hist-games: Re: Zodiac

Christian Joachim Hartmann lukian at Null.net
Tue Jan 13 01:15:14 PST 1998


Hello Charles,

Your idea of the 'retrograde movements' is interesting.
This is just the lines one should think along, i.e. in
terms of analogy between what is happening in the skies
and on the board. It suits the atmosphere of the game
as I think the inventors of it tried to create.


However, I don't think that the squares are irrelevant.

First, as you observed, the game seems to be rather
uninteresting if a player is moving from one house into
the next without taking account of the squares.

Secondly, there would be no reason to put the piece
(planet) on the leftmost square within a house as the
starting position.

Thirdly and I think most importantly, he game of Zodiac
(whose name Schädler gives as "Escaques", being, I
presume, Catalan or older Spanish for the same) is
the 'world'-variant or round variant of chess.
It is describes alongside other chess-variants, 
rather as a climax to the other variants.
Schädler observes that similarly there is a round
variant of backgammon (tables) given. This is called
"The world" and it is played with four kind of men,
being called 'the seasons'.

Thus an earthly round game (the world) is paralleled
to a heavenly round game (Zodiac).

One should see Zodiac in conexion with chess -- and
chess is the game for which the chequered board was
invented after all!


I think therefore that the planets move on the squares.
The question is only how.


Most probably each planet is moved according to the throw
of the seven sided die, i.e. from one to seven squares.

Schädler says that a player doesn't has to use his 
thrown number to the full extend; he may move
his planet a smaller number of squares instead.
Thus, if a player throws 4, he may move his planet
from one to 4 squares. This would allow for a little
more tactics, but perhaps king Alfons would've
thought that this 'free choice' would disturb the
harmony of the spheres.


The best argument for this way of moving is on a
similar note than your comment on the retrograde
movements:
If each planet is moved according to the throw of
the die, then Saturn moves considerably slower round
the earth (the centre) than the moon. This is in
accordance with reality. Schädler cites the description
that is given for each planet. Saturn is a "stooping old man“.


The result of this method would be that luna moves
into a new house at each throw, therefore paying and
receiving constantly. Luna skips houses frequently.

Saturn is only able to move to the next house. But he
may abide for some time (maximum of seven rounds) in 
the same house without having to pay or to receive.


There are some points, which are unclear to me:
What I don't know is when a planet is allowed to move.

- Either when it's it's players turn and then the planet
is moved the number of squares of one throw of the die.

- Or, when the number of that planet is thrown (regardless
by whom, but presumably the right to throw rotate).


>If nothing else, it might be 
>a fun party game for children with candy for markers, (or a drinking game 
>if used with shots for bigger kids).

Yes, you're absolutely right! No comparison with the medieval Greek round
chess (or chess itself for the matter).

But perhaps we should think of 'very big kids' playing the
game, that is Alfons the sapient himself, being in his 60's,
and playing with some other wise men. They wouldn't mind
the payments, would they? They would think of the action
on the board in terms of the analogy to the movements
of the heavenly bodies, hearing, so to say, spherical
harmonies the while.


N.B. Since it covers only one page...
     If somebody is interested in Schädlers description
     of Escaques from his article in 'Spielbox', 1997,
     Nr. 4, p. 8-10, I may make a scan of the said page 
     and send it to those who are.

NN.BB. I have been adviced that "escaque" comes from
       lat. "scaccus", thus the same word as "chess",
       but means in Spanish 'square on a chessboard'.



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