The game of Ish'kroi (lit. Styrásh for "False War") or simply the "Game of War" is a game for four players. Considered a grand game of strategy and tactics, the various (and disputed) origins of the game all credit it with a replication of some grand battle which players play out time and time again throughout the play of the game.
|Image description. One of the many uniquely designed Ish'krói game boards found all over the Santharian kingdom. Picture drawn by Bard Judith.|
The game of War, called among
nobles the "Grand Game", the "Great Game", the "Game of Kings or Commanders",
is of indisputably elven origins. Historians
and scholars postulate that the game holds its roots in the
War of the Chosen, hence the
names of the various pieces and the designs of the armies of the oldest boards.
Some suggest that the game is a recreation of the Battle of the Winds during
the War, and credit the creation of the game to the
Injerín. Others assert that the game
merely depicts the various warring tribes of Southern
Sarvonia and assume that the game is the
invention of the Quaelhoirhim or
The oldest pieces found in the North depict the forces of the various Chosen, Dra'va'ensele, Eckra the Cruel, Coulande and Yairock. Records and Pieces in the south have been found depicting various conflicts, from the War of the Blood where the Archmage and Dragon were replaced with Assassins and Generals or Ranns, to the Third Sarvonian War. One particularly detailed set of pieces depicts the Siege of Ximax, with two Armies representing the forces of the Dark Elves, while the other two represent the various forces of Ximax, the Shields held by dwarves, the Fire Mage an orc and the dragon replaced with a wizard atop a tower.
Where magic is less common, such as the lands of the Antislar, the Mages, Dragon and Archmage are commonly replaced with members or symbols of the clergy and nobility. The Antislar use a male and female shaman representing the Avá and Coór energies of their particular belief system and have a King and Queen, while dwarves might simply place an obelisk or rock with the runes for One and Two carved into their sides and some siege engine next to a great helm. Humans might also use clerical figures, Twelvern priests are not uncommon replacements for those pieces, particulalry of Armeros, Queprur and Arvins, while the Archmage might be replaced with a Santhran or a Graven.
The best players are said to be elven, though humans partake of the game as do some dwarves. Once in a rare while one will encounter a halfling who plays but this is terribly uncommon.
A square board, marked with an eight by eight grid, with four additional three
by eight grids surrounding it. This board is marked in two colours, with
squares of the same colour only touching at the corners. The Stages may be
separate boards that may be removed from the main board, or simply demarcated
with grooves in the board.
Four sets of pieces or "armies". These can vary in design, material or quality. The simplest are wooden, stone or even paper tokens with appropriate symbols marked on each, while some sets can have pieces as tall as a hand and with very detailed carving.
An individual army consists of the following pieces: Eight Shields, two Lancers, two Archers, two different Mmages, a Dragon and an Archmage.
The game is designed, ideally, to be played by four people, though it can be
played two or three, so long as one or more players are content with
controlling more than one army. Each player arrays their army in one of the
separate grids to the side of the main "Field" or Cár'neyá ("place of killing";
Styrásh), called a "Stage" in
Tharian or Eayá, "stronghold", in
Styrásh. There is a single row of the Stage left unoccupied, sometimes
referred to as the "Wall" or "ylfferéth" (Isolation;
The pieces are arrayed thus: eight Shields at the front. At the back to the Commander's left, an archer, and proceeding to the right, a lancer, a wind/water/Xeuan mage, the Dragon, the Archmage, a second fire/earth/Ecuan mage, a second lancer, and a second archer. Each of these pieces moves in slightly different ways and has various conditions which govern them.
Play begins with the player with the lightest coloured army (called "South) a player may move one piece and one piece only during their turn. Once they have done so, play passes to the right of the player whose turn has ended.
Rules. Each type of piece has a specific set of rules that governs its movement and how it can deal with other pieces. Removing an enemy piece from a board is called "slaying" and is performed when one piece encounters another. Regardless of whether the piece would have moved differently, the slain piece is removed from the field and the victorious piece takes the place of the vanquished. If the piece would have moved more, it does not, and is stopped in the place where the slain piece was.
A Shield can only move forward, and can not attack directly in front, but must stab to either side of his shield with his spear, slaying pieces diagonally by one space. The exception to this rule exists when a Shield first moves into the Wall. They are said to "charge" and can move two spaces forward, past the wall and into the first row of the Field. They cannot capture during this charge.
An archer can move either forward, left, right or backwards one square and can capture in any square adjacent, including those diagonal.
A lancer can move forward two squares, and ignore the presence of other pieces except on the square where it will land. It slays on the second square, and ignores any pieces in between. A lancer cannot land on a square with a friendly piece occupying it. It can also move backwards one square on the diagonal, and cannot capture this way.
There are two varieties of mage, named differently depending on the region and the design of the piece. The first, found on the left of the commander to begin with, is variously called the Wind, Water or Xeuan Mage. This piece can move on the diagonal without limitation, except where it encounters a friendly piece, the edge of the field, or an enemy piece, which it slays. It must move within the diagonals of the colour it began on, except after slaying an enemy piece. After doing so the player may shift the piece left or right onto a square of the opposite colour, where the same rules will apply, this is called a "Link". The piece must now move on the diagonals of this colour until it slays another piece and the Commander chooses to Link the piece again.
The second, found to the right of the Commander initially, is the Earth, Fire or Ecuan Mage. This piece moves forwards, backwards, left and right in a straight line. With the notable exception that it cannot Link, an Ecuan Mage follows very similar rules to a Xeuan Mage. It must stop when it encounters a friendly piece, the edge of the board and slays an enemy piece it encounters on its path. An Ecuan Mage cannot Link, but is not restricted to squares of any one colour. Different armies on the same board may use different "names" for their mages. All the players may call them "Earth" and "Water" Mages, or they may use different names. The name of the piece does not alter the rules it follows.
The Dragon is considered the most powerful, and possibly the most important piece, on the board. It combines the movements of both Mage pieces and can move limitlessly up, down, left, right or diagonally (but not mixing these movements) and slays whenever it encounters an enemy piece.
The Archmage is the key to winning the game. It can only move one square in any direction at a time. However, the eight squares surrounding the Archmage cannot be moved into, and the Archmage cannot be slain from within one of these squares, this space is called the "Globe". If the Archmage moves forward and its Globe encompasses a friendly piece, the protection of the Globe does not extend to this piece. Likewise, if the Globe encompasses an enemy piece, the Globe continues to protect the Archmage, and it cannot be slain by that piece. As long as a piece does not land in or stop on a square of Globe, the Archmage may be slain. It slays any one piece that falls within the area of the Globe.
The game begins once all the players have placed their armies. Beginning with the player of the lightest coloured army (called South) and rotating to the right (West, then North, followed by East) the players take turns moving one piece each. During the first round of play, no piece may be slain. Variant rules also govern the role of the Stage during play. In some games, a piece may not be allowed to re-enter its own stage after it has left, including the Archmage to keep the game from stagnating. Others allow pieces to move in and out of their Stages freely. After this, play continues until one player slays a rival Archmage but may rule that if a move or position is repeated twice in a row, it is not a legal move under the rules the second time. Rules vary as to what happens following this. Some may allow the player of the similar colour to assume control of the remaining pieces of the fallen army. Others have the pieces removed from play, and others leave them where they stand as obstacles. This continues until one player is victorious, left with the only Archmage on the board.
It is not uncommon for players to form alliances to eliminate a more skilled player, and it is not uncommon for one player to dissolve these alliances suddenly in favour of an attack against their former ally.