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The Meeple Guild: Players need to lead game growth / development

As readers will know this space was recently dedicated to a new book on jetan by Fredrick Ekman Jetan: The Martian Chess of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Homemade pieces for jetan.

YORKTON - If there is one thing access to the Internet has created, it is a minefield of time sinks waiting to suck the unsuspecting web traveler into a dizzying spiral usually taking that traveller well off the topic they were initially interested in. 

As readers will know this space was recently dedicated to a new book on jetan by Fredrick Ekman Jetan: The Martian Chess of Edgar Rice Burroughs

Connecting with Ekman online was interesting of course, getting to know a bit about the process of writing a book on a game that while notable because of where it originated from, is still quite obscure. 

To remind, the game is somewhat well-known, if little played, among science fiction fans since jetan was invented – well I suppose maybe more accurately was sort of invented -- by author Edgar Rice Burroughs for his 1922 novel The Chessmen of Mars. I say sort of because the text regarding the game in the book have caused some discussion over the years about how the game is played. 

The game might be more widely played if there was a standardized ruleset, but that simply doesn’t exist. 

Even in the material from Burroughs himself, the movement of some pieces reads one way in the story text, and differently in the appendix. 

And even where there are commonalities they are often open to interpretation, which makes standardizing rules a challenge. 

In a social media chat with Ekman I suggested what would be great is a ’World Jetan Society’. 

The ’collective’ of a society could establish a standardized ruleset and that would be at least a starting place to build interest in a game. 

Weirdly though, while we live in a world of instant contact through emails, social media and zoom calls, it seems a rather daunting task to create global spanning organizations for board games today. 

I suggest weirdly given the proponents of chess, Othello, backgammon and other ’older’ games managed to create world-spanning organizations in the age of snail mail and expensive long distance calling. 

It is probably the issue faced by fraternal groups today. Clubs such as the Lions and Kinsmen often find attracting active members more challenging today because people are so busy, or have so many options to occupy their free time. 

So, while the Internet might help jetan grow, it still needs a few dedicated people to make it happen. 

Often efforts are made, but sadly do not last. 

For example, there was apparently an American Chu Shogi Association but the only web link found has been inactive since about 2000, and Chu Shogi is a venerable old game worth preserving too. 

Of course that could be a question to ask in terms of jetan too, is it a game worthy of promotion because it is a great game, or is it notable only because it connects to Burroughs? 

There is a huge science fiction fandom out there, and they do gravitate to things connected with favoured authors and books. It is the fan support that leads to cosplaying characters, having TV shows made, and yes having board games created. 

Most of the games are afterthoughts, the theme of some book sort of pasted onto a game to help boost sales, but some like jetan are part of the books themselves. 

While Burroughs did give quite a lot of deatil about jetan in the book, other book-related games have evolved differently. 

Pat Rothfuss wrote of Tak in ‘The Wise Man's Fear’, but it was not a particularly detailed account.

Later Rothfuss worked with noted board game designer James Ernest and created the full rules of Tak, which was released in 2017 and is an absolute gem.

By the way there is a US Tak Association ( and one hopes it lasts in support of this one, because the best games need dedicated play over the long term.

The question is how to bring players together effectively to grow a game? While games like jetan and Tak have a first step based on connecting to the world of words, can players build on that foundation effectively?

With jetan it never happened.

The story of Tak is yet to be completed. 


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