27 Feb 2009

An Ancient Egyptian boardgame to appease readers

After a shamelessly long period of inactivity here on Paleoglot due to partying, Valentine's Day, joining the Aegeanet forum (possibly to my chagrin), a bit of laziness, a nasty chest cold, and obsessively programming my own game of Sínat (an ancient Egyptian boardgame) while experimenting with the Adobe-Flash-yumminess of Sprout Builder, I have yet to reorganize my blogsite like I wanted to and categorize my various files and such (Etruscan Dictionary pdf, hypotheses on Pre-Proto-Indo-European, and now this Sinat game) under more easily accessible links from the main page. Unfortunately there are only 24 hours in a day, yet I need 8 to 10 hours of sleep or else I get crabby. Go figure!

At any rate, for now, please help me test out my game (the link is down below). Some of you may be confused by my spelling of the name. Normally people spell it "Senet" but this is the annoying "Sir Budge" way of bastarding the Egyptian language by lazily imposing the vowel "e" between written consonants. Remember, afterall, Egyptian seldom indicated vowels in hieroglyphics unless writing foreign names like that of the legendary Ptolemy known as Cleopatra who was of Macedonian heritage. The name of the game literally means "passing" and since it's related to Coptic šina "to pass", the name in Middle Egyptian (that is, the language as it was spoken around 1500 BCE or so) may be reconstucted as *sínat.

I have lots more to say about this interesting game such as mythical symbolisms subtlely embedded into the design of the game, Kendall's rules on which I base my program, some minor reinterpretations of game rules that I needed to impose while coding the details in order to keep it from being laborious, etc., etc. Consider this game a "beta" version and I'm aware of some bugs (e.g. the "Roll Dice" button flashes pointlessly in computer vs. computer mode) but despite my hideous programming, I believe it should now be playable with a friend or alone with the computer without exploding. However, fear not, friends. This is *not* the final product yet and I will be making modifications to the programming and visual aesthetics as I go along until I'm reasonably satisfied that I've ironed out all usability issues. As I said, the rules are more or less that of Timothy Kendall and a short primer of them can be learned from this link. I use the 5-pawn variant rather than 7 although it sounds like 5, 7 or even 10 pawns were used by Ancient Egyptians.

Now relax yourself this weekend and...

Try a game of Sínat!


  1. This is truly the most baffling game that I've tried to play.

  2. Erh... I'm not sure whether you're having trouble with the rules, or my game is giving you troubles with a bug I've overlooked. As I said, the rules are here.

    The goal is simply to be the first to take one's pieces of the board. In my game, you must move pieces onto the "out" square to move them off the board, but only if the move is valid. I've built in errorchecking into the game so that it won't let you do bad moves.

    Two pieces in a row are "protected". You must also be aware that only forward moves are allowed unless nothing is available. So if your only forward move is a piece to be "outed" on one of the special houses, you must make that move.

    If no forward moves are allowed, you must go backwards. If neither move is available, clicking any move will automatically forfeit your turn to your opponent. Finally, I've imposed a rule whereby backward moves are impossible on the "houses" in order to avoid monotonous play.

  3. There seems to be some situations where you can't land on an opponent's piece, besides when it's adjacent to another. I haven't been able to figure out a pattern to it. All in all I like the game.

  4. Judith Weingarten: "Joining AegeaNet?"

    Yes, long story. Basically I'm relearning the lesson that online forums are a much lower means of sharing ideas than blogs because:

    1. Blogreader attention spans tend to be longer than in emails.

    2. Trolls don't need a bureaucratic, politics-driven groupVote to be "eliminated immediately from the island".

    3. Blogs are more googleable.

    4. Blogs give individualized content-control.

    5. Ideas can more effectively be communicated in not just text, but pictures, video or even flash programs.

    Then finally, AegeaNet is also a "chagrin" for me because of a certain doctorate-waving troll who has been harrassing me with abusive nonsense simply because I don't accept his new-agey nonsense as worthy of my study or respect.

  5. Mordrigar: "There seems to be some situations where you can't land on an opponent's piece, besides when it's adjacent to another."

    I'm glad others are enjoying the game. Assuming the game is running correctly, a piece might *seem* to be blocked from being landed upon in certain circumstances where one tries to transgress *PASSED* the first of the last five special squares in a single move. This is an invalid move that's caught by my errorchecking.

    I like to call the last five squares collectively as The Temple for lack of a better term. So unless a piece first lands on the House of Happiness marked by the three windpipe hieroglyphs, the piece may not enter The Temple at all. If one lacks forward moves and none of your pieces are inside The Temple or can enter it via The House of Happiness, one's pieces will be forced to move backwards.

    Try playing "Computer vs. computer" for an example of proper gameplay.

    But I think the comments so far are showing me that I need to add a "Show Move Hints" function to mark out the legal moves for people who may get stumped midway through the game. I myself have noticed some brainteasing boardstates and had to think long and hard before I noticed an obscure forward move still available for me to play as I mistakingly tried repeatedly to do backward moves in desperation. Hahaha.

    Luckily I can work on a revision through SproutBuilder and update it without disrupting the current links on this blog. Yay!

  6. O Good Heavens, Glen, he's not one of ours; as far as I know, not even on our net 'island' at all.

    But stay in touch. There are occasionally good discussions about our many undeciphered scripts (Linear A, Cretan Hieroglyphics, Cypro-Minoan, not to mention the Phaistos Disk and other fun scraps). Etruscan is a doddle by comparison :-)

  7. Judith Weingarten: "O Good Heavens, Glen, he's not one of ours; as far as I know, not even on our net 'island' at all."

    Apparently he is indeed. I received a pointless ad hominem from him via AegeaNet through the email jpd37@hotmail.com: "Note to Glen. See if you can couch your extraordinary and inevitable logic in terms less insulting to illogical and idle speculators. It helps them to pay attention to a real pro." He later identified himself as Doctor Jack Dempsey which I confirmed by googling his email address.

    The lack of academic value to his message and the obvious mocking tone towards me and even logic itself is purposefully antagonistic to serious debate. I have a short patience for trolls.

    So it shows me that despite knowledgeable people on AegeaNet there is, as is typical of these online forums, a moderator who is either lazy, lacks focus of what moderation is all about (ie. logic), or is simply non-existent. The funnyfarm is run by the patients and participation is an act of masochism.

    Perhaps on such a negative note, I should add that despite AegeaNet problems, John Younger's website remains a great service to the internet on the topic of Linear A and it deserves praise for such hard work and diligence.

  8. Hey, I just checked out Sínat. That's a pretty interesting game, Strategically a lot goes on there. But I must say that near the end of a game, it starts to drag a bit.

    I'm just curious how 'certain' are these rules? I've seen quite a few very diverse interpretation of the rules. And are the III and II really just there for aesthetic reasons?

    Either way, these should definitely be the rules, because then those Egyptians came up with a pretty cool boardgame!

  9. Drags on a bit at the end, eh? Yeah, I suspect this is because you need an exact roll to get all your pieces onto the first special square, The House of Happiness. This can be frustrating but on the other hand, it can also be nerve-racking and exciting. Sometimes one might say that chess drags on a bit at the end too, particularly when trying to checkmate someone with just a bishop and a knight, let's say.

    As for marking the second- and third-to-last squares with III and II, this is how it was carved on Amenhotep III's personal boardgame. So it would be natural to presume that if the object of the game is to get pieces off the board based on the throw of sticks similar to modern backgammon, then III and II would mark the required roll to get a piece landing there off the board.

    I gather that Kendall's rules are inspired by the later Arabic game of Tâb but as yet I'm unsure of what historical evidence links these two games together.

  10. Glen wrote that AegeaNet has "a moderator who is either lazy, lacks focus of what moderation is all about (ie. logic), or is simply non-existent."

    AegeaNet is essentially unmoderated. It depends on Aegean archaeologists being (usually) a good- tempered and courteous bunch. I'm sorry you've been plagued by this troll, who is not -- shall we say -- from the academic side of the field. I suppose the list-owner could intervene and bounce him from the list, but he does that very, very rarely.

    Still, if you want to talk about our undeciphered scripts, AegeaNet is the right place to be.

  11. In this day and age, "no moderation" equals "troll heaven". Wikipedia lacks moderation of its own as well and look at the result: mediocrity at best. Youtube lacks moderation and behold the intellectual video comments on that loonybin of a website, leading many users to simply turn the commentbox off entirely. All societies and all groups need an *enforced* code of ethics. Anything less is a hippy fantasy.

    I value my time and so should you. I want "bang for my buck", so to speak. In the time it took for AegeaNet as a collective to make some bland points about a single Knossos mural, Duane Smith from Abnormal Interests as an example singlehandedly came up with several much more stimulating, more coherent and more thoroughly researched thoughts.

    So clearly, by comparison, AegeaNet is just *not* the place to be. In fact, dare I meditate on a saucy possibility: Are these forums, as opposed to the blogosphere, the place where uninspired or internet-unsavvy academics go to waste away in obscurity and irrelevance? Discuss. >:)

  12. Hello Glen.

    Already I played a lot of Sinat, both against the computer and against friends.
    Some comments:
    1) It seems the computer rolls the dice in a way not representing Kendall's sticks.
    I feel for every 5 there should be
    1 four,
    4 threes,
    4 ones,
    6 twos
    This of course would slow down the game even more (We played it Real Life too, on three rows of a Dutch 100 square checker board. 7 pawns against 7 took us about an hour! We did NOT use sticks.).
    Stick throwing can easily be replaced by card drawing from a piquet set (32 cards), black Aces representing 5, red Aces 4, black Tens, Kings, Queens, and Jacks 3, red Tens, Kings, Queens and Jacks 1 and all other cards 2. Of course you can play with only half of the pack, but this ruins the pack.
    2) We noticed the computer plays very badly: it just never wins. It seems to win you just have to run as fast as you can; fancy blocking plays are not that useful.
    3) The red player will win more often than the blue one.
    4) Near the end the luck of the throw often decides who will win. Rather disappointing as the early game demands more skill.
    5) We feel the "(Re)birth" square should have more use. The computer uses it (+ 27) more often than the humans do. The computer never won against us, mere humans...

    All in all we think this board has great possibilities.
    The rules you use are very simple. All great games have simple rules.
    But we think they can be improved.

    Also, very different, equally simple, sets of rules can be constructed. If you like I can send you one.

  13. I appreciate the great input, Hans!

    Hans: "1) It seems the computer rolls the dice in a way not representing Kendall's sticks."

    So you're saying that since we don't have a single 5-sided die (which would turn up 1 to 5 with equal probability) but rather four sticks, each with binary probability of turning up one side ("0") or the other ("1"), then each number's probability will *NOT* be distributed evenly as I had coded it because of the various patterns of stick states associated with each number:

    5 = 0000
    4 = 1111
    3 = 0111,1011,1101,1110
    2 = 0011,0101,1001,0110,1010,1100
    1 = 0001,0010,0100,1000

    Eureka! I don't know how you noticed that but thanks very much for catching my error. This would change the dynamics of the game somewhat but is very easy to revise with just a single bitwise calculation.

    Hans: "2) We noticed the computer plays very badly: it just never wins."

    That's simply because I never concentrated yet on giving the program a strategy. It merely assesses the available moves of each turn and plays a move randomly. In effect, you're playing with a retarded monkey, hehe. But seriously, that's something I can modify this week as well.

    Hans: "The red player will win more often than the blue one."

    Since both red and blue are using the same algorithm, I'm clueless as to why that would be. Maybe this happened only by chance? Or... hmmm... maybe it would have something to do with the fact that red always starts the game. Does the first player of a Sinat game have a statistically better chance of winning bychance? Nourishment for cogitation, I must say.

    Hans: "4) Near the end the luck of the throw often decides who will win. Rather disappointing as the early game demands more skill."

    Interesting perspective but that's not how I see it. I'd say that the early game is what determines how much one is at mercy of mere chance in the first place. Naturally, since the A.I. that I coded is playing at the "retarded monkey" level, its random openings would relate to why it has no hope of winning save by chance in the endgame.