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Subject: How Japan does a game of the ancient world rss

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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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1. Introduction

One of the reasons I strongly prefer traditional abstract games among abstract games arises from a fascination with the idea that I am pondering the intricacies of a game which has in turn been studied and played by generations before me. Much as I love wargames, even they do not have this sense of history-- not a view of history as a subject viewed from the outside but a sense of immersion, of doing what so many before me have done. While I was torn between two fields-- ancient history and physics-- in the early part of my academic career, I developed the view that one cannot understand a culture or its history truly without understanding its language because a people's language reflects and in a sense guides how that people thinks. Playing a people's games is a taste of this window into the people's psyche but at a different level.

This game therefore holds a deep fascination for me. For Hasami Shogi and the related but distinct game Dai Hasami Shogi are forms of a game known in the Western world throughout its recorded history, called Petteia by the Greeks and Petteia by the Romans. I reviewed these ancient Western versions of the game here, but in a sense I did so only from the view-point of the tafl games to which that review served as a preparatory introduction. In so doing, I may have given the game short shrift because the game is interesting in and of itself. The fact that so many games derive from this one by a series of subtle changes only makes this game the more interesting.

Yet this game itself is known to have been played in Northern Europe and the Graeco-Roman world from a time that was ancient even to the peoples we term ancient. The Persians played the same game and it is believed [with less direct evidence] that the Indians did too. The game survives in southeast Asia and is believed to have existed at one point in ancient China by many. Debate persists as to what relationship exists between this game and Go. Then of course this game, as per the form under immediate review, exists in Japan. Where the game started may not even be a meaningful question, but even where it took a recognizable form the earliest is equally impossible to answer. Whatever the answer, it serves only to emphasize that in playing this game, one becomes part of a tradition spanning from northern Europe and Africa to the extremity of Asia, from time immemorial.

This version is how Japan does it.

2. Equipment and rules

The traditional equipment used is a shogi-ban and the fhuyo ["pawns"] of a shogi set. This is then a 9x9 grid of spaces with nine identical pieces to each of two players. Those fortunate enough to have a shogi set therefore automatically own this game as well. The game if need be also can be played on the points [not spaces] of a chess-board using the eight pawns and one odd piece such as a bishop.

The pieces are initially placed on the back row. Players decide before-hand whether to play until a player first captures five or eight of the opponent's pieces. I would recommend novice players to play only to five lest the end-game become interminably long.

All pieces move as rooks in chess, meaning horizontally or vertically in a straight line any number of spaces without jumping another piece nor occupying the same space as any other piece. Captures are made custodially so that, if an opponent's pieces has one's own piece immediately adjacent to it either horizontally or vertically (but not diagonally) one may capture the enemy piece-- removing it from the board and play-- by moving a piece into position immediately adjacent to the enemy piece on the other side, again horizontally or vertically but not diagonally. A piece can move between two enemy pieces and multiple captures can be made if a capturing position occurs on more than one side of the piece moved, but exactly one piece must be sandwiched between any two of one's own pieces to make a capture. Play alternates in turn with each player moving a piece on his turn. Captures are not compulsory, although the variant in which they are is quite interesting. The first player to capture the agreed upon number--five or eight-- wins the game.

3. Game-play

A fundamental difference between this game and Dai Hasami Shogi lies in the fact that the board is relatively sparsely populated in this game, as opposed to being over-crowded in the latter.

Because a piece must be surrounded on two sides in a row to be captured, reasoning similar to Go arises in the sense that the corner of the board is positionally preferred to its side and its side is similarly preferred to its center. Yet the ability to move the pieces adds an element to the game by which position becomes much more rapidly fluid than Go-- with all its virtues-- could ever be. The popularly known game to which this is of course most analogous is of course its daughter-game Checkers, but the change of the form of capture reverses the order of positional strength on the board. Moreover, the lack of compulsory capture allows one to make more long-range strategic choices. Of course this eliminates the analogue of the simple traps of draughts, but this means only that the traps one sets need be more subtle or otherwise compelling.

One may then naturally ask: "What about the end-game? Doesn't the lack of compulsory capture lead to an interminable chase?" Here is where one gains insight perhaps on Japanese culture, traditionally a warrior culture. Such a rule need only be introduced to avoid a player in a losing position and who yet is unwilling to concede from protracting the game without trying to win, only to not lose. This game works and works well if one's opponent fights for victory to the last and honorably concedes if it becomes impossible. If one is not playing with such an admirable opponent, the game still works; one just needs to play to five.

Quote:
NB: This game needs pictures, people, and I don't own a camera!

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Orin Bishop
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I remember learning this game years ago, and it seemed very interesting, so I was surprised to see it had such a low rating. I suppose this is due to the end game issues you brought up, but I'm glad somebody's shown it some appreciation.
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Carlos C
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I love your review.. this is an interesting and deceptive deep game. While i prefer the Dai Hasami Shogi, this is a great game too.
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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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CarlosXiangqi wrote:
I love your review.. this is an interesting and deceptive deep game. While i prefer the Dai Hasami Shogi, this is a great game too.

My thoughts on that game are in my review of it.
 
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