Of Games and Cosmology

I heard it said that the opposite of play isn’t work – the opposite of play is depression.

I think there’s a lot of truth to it, too. People seem to have been playing ever since they became people – and probably before that, too, seeing as many animals display playful behaviour also.

Games are a way to learn, to socialize, to refine skills, to banish sadness and boredom.

So, naturally, the people of Halqueme play games.

One of the most popular games is hatrang, or the Four Courts. It is based on… ok, lifted nearly wholesale off a chess variant called chaturaji.

This the obligatory still image. Below are some Sketchfab embeddings that you can turn around with your mouse if you want.

The differences are mostly terminological.

Lady/ Queen/ Princess
KingMoves one square in any direction
ChariotElephantMoves horizontally or vertically, through any number of unoccupied squares.
RiderKnightMoves L-shaped in any direction
Bird/Mage/ Wyrm/ Ship/SpriteBoatMoves two squares diagonally in any direction, jumping over the intervening square
PawnPawnMoves one square forward, captures one square diagonally.

As you can tell, the King is Lady. Most of the cultures of Halqueme are currently more or less gender equal, but in the past they tended towards matrifocal societies. The most important piece that doesn’t get into action much is naturally perceived as the ruler, and since the rulers were most commonly female it’s the Lady, sometimes also called Queen (or Princess, especially if you’re in Bereg).

The Elephant is Chariot. It probably used to be an elephant in Simdu where the game originated, but there aren’t any elephants in Halqueme. Chariots, on the other hand, do tend to sweep down everything in their way.

The Knight is Rider. The Four Courts came to Halqueme via Bereg, and Bereg culturally doesn’t have knights even if they do use cavalry a lot. So the piece is most commonly called Rider.

The Boat is the trickiest one. Its moves are the hardest to predict (or to aim properly), but then again when it does hit, things stay hit. It is therefore mostly associated with magic – whether human battle mages or the otherworldly creatures. It has the widest variety of names, with the Halcians preferring Mage or Wyrm and the Bereghins preferring Ship (in honour of their flying ships) or Sprite. Both occasionally refer to it as Bird.

Finally, the Pawn is still the Pawn – a footsoldier.

The Four Courts (four players of the game), at heart, reflect the four basic sides of this world’s cosmology as the people of Halqueme see it: Above, Below, This Side and Other Side.

Exact interpretations – and colours – vary between cultures, of course.

This, for example, is a Halcian hatrang set. It has blue (sky) for Above, red (fire) for Below, green (life) for This Side (living beings, mortals) and black (death) for the Other Side (faerie, undead, danger all lumped under one category).

Then there’s the Bereghin version. Above and Below are still blue and red for sky and fire, but green (life) is interpreted as the Other Side because of the associations with nature and changeability, whereas This Side is yellow (ground) – something simple, constant, understandable.

And then there’s the Four Courts as it’s played by the actual otherlings, but we’ll get into that later 🙂

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  1. Pingback: Of Games and Cosmology | History Muse

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