#BGS2015 Board game studies colloquium

Day one: Monday

Up at 4.00am. As I leave the house at 4.45, the waning moon hangs sleepily in the night sky. Two students are waiting at Ipswich station at 5.00 (the third has been delayed by his late visa application) and the first train of the day, scheduled to depart at 5.14, is already at the platform. As we change at Colchester half an hour later, daylight is beginning to emerge. The train to Shenfield runs through deepest Essex, the fields still swaddled in blankets of mist.

05.14 to Colchester

We arrive at Southend International Airport station on schedule at 7.07 and walk the short distance between the railway station and the airport in a couple of minutes to join the end of the security queue. A suitcase gets jammed in the X-ray tunnel and security staff have to transfer all the trays of belongings to the unused second tunnel, redirecting queuing passengers accordingly.

A cyclist ahead of us in the queue is distressed to forfeit his Allen keys, protesting he has travelled the world with them for the last twenty years, but expresses relief at being allowed to keep his pedals (with an apparent value of £400). Despite removing the blade from my safety razor as a precautionary measure, I am still taken aside and required to demonstrate the razor to be blade-free. At the same time the tannoy announces the gate for our flight has closed. To add to the excitement, one member of our party has his bag sent back through the tunnel to be X-rayed a second time. Adopting a brisk pace we descend the escalator and soon locate the gate -- fortunately, Southend airport is very small -- and find the gate staff still at their post. They seem to be aware of the delay upstairs and, allowing us to board, are overheard to be nine passengers short, our depleted party accounting for four of the absentees. Relieved to be aboard the half-empty plane, the pilot's steep banking manoeuvres during take-off are forgivable. The Thames estuary mud glistens in the morning sun as the trauma of departure shrinks into the ground below.

From Southend...
... to Geneva

We touch down eighty minutes later and clear Swiss immigration quickly enough to be able to catch an earlier-than-planned train, arriving in Vevey at 12.00. After checking into the hotel we walk along the shore of Lake Geneva to The Swiss Museum of Games, only to find it closed on a Monday! After a rest in a cafe, we walk through the old town of Vevey to make our way back to the hotel. The early start and long day of travel means an early night is in order.

Old Vevey

Day two: Tuesday

Breakfast at the hotel is served from 8.15 - 10.30. After enjoying cereal, orange juice, bread and cheese and coffee on the terrace with beautiful views of Lake Geneva and the French Alps, I send the students a message to remind them the dining room will soon be cleared and they arrive as if by magic.

Grand hotel room view of the car park, Grand Place, Vevey

Most of the morning is taken up with blogging and communicating with the missing member of the party who, by now, has obtained a visa and is en route to Switzerland. In the afternoon I take advantage of the Montreux Riviera Card and get the bus to Chillon to visit the stunning lake-side castle where, in 1816, Lord Byron carved his name on a column in the dungeon after learning of the story of a priest who spent six years there in chains. The tale is commemorated in Byron's 392-line poem, "The Prisoner of Chillon".

Château de Chillon

On the return journey I stop in Montreux to walk through town to get my bearings for Thursday's dinner at the Casino, pausing to take in the view from the lakeside Freddie Mercury statue. There is a garden of statuary nearby, celebrating the musicians who have performed at the annual jazz festival.

Montreux Casino
Mercury in bronze

Back in Vevey I bump into another party of BGS delegates, some of whom I know from the last BGS event held at UCS in 2014. I also make contact with the missing student to check on his whereabouts and find he is now playing chess in the grounds of the games museum, having arrived in good time for the evening reception.

Chess board, Swiss Museum of Games

Delegates sign-in at the registration desk and are issued with name badges and conference packs. When it comes to my turn it seems there has been a slight hitch as the UCS cash transfer has apparently underpaid by CHF11. Luckily, I have enough local currency to pay the outstanding sum (I later learn another delegate from a British university was also asked to stump-up for an apparent shortfall, but he declined to pay, telling registration staff to contact the university finance department!) The reception gives delegates the chance to renew old acquaintances and become introduced to new faces.

#BGS2015 delegates
Delegates gather for the informal Reception, Swiss Museum of Games

As the welcome event winds down, one delegate asks people to check their conference packs because she has put her phone, purse and other personal possessions in her bag, but it seems someone has taken it. To make matters worse, she isn't able to contact her Air BnB hostess in Montreux. I suggest she joins us to access her email and then travel to Montreux (half an hour on the bus) or, if the worse comes to the worst, stay in the student dorm. The worst comes and she stays. However, by the time things have been worked out, supermarkets have closed, and other eateries are closing too but, luckily, our unexpected guest has several bags of noodles in her luggage and is able to feed us all in an impromptu dinner party in the hostel kitchen!

Day three: Wednesday

After breakfast the situation is explained to the receptionist who reasons that, as one member of the party did not stay on the first night, the interloper had not caused the capacity of the room to be exceeded, and no additional charges are incurred.

The first session is "From modern times to present day". The day starts with a paper by Wim van Mourik on the representation of merels games in art since the mediaeval period. Another of the morning talks, by Rainer Buland, discusses rhetoric in text and image in representations of board, dice and card games. Buland's presentation includes some fascinating and amusing imagery, including a guide to decorum for the English gentleman, with examples of behavior to avoid when winning or losing. Buland also shows some examples of chamber scenes and “erotic encounters”.

Top left: Wim van Mourik (photo: Bruce Whitehill). Top right: Rainer Buland's title slide (photo: Jorge Nuno Silva). Bottom: the erotics of play (photo: Bruce Whitehill).

Ulrich Schadler presented an investigation into a rosewood mancala board housed in the Ethnographic Museum, Geneva. The board was once the property of the owner of the Chateau du La Tour, which is now the home of the Swiss Museum of Games. The baroque decoration suggests the board was made in Europe, and the mask-style motif, which fell out of fashion in the first two decades of C18th, suggest it would probably have been carved in the late C17th, making this the oldest known wooden mancala board. The presentation prompted a lot of discussion about the introduction of mancala to Europe through coffee houses opened by immigrants (primarily Levantines and Jews) in Paris, London and Amsterdam.

#BGS2015 Day One. Top: Ulrich Schaedler (photo: Bruce Whitehill). Bottom: Richard Ballam.

The coffee house theme continues with a presentation by Thierry Depaulis about Manoury, the author of the first book on Polish draughts (1770) [Polish draughts is played on a 10x10 board and is now known as International Draughts]. Manoury also devised a notation system that is still used for International Draughts. Manoury was the proprietor of Café Manoury, a Parisian coffee shop on La Place de l’Ecole, near Pont Neuf. Depaulis managed to construct a brief biography of Manoury, based on records retrieved from the Bibliotheque Nationale. He also showed several images of Manoury’s coffee house (interior and exterior views) including, remarkably, delineations of Manouray himself, and Manoury's sister who co-managed the business.

Top: Thierry Depaulis (photos: Jorge Nuno Silva). Bottom: "Interior of Café Manoury" [ca. 1772] possibly showing Manoury (centre right) with Rousseau (centre) and Manoury's sister at the counter to the rear (image from Arie van der Stoep's http://draughtshistory.nl)

Adrian Seville continues the investigative approach with his research into what he calls “a puzzling wooden games table” which appears to date from around 1812 but which must have been updated and re-stocked in the late C19th to add inlaid game boards for agon (invented 1842) and go bang (ditto, 1873). Despite the lack of conclusive proof, Seville provides compelling circumstantial evidence (including the use of the Napoleonic eagle) that the walnut table, described as "more of a museum than a game box" may have been owned by Marie Louise, the second wife of Napoleon. The table is now in Seville's personal collection, having been acquired at auction. During the question session, nobody is indelicate enough to ask the value of the winning bid.

Adrian Seville offers an account of "a puzzling wooden games table" (photo: Bruce Whitehill)
After the final discussion, the delegates visit La Maison Hugenon for a formal reception by the City of La Tour de Peilz.
Delegates arrive at La Maison Hugonin for the Civic Reception...
... and enjoy the early evening sunshine.

Day four: Thursday

The pressures of running on “conference time” with a combination of travel, packed days, early mornings and late nights finally overtake the students who can't manage another 9.00am start. The day begins for early birds with the “India and Beyond” session, in which Alex de Voogt regales us with his quest to photograph the peculiar temple dice found only in Bhutan.

Alex de Voogt describes his quest to see the temple dice at Paro Taktsang, the remote 'Tiger's Nest' monastery on a cliff in Bhutan.

After a break for lunch we resume with “Chess History” and, in a paper on chess and draughts in mediaeval art and literature, Arie van der Stoep argues that draughts was the “more popular” game until it was usurped by the newcomer.

Session chair Mark Hall (left) looks on as Ulrich Schaedler (centre) engages with Arie van der Stoep (right) on chess and draughts

By now the students have arrived. I am the chairman for the next session, “Games and Mathematics” which proves to be a mixed bag of “passatempo aritmetico”, combinatorial games, and algorithms. But at least I get to use the cowbell to call delegates to order! The session concludes with a poster session by Frank Berthold Rordorf on cube assemblies and ball-pyramid assemblies.

There is just enough time for delegates to return to their hotels to change before making their way to Montreux for the colloquium dinner at the casino. I’m sure everyone has an interesting table, but we are lucky enough to share ours with, inter alia, playing-card historian Thierry Depaulis, Spiel des Jarhes founder Tom Werneck and next year’s colloquium organiser, Stefanie Kuschill. After a round of introductions and brief biographical sketches over the first course, one of our table-mates is introduced as the evening’s guest speaker, Renee Proyer, who takes to the floor to give a very entertaining talk, without notes or slides, on “the playful personality”.

Dinner at Montreux Casino (photos: Jorge Nuno Silva)

After dinner, delegates have the opportunity to play the tables, visit the Queen exhibition (which has been specially opened for us) or sit and continue discussion. However, as the schedule requires us to be at the Swiss Museum of Games at 8.00am the following morning for the coach to the University of Fribourg, nobody stays out too late.

Day five: Friday

Everybody boards the coach for 8.00 to enjoy the fifty-minute journey through spectacular scenery to city of Fribourg, on the Swiss A12.

A12 Vevey to Fribourg

After a welcome and introduction from Professor Veronique Dasen, the day’s theme “Playing with Antiquity” gets underway. Anne-Elizabeth Dunn-Vaturi gives the first paper, on a double sided board from Tell Afis. After tea, Mark Hall gives an interesting presentation on knucklebones and Veronique Dasen offers a fascinating reading of the iconography of Achilles and Ajax at play.

Playing with Antiquity at The University of Fribourg (Photos: Jorge Nuno Silva)

Following a break for lunch, Babara Carè shows some remarkable examples of the use of knucklebones in a funerary context. I give the last presentation of the day, a comparison of bone astragals with CT-scanned and 3D printed copies, which we found demonstrate the same probablility in use with regard to the likelihood of throwing a narrow or a broad face.

Delegates board the coach for the journey to the “Veni Vidi Ludique” exhibition at The Roman Museum at Vallon where we have the opportunity to view the museum and to play some of the ancient games set out for the exhibition. The museum preserves two Roman mosaics, one of which is the largest in Switzerland. A local television crew is on hand to record a short piece about the visit. The coach then takes us back to The Swiss Museum of Games where, after dinner, we assemble for an enjoyable games evening.

Fun and Games at The Roman Museum at Vallon (photo of museum exterior by Jorge Nuno Silva)
Games Evening, Swiss Museum of Games

Day six: Saturday

The final session, “Theory and Education” starts at 9.00 on the last day of the colloquium. David King gives the first paper on “choice, random-ness and interaction” an exploration of what King called the “building blocks” of the game space, which developed and extended the paper he presented at last year’s colloquium in Ipswich. I give my presentation on pervasive games and, after a break, Cesco Real talks about “4D” games. Reale uses Quarto, Set, 4D tic-tac-toe and Ana Kvataro as examples of 4D games, the latter being an Esperanto name for a four-player version of Connect 4 (Reale is a representative of the Universal Esperanto Association to the UN).

"Theory and Education": the final block of papers

After the last block of papers, delegates enjoy a farewell lunch, courtesy of The Swiss Museum of Games. Finally, those who have to leave swap details, make arrangements to keep in touch and set off on their homeward journeys. The remainder board the coach for the post-colloquium excursion to St Maurice.

Left (from the front): Ulrich Schaedler, Eddie Duggan, Rebecca Brannum, Frank Berthold Rordorf, Cesco Reale, Abdallah Saffidine, Rolf ?, Alex de Voogt. Right (From the front): Ray Sunandar, Tom Smith, Dorothee Jankhuhn, Unknown, Sophie Caflisch [obscured], Lisa Rougetet, Jakob Schmidt-Madsen, David King (Photos: Bruce Whitehill)

The town of St Maurice is named for the commander of the Roman legion from Thebes. Around 285AD, Emperor Maximian sent the legion, which had converted to Christianity, to put down a Celtic revolt in Gaul. At Agaunum, the Theban legion was ordered to secure St Bernard’s Pass (or, depending upon the source, to make sacrifices to Roman gods). However, the legion refused to kill other Christians. Maximian had the legion decimated and, when they still refused to comply, the legion was decimated a second time. Finally, Maximian had Maurice and the remainder of the legion slaughtered. A shrine was later built at the site of the slaughter and, in 380AD a church was built nearby at the site of the Roman temple to Mercury, god of travellers. In the early C6th an abbey was founded at the site.

Delegates are given a guided tour of the basilica and the archaeological site, as well as the treasury, which displays artefacts that have recently returned from The Louvre, where they have been on display during the renovation of the Treasury at St Maurice.

Delegates visit the St Maurice Abbey, archaeological site and treasury. (Photos by Eddie Duggan, Jorge Nuno Silva and Bruce Whitehill)
Return journey from St Maurice to La Tour-de-Peilz

The party returns to The Swiss Museum of Games for the last time and bid their farewells. The return journey is uneventful although one member of our party requires a landing card, which should have been provided on the flight. It wasn’t, which results in some queuing at immigration.

As there are only thirty minutes between touchdown and the departure of the last train that provides a connection to Ipswich, we all keep our eyes on the clock. However, we get to the station with minutes to spare and are soon enjoying the familiar sights and sounds of the British transport system. Needless to say, although we are thoroughly worn out by the time we reach Ipswich, we are all looking forward to next year’s colloquium at the new games archive in Nuremburg!

There's no place like home
#BGS2016 German Games Archive, Nuremberg

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