Friday, December 09, 2005

The Game of Jetan, or Barsoomian Chess

Recently I was mentioning my childhood fascination with the lesser known writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs, such as his John Carter of Mars series. I forget just at what point in my grade school years I came into possession of a paperback copy of ERB's The Chessmen of Mars. Anyhow, young game fanatic that I was, I was especially taken with a chesslike Martian board game which played an important role in the novel: the game of Jetan, or Barsoomian chess, so called after "Barsoom," which was the native name for the planet Mars in Burroughs' series.

the game of jetan
Jetan was played on a ten-by-ten board, orange pieces against black, twenty pieces to a side. One of the most fascinating features of the game was that many of the pieces were able after each square to change the direction they were moving, so that "three spaces straight" might mean "three spaces north," or it might mean "one space north, then one space east, then one space north again."

In high school I turned out sets for various odd games as an art project, and of course I made my own Jetan set, which you will see pictured above. The board I made of leather— it helps to have an uncle who was a salesman for a leather company. The Martian chessmen I made by cannibalizing a couple of different wooden chess sets, and spray-painting the pieces orange and black, adding to a few of them further distinguishing marks.

Jetan turns out actually to be a very playable game. One minor problem, the rules as ERB gave them in his book contained a few ambiguities. Back around 1970 I corresponded with John Gollon, author of Chess Variations Ancient, Regional, and Modern, and he conceded that for a Jetan piece called the Thoat in particular (represented in my Jetan set by the Knight), the ambiguities were pretty well irresoluble.

the game of jetan
Then in the early 90s I spent some of my spare time one summer writing a computerized Game of Jetan. The result looks like a crude CGA computer game from the early 80s, but it works, and it will play a tolerable game of Jetan against you. If anyone is interested in downloading and trying out my "Game of Jetan 2.2," the zipfile is right here. Documentation and Turbo PASCAL source code included— "Silver Moon Software Ltd." is what I used to call myself when I was in software-writing geek mode.

Like I say, do you begin to get the impression that I'm some kind of a fanatic when it comes to games?!

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Craig Reade said...

Good program. Just read the book and was intrigued. Glad someone made it :). Now if I can only manage to win one!

Friday, November 21, 2008 10:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the program! Great work!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010 2:15:00 PM  
Blogger waterlogged said...

Times have changes have just been reading the chessmen and found the game description a quick search found your blog an programme, but am running into compatibility suggetions with windows 7 any suggestions on how to resolve this?

Thanks

Thursday, November 10, 2011 5:18:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

waterlogged, I'm afraid I wrote my Jetan program back nearly 20 years ago, in the days when I was using DOS. And the last I used Windows was in the days of Win98 (since then I've been using Linux) so I must confess, Windows 7 is unknown territory to me. Hmmmm, I suppose backwards compatibility is not forever...

It's been many years since I did anything with this program. About the only suggestion I can think of is, I do include the source code: I believe that was Turbo PASCAL 5.5, so maybe if you could find some way to recompile it under Windows 7? Or else run it in some kind of a DOS emulator (in Linux I use DOSBox)?

Thursday, November 10, 2011 5:48:00 PM  

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