridge. Players attempt to move their pieces around the entire perimeter of the board and back into the board's center, with victory going to the partnership that has all eight of its pieces complete the route first. The board is similar to that of Nyout, and Parlett theorizes that the games may have shared a common ancestor.

Chaupar is a more complex variant of pachisi using different dice substitutes and giving players more flexibility in using the results of their rolls; chaupar was seen as the rich man's game, while pachisi was the peasants', although the popularity of both games has declined in India in the past century. Further simplified versions of the game called Ludo and Sorry! have found commercial success in the West, although they bear only a superficial resemblance to their grandparent.

The most popular game, or more properly style of game, in traditional African cultures is mancala. The game's name is derived from the Arabic word naqala ('to move'), where two players attempt to capture neutral pieces from a playing board of two tracks of cups or containers. Like go and mig-mang, mancala games involve no luck or chance, but unlike contestants at go, mancala players move quickly. The earliest Western reference to mancala came nearly 500 years ago, although the game is likely much older than that, with mancala-like boards appearing in Egyptian temples and pyramids, on Neolithic tablets found in Kenya, and in once-fertile areas of the Sahara that may date back to 3000 B.C.

Although hundreds of varieties exist up and down the continent and wherever African slaves were taken, including Wari/Woro of West Africa and the Caribbean and Endodoi of Kenya and Tanzania, the basic principle involves taking all of the stones in one hole/cup and moving them forward, dropping (or 'sowing') one stone per cup. The rules for capturing the stones in any cup vary depending on the game, but may depend on how many stones were in the cup at the point of sowing, or whether the cup across from it was empty, but the objective remains the capture of the majority of the pieces on the board.

Tomorrow: Backgammon, Scrabble, and more!

Keith Law of ESPN is an occasional contributor to mental_floss. Check out his blog or follow him on Twitter.

Get 15% off our new game when you use the code SPLITDECISION!

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hulu
arrow
entertainment
10 Things We Know About The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2
Hulu
Hulu

Though Hulu has been producing original content for more than five years now, 2017 turned out to be a banner year for the streaming network with the debut of The Handmaid’s Tale on April 26, 2017. The dystopian drama, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book, imagines a future in which a theocratic regime known as Gilead has taken over the United States and enslaved fertile women so that the group’s most powerful couples can procreate.

If it all sounds rather bleak, that’s because it is—but it’s also one of the most impressive new series to arrive in years (as evidenced by the slew of awards it has won, including eight Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards). Fortunately, fans left wanting more don’t have that much longer to wait, as season two will premiere on Hulu in April. In the meantime, here’s everything we know about The Handmaid’s Tale’s second season.

1. IT WILL PREMIERE WITH TWO EPISODES.

When The Handmaid’s Tale returns on April 25, 2018, Hulu will release the first two of its 13 new episodes on premiere night, then drop another new episode every Wednesday.

2. MARGARET ATWOOD WILL CONTINUE TO HELP SHAPE THE NARRATIVE.

Fans of Atwood’s novel who didn’t like that season one went beyond the original source material are in for some more disappointment in season two, as the narrative will again go beyond the scope of what Atwood covered. But creator/showrunner Bruce Miller doesn’t necessarily agree with the criticism they received in season one.

“People talk about how we're beyond the book, but we're not really," Miller told Newsweek. "The book starts, then jumps 200 years with an academic discussion at the end of it, about what's happened in those intervening 200 years. We're not going beyond the novel. We're just covering territory [Atwood] covered quickly, a bit more slowly.”

Even more importantly, Miller's got Atwood on his side. The author serves as a consulting producer on the show, and the title isn’t an honorary one. For Miller, Atwood’s input is essential to shaping the show, particularly as it veers off into new territories. And they were already thinking about season two while shooting season one. “Margaret and I had started to talk about the shape of season two halfway through the first [season],” he told Entertainment Weekly.

In fact, Miller said that when he first began working on the show, he sketched out a full 10 seasons worth of storylines. “That’s what you have to do when you’re taking on a project like this,” he said.

3. MOTHERHOOD WILL BE A CENTRAL THEME.

As with season one, motherhood is a key theme in the series. And June/Offred’s pregnancy will be one of the main plotlines. “So much of [Season 2] is about motherhood,” Elisabeth Moss said during the Television Critics Association press tour. “Bruce and I always talked about the impending birth of this child that’s growing inside her as a bit of a ticking time bomb, and the complications of that are really wonderful to explore. It’s a wonderful thing to have a baby, but she’s having it potentially in this world that she may not want to bring it into. And then, you know, if she does have the baby, the baby gets taken away from her and she can’t be its mother. So, obviously, it’s very complicated and makes for good drama. But, it’s a very big part of this season, and it gets bigger and bigger as the show goes on.”

4. THE RESISTANCE IS COMING.

Just because June is pregnant, don’t expect her to sit on the sidelines as the resistance to Gilead continues. “There is more than one way to resist," Moss said. “There is resistance within [June], and that is a big part of this season.”

5. WE’LL GET TO SEE THE COLONIES.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

Miller, understandably, isn’t eager to share too many details about the new season. “I’m not being cagey!” he swore to Entertainment Weekly. “I just want the viewers to experience it for themselves!” What he did confirm is that the new season will bring us to the colonies—reportedly in episode two—and show what life is like for those who have been sent there.

It will also delve further into what life is like for the refugees who managed to escape Gilead, like Luke and Moira.

6. MARISA TOMEI WILL APPEAR IN AN EPISODE.

Though she won’t be a regular cast member, Miller recently announced that Oscar winner Marisa Tomei will make a guest appearance in the new season’s second episode. Yes, the one that will show us the Colonies. In fact, that’s where we’ll meet her; Tomei is playing the wife of a Commander.

7. WE’LL LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF GILEAD.

As a group shrouded in secrecy, we still don’t know much about how and where Gilead began. That will change a bit in season two. When discussing some of the questions viewers will have answered, executive producer Warren Littlefield promised that, "How did Gilead come about? How did this happen?” would be two of them. “We get to follow the historical creation of this world,” he said.

8. THERE WILL BE AT LEAST ONE HANDMAID FUNERAL.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

While Miller wouldn’t talk about who the handmaids are mourning in a teaser shot from season two that shows a handmaid’s funeral, he was excited to talk about creating the look for the scene. “Everything from the design of their costumes to the way they look is so chilling,” Miller told Entertainment Weekly. “These scenes that are so beautiful, while set in such a terrible place, provide the kind of contrast that makes me happy.”

9. ELISABETH MOSS SAYS THE TONE WILL BE DARKER.

Like season one, Miller says that The Handmaid’s Tale's second season will again balance its darker, dystopian themes with glimpses of hopefulness. “I think the first season had very difficult things, and very hopeful things, and I think this season is exactly the same way,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “There come some surprising moments of real hope and victory, and strength, that come from surprising places.”

Moss, however, has a different opinion. “It's a dark season,” she told reporters at TCA. “I would say arguably it's darker than Season 1—if that's possible.”

10. IT WILL ALSO BE BLOODIER.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

When pressed about how the teaser images for the new season seemed to feature a lot of blood, Miller conceded: “Oh gosh, yeah. There may be a little more blood this season.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
arrow
technology
Researchers in Singapore Deploy Robot Swans to Test Water Quality
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

There's something peculiar about the new swans floating around reservoirs in Singapore. They drift across the water like normal birds, but upon closer inspection, onlookers will find they're not birds at all: They're cleverly disguised robots designed to test the quality of the city's water.

As Dezeen reports, the high-tech waterfowl, dubbed NUSwan (New Smart Water Assessment Network), are the work of researchers at the National University of Singapore [PDF]. The team invented the devices as a way to tackle the challenges of maintaining an urban water source. "Water bodies are exposed to varying sources of pollutants from urban run-offs and industries," they write in a statement. "Several methods and protocols in monitoring pollutants are already in place. However, the boundaries of extensive assessment for the water bodies are limited by labor intensive and resource exhaustive methods."

By building water assessment technology into a plastic swan, they're able to analyze the quality of the reservoirs cheaply and discreetly. Sensors on the robots' undersides measure factors like dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll levels. The swans wirelessly transmit whatever data they collect to the command center on land, and based on what they send, human pilots can remotely tweak the robots' performance in real time. The hope is that the simple, adaptable technology will allow researchers to take smarter samples and better understand the impact of the reservoir's micro-ecosystem on water quality.

Man placing robotic swan in water.
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

This isn't the first time humans have used robots disguised as animals as tools for studying nature. Check out this clip from the BBC series Spy in the Wild for an idea of just how realistic these robots can get.

[h/t Dezeen]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios