hist-games: "Seven-sided Backgammon" reconstruction now up

Jane & Mark Waks waks at attbi.com
Mon May 6 07:50:34 PDT 2002


SEDWilkins at aol.com wrote:
> The 7-sided die in the Alphonse ms. for the "Zodiac" game appears to be long
> and narrow--I don't think the "ends" are in play at all.

I disagree. Having just gone and created a version of the
pentagonal-prism die for my Astronomical Tables set, I think I
understand what the picture is showing. (This is based on the picture
for Astronomical Tables, BTW -- I don't see any dice in the "Zodiac"
picture, at least based on the low-res online image. Certainly the
Astronomical Tables picture, which shows three dice at the same time,
provides a better idea of what's going on.)

In order to make that die work, you have to place the pips on the edges
of the rectangular sides, rather than the sides themselves, sinces the
edges are what come up when you roll the die. As a result, when the die
is lying with a rectangular edge down, when you look straight down at
the die, it *looks* long and narrow with the pips in the middle, since
you're actually seeing two adjoining sides with the edge in the center.

It's impossible to be absolutely certain, of course, but I'm fairly sure
I have it right -- these dice work well for the game, and they match the
illustration. I think the picture is just a smidgeon imprecise about
exactly how "long and narrow" they actually are.

This is, of course, assuming that Los Escaques (the "Zodiac" game) and
Astronomical Tables are using the same die, and that there's only one
kind of die being used; that's arguable, but I strongly suspect it's
right. Los Escaques is clear that you are throwing a single seven-sided
die. Astronomical Tables is clear (in its illustration) that the 7-pip
side is pentagonal. I think that this interpretation (the pentagonal
prism) is the only one that matches all the facts.

For (slightly blurry) pictures of my dice, check out the reconstruction
article, at:

	http://www.waks.org/game-hist/game-recon-astrotables.html

Click on the small pictures to get much larger versions.

All this said, it wouldn't surprise me to find that Chas is right, and
that they *also* used log dice in some situations. That seems like a
plausible interpretation of F84V, as he points to. But it should be
noted that the things that look like log dice (with pointed ends) aren't
the ones that are shown in the Astronomical Tables illustration.

BTW, that same page above points to Roselyne's translation of the
original source. This translation covers both Los Escaques and
Astronomical Tables -- it isn't necessarily perfect (Roselyne is
excellent with languages, but not a games scholar per se), but it is
enormously helpful in understanding what's going on. (Among other
things, I find that Murray's description of Los Escaques is somewhat
incomplete, and maybe slightly inaccurate: it sounds to me like you only
have 12 stakes to win or lose, which implies that the game does not run
indefinitely...)

				-- Justin



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