Let’s play… battledore!

Battledore (or shuttlecock, or battledore and shuttlecock, or jeu de volant) was the precursor to badminton. It’s played with two paddles (battledores) and a feathered “birdie” (shuttlecock). On Pinterest recently, I ran across this medieval image of two people (boys? youths?) playing battledore:

A medieval game of battledore. Frustratingly, there wasn’t any attribution on this image; it looks 15th century to me, possibly late 14th, but that’s pure speculation on my part.

The players each hold a paddle, which look to me to be wooden and not particularly complex. (Side note: I’ve seen a few references to children in the early modern period using hornbooks to play battledore.) The birdie is clearly feathered, with an elongated body. During gameplay, the object was to keep the shuttlecock aloft as long as possible, batting it back and forth between two players.

As part of my historical games kick, I decided to put together a quick and easy battledore set:

My battledore set, with wooden paddles and a cork and feather shuttlecock.

This took me maybe 10 minutes to put together, and I got all the supplies on Amazon: I used two wooden paddles sold as ceramics tools, a cork ball, and some duck feathers. I gave the paddles a light sanding to make them feel better in my hand. For the shuttlecock, I used an awl to poke holes evenly around one “pole” of the cork ball and carefully stuck feathers into the holes. That’s it! Done! Ready to play!

If you wanted to do more, you could carve your own paddles, or paint them with your badge. Also, if you don’t want to shell out for a fancy cork ball, as you can see from the period image a standard cork is perfectly acceptable. I used a large cork I found in a park to make a second shuttlecock, and while I found that the cork ball is more balanced I don’t know how crucial that is to enjoying the gameplay.

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Stocking a Medieval Games Box

Open games box
My medieval games box with Glückhaus board on lid… and I just noticed that the dice showing include my “naughty” dice! Whoops!

The SCA is not a spectator sport, you have to make your own fun. I am not much of a gamer in modern life, but I love having historical games to play at events. I have collected some of my favorites in a box (see previous post for information about the painted Glückhaus board on the lid!) — Nine Men’s Morris, Alquerque (the ancestor of checkers), knucklebones, assorted dice, and a tarot deck, plus tokens and such for game play and pouches to store things in.

Here’s a photo of the full collection all spread out:

img_4801
A bounty of medieval games!

There are lots of resources online about medieval and renaissance games — I really like this simple yet comprehensive guide that includes ball games, running games, throwing games, board games, card games, dice games… lots of games! The best way to find out what games you like to play is to play some, so I suggest you either make/buy yourself some stuff to get you started or find games to join at events to see what strikes your fancy.

To create a general-purpose historical games set, you’ll need:

  • Game boards that are easy to roll up and transport (so, sewn/drawn/painted on cloth or leather)
  • Dice
  • Knucklebones (either the real deal or resin replicas)
  • Flat marbles, colorful stones, wooden pieces, or other markers in at least two colors
  • Replica coins or other tokens to gamble with
  • Card decks

There’s a great online resource for all manner of historical games, MacGregor Historic Games. This is where I got my dice sets and knucklebones, and they also sell instruction booklets and some coins/tokens. I also found a set of tiny bone dice and weirdly colorful knucklebones while I was hunting for game supplies on Amazon, but I can’t personally vouch for them.

I made the nine men’s morris and alquerque boards the better part of a decade ago with some scrap leather, a ruler, and a permanent marker. To make your own, find some smooth, garment-weight leather pieces big enough to be worth using (I think mine are about 8 inches square), look up images of the game boards you want to make, measure and mark. For playing pieces, flat marbles are easy or get some wood discs and paint / mark them. Or go historical and gather some pebbles 🙂

When it comes to card games, I really, really like tarocchi / tarock / triumph / tarot. You can learn more about how to play and the history of tarot cards on Wikipedia. (As an aside, do I lose all credibility forever by admitting that I think Wikipedia is a great resource for stuff like this? I wouldn’t use it as documentation for an A&S championship, but to quickly learn a little about a topic it can’t be beat. I digress.) My personal preference is to use a Tarot de Marseilles deck, as it has a historical look and doesn’t have the “occult” connotation that many modern people associate with tarot decks. I also like the mini version, as it’s easier to hold the cards (and keep them secret!) during game play.

I recommend getting some pouches to keep everything organized. I personally like the inexpensive muslin ones that they sell for things like wedding favors, because then when I inevitably lose a few it’s not a big deal. Plus, I always need more tiny bags.

One thing that’s been challenging for me to find for my games box was coins or tokens to use for gambling games that weren’t terribly expensive and looked at least passably historical. I’ve played a lot of rounds of Glückshaus with standard modern pennies, honestly, because the price can’t be beaten. I have some replica groats that I purchased when I got laureled, but now the maker seems to not have his site up anymore so I can’t send you to him. One option that I’m considering are some replica “dubloons” — I suppose I could call them gold marks, but the idea of gambling with gold marks is OUTRAGEOUS from a historical perspective; nobody has that kind of money! But look how shiny they are, and 19 bucks for 50 coins is about the best price you’ll find.

Hopefully this is enough to get you started assembling your own set of games. These are all “indoor” games, of course; I’m working on making some equipment for simple outdoor games like quoits and battledore, and you can probably look forward to posts about those as I get them finished.

Medieval Games Box with Painted Gluckhaus Board Lid

Games Box with Gluckhaus Board
A painted glückhaus or house of fortune board on the lid of a wooden box used to store medieval games

I just finished a fun, simple project — painting a glückhaus board on the lid of a wooden box that I can use to store all my historical games! I’ve been thinking about a better way to store my historical games for a while. I had used various pouches and bags in the past, but didn’t like the feeling of infinitely nesting bags. At some point I must have seen someone else’s games box with a board painted on the lid and fallen in love with the idea.

Glückhaus (also spelled glückshaus) happens to be my very favorite historical game. It’s dead simple and clearly designed to be played while drinking and talking, requiring no strategy or even your full attention. Here’s a nice one-page guide to gameplay; roll the dice, place or take a coin, and several numbers have special actions. Most of the examples I’ve seen of historical (and re-enactor made) glückhaus boards are rather complex, but I liked the more simple design of one shown in the Wikipedia article linked above and used that as the basis for mine.

Can’t wait to play at events! You can use any dice and counters you want, I like playing with my replica groats and resin “bone” dice but have also had a grand time with plastic modern dice and standard US pennies.

I used a wine gift box and a set of primary color acrylic paints, and aside from procrastination it was easy to finish by stealing a few minutes here and there during the evenings after my baby went to bed. It took me a while to find a box that I liked, but otherwise all the supplies for this are readily available at any craft store, or easily ordered from Amazon.

I’ve put together a list of supplies and tips for making your own (on the assumption that you know how to do basic SCA scribal painting). In my next post, I’ll be giving you more information about putting together a historical gaming collection of your own, including links to information/research and some specific products.

(Reminder that I get a small kickback when you purchase products from the Amazon links in my posts.)

Supplies list for a medieval games box with a painted lid:

Wine gift box — there are lots of box options, but this was the only one I found that was large enough to make a good game board but still inexpensive

Acrylic paint set (option 1) — I used a set of just primary colors but even for this simple project wished I had had more options, so I’ve linked to a slightly better set that I’ll be getting to replace my basic one. If you want to go all out, here’s a set with lots of colors!

Basic inexpensive detail paint brushes, at minimum round size 1 and size 0.

Plus a pencil, eraser, ruler, ultra fine permanent black marker, and access to some inspiration images.

Tips for making your own:

Use pencil to sketch the game board and any designs you want to do; this is where inspiration images are helpful, so have your Googlin’ fingers ready. (You are more than welcome to use mine as the basis for your own! Please copy me!) For glückhaus, the design elements are numbers on each square, and images on the three “special” spaces — a pig on 2, something to symbolize a wedding on 7, and a crown for the royal 12. Historical game boards were often quite lavish, with every bit of space filled up with lush art. That’s not my style, though, and I think that’s okay.

From there this is just like doing scribal painting, but with acrylics and wood instead of paper and gouache. Start with solid colors, layer on any shading and whitework you want, finish by outlining everything in black. I opted to leave the backgrounds blank and keep the design simplified. I also chose to do a generic Gothic style to be more in keeping with my gear and persona even though glückhaus is a Renaissance German game.

I opted for Roman numerals to look more historical and “pips” for those who have a hard time reading them. My pig has a roasting spit (that he’s running away from, ha ha) and I did simple interlocked rings for the wedding; a more historical option for the wedding space would be clasped hands or a fede ring. I added some vinework to fill the space on the 12, and did a simple blue with whitework border around everything.

There are a few things I’d change if I do another one, but overall I am pleased with this addition to my event gear. History was fun! Medieval games are fun! Having my own personalized and fairly nice glückhaus board is a great feeling. Plus, the box has all my other games. Again, I’m working on a follow-up post with more general information about stocking your own historical games box. Stay tuned 🙂