1 Jul

I have invented a new game, or a variant on an old game, that I’ve been calling Towers Alquerque, or Quirkat-ul-Buruj, or just Al Buruj (which is also the name of a chapter of The Qur’an, and a space opera RPG that I’ve wanted to write for a few years now).

I combined Alquerque and Bashni and I like the game even better than either one.

Alquerque is a really old Spanish game, probably brought to Spain from Africa back when Spain was full of Moorish kingdoms. Think of checkers played on a tight interconnected board. In fact checkers is probably just a variant of Alquerque played on a chess board.

Men playing Alquerque, pictured in Libro de lo...

Men playing Alquerque, pictured in Libro de los juegos. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alquerque is such an old game and was so popular in Medieval Europe that when the Spanish colonized the New World, they brought the game with them, and the Zuni people even made up their own variant that they play on yet another different board.

Awithlaknannai board start

Awithlaknannai board start (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, Alquerque is a fun game. Because the board is so small and interconnected, each board position is like a puzzle of sorts. You have to slow down and think about what the best move is in each situation. Sometimes it’s really easy to tell. But sometimes you would need to be a computer to figure out what the board position would be after both players have completed a series of obligatory jumps.

But Alquerque tends to be short and result in ties. And to many players this is a real downside.

Bashni is a checkers variant from Russia that people have played on and off for the past hundred or hundred fifty years. The difference between normal checkers and Bashni is that when you capture a piece in Bashni you do not remove it from the board. You place it underneath the piece that did the capturing. Eventually the pieces that remain in play will be formed into stacks. And when you jump a stack, you take the top piece off of it and place it underneath the capturing piece or capturing stack.

This creates a number of tactics that don’t exist in normal checkers. When you sacrifice a piece in Bashni, you can get it back by capturing the piece that took your sacrifice. If you have a big stack that includes five of your own pieces on three of your opponent’s pieces, you can sacrifice the top of your own stack and after your opponent jumps you, you can jump him right back, which results in you capturing your opponent and having your stack split into two.

In fact this game is so good that the chess master Emmanuel Lasker was fond of it, and really liked playing it on a 7 by 7 board. This tighter board meant that pieces would be in danger pretty much from the first move, and that exciting multiple jumps were a lot more likely, and a lot easier to set up, in the middle of the game. His variant is called Lasca and people still like to play it a hundred years later.

Lasker’s 7 by 7 board and an Alquerque board both have 25 positions, but each space on Lasker’s board has 1, 2 or 4 connections. Each space on an Alquerque board has 3, 4, 5, or 8 connections. This means that in this new game that I put together it is not terribly hard to set up 5 jump moves or a series of obligatory jumps lasting 6 to 10 moves. It is possible to make a bad move while playing Quirkat-ul-Buruj, and to not know it was a bad move until 3 or 4 moves later.

Just like in Bashni or Lasca, it is possible in Al Buruj for a player reduced to one stack to still come back and win.

Just to be clear, the rules for Towers Alquerque are:

  1. Start from this position.

    Commenters are not allowed to make fun of my rustic board that I made from an old shelf or my amateur polymer clay pieces. The lines were seered into the board with a hot iron, and the board was coated with spar varnish because I tend to use it as a coaster in bed, and I’ve spilled coffee on it. The pieces were the first time I’ve ever made anything out of polymer clay.

  2. Move each piece one space along a line. Don’t worry about forwards or backwards. You can move along any line in any direction, and you do not “king” an opponent’s piece if it reaches your side of the board. You don’t really have a side of the board.
  3. If you can capture, you must. I’ve been playing that you just take back a move if you do not see a capture but your opponent does, or if your opponent sees a capture that captures more pieces, he can ask you to take back your move and make that one instead. (In normal checkers you can “huff” a piece that fails to make a capture, and that adds an interesting tactical element, the question of, “Are you willing to let a piece die so that you can set up a better move for yourself with another piece.” But huffing a piece is a rule that novice players use to be rude to each other, punishing your opponent for not seeing an opportunity to capture, and it seems out of the spirit of the game since it would remove a piece from the board, so I haven’t experimented with it yet.)
  4. If you jump a piece (capture), you place it under the piece or stack that jumped it. If you jump a stack, you put the top piece under the piece or stack that jumped it. Multiple jumps are fine, but you cannot jump a stack that you just jumped. I’ve been playing that you can jump a stack twice if you jump another stack in between. (If you want to make multiple jumps more dangerous then make it the rule that once a stack has been jumped, it cannot be jumped again that turn. This will create a situation where some multiple jumps leave your piece right next to an opponent’s stack that can jump it on the next move. This will force the players to think more tactically about their jumps, but I find crazy multiple jumps more exciting, as long as you can’t jump back and forth over the same stack.)

    If you play that multiple jumping a stack is possible, then this arrangement of pieces will allow the orange swirls to make a 7 jump move. If you play that a stack cannot be jumped twice in one turn, then all 5 stacks can still be jumped, but at the end of the move, the new stack controlled by orange will be jumped by purple, liberating a 5 piece stack of purple.

  5. To win you must get all of your opponent’s pieces under your own pieces (or off the board if you’re going to allow huffing). I think that a draw is probably impossible, but if you can’t totally deprive your opponent of all moves, then that should be a draw.

I can’t imagine this invention is worth any money. An Alquerque board is something that can be easily remembered and drawn on a napkin in a pub, with one player using copper coins and another using silver coins (pennies and dimes if you are reading this in North America). So I’m just going to call No IP on Al Buruj and trust that someone, somewhere will remember that Sheikh Jahbooty made it up.

Is it hubris of me to create a Board Game Geek page for my game, or should I create a variant page on the Alquerque page? Should I wait until my contribution to the field of board gaming is recognised by someone else who will create those pages, like how you can’t create a wikipedia page about yourself? I’ll just leave this here and figure that out later. I just like this game and wanted to share it with you all.


One Response to “Quirkat-ul-Buruj”

  1. Sheikh Jahbooty 2 July 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    Cuando me escribió que ustedes deben utilizar pennies y dimes para jugar Quirkat-ul-Buruj en América del Norte, yo no estaba tratando de ignorar o excluir a México, ya que obviamente Alquerque que una vez fue una parte importante de la vida en México. Me olvidé que ustedes no tienen monedas de un centavo ahora. Si quieres probar Alquerque de los Torres en una cantina, en una servilleta, utilices piezas de diez y veinte centavos. Muy pronto, los canadienses no tienen pennies más bien. No sé lo que usaría en ese vez. ¿Alguien tiene $15 de loonies y quarters en el bolsillo?

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