Games and Pastimes of Tamriel, V. 5: Summerset

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Summerset is beautiful, but the residents make an effort to avoid foreigners, avoid conversations, and never answer questions simply. Even getting to Summerset can be a challenge for most Imperials. Fortunately, I knew some Altmer from my sporting days who were able to get me out of the Firsthold docks and keep me from making a fool of myself. However, I was unable to learn the rules or even the names of many of these games. I can only describe what I saw.

Ten Papers

Each player takes ten blank cards and writes down a ‘rule’ on each one. Five ‘standard’ cards are placed on a table along with a pile of gems. The first five pieces of paper say, via a rough translation:

A gem is any stone in the official collection.

Each player may take one gem on their turn.

Place a gem into the official collection to play a card.

The only numbers are zero and one.

Cards may only be played on cards.

Each player picks up a gem and then starts putting gems back in the pile to play cards. As each card has a different rule on it, the game rapidly becomes complex and confusing. According to one of my informants, amateur players such as children often write rules like ‘Cassius gets 100 gems on his turn’ but these are quickly overwritten by other players or nullified (for instance, you’d have to overrule the ‘only numbers are zero and one’ rule first). The objective is to make subtle rules that result in you winning without the other players realizing that it will lead you to win. The game starts without any way to win, which has to be added by one of the other cards. Often games end (all player run out of cards) without any winner.

Honestly, this was the most boring game I have ever seen. A friend was translating for me, so it wasn’t a matter of not understanding the cards being played.

Glass Top

This is played with glass-blown tops, which have holes in them that make a musical tone as they spins. The tone changes based on the speed of the top. The tops speed up (but become wobbly) when a fifth higher than the top’s current tone is sung at them. They slow down with fifth lower and can be stabilized by matching the exact current tone. Some other technique can move the top slightly away from the singer.

The objective, as best as I could understand it, was to keep your top spinning while knocking the opponent’s over, either by slowing them to the point they fall or by hitting them with your own top. It sometimes seemed as if other players could ‘sing’ at opposing players’ tops, but sometimes it seemed the opponents tops did not react to a player singing directly towards them.

Flying Race

Most Altmer can cast a few spells, including levitation. The players of this game race each other by flying. The best magicians have a huge advantage in that their flight spells can be faster and longer lasting. But there are additional rules, such as collecting ‘flags’ or touching certain location, which take time from the final race times, so a player that completed the flight in ten minutes could still beat one that completed it in five if they collected enough flags or touched all the monuments of a certain category.

The rules seemed overly complicated, and my informant was unable to explain them clearly to me.

Tabletop Drop Game

This was one of the strangest and most interesting games I’ve ever seen, but it is difficult to describe.

This four-player game uses a small wooden table with eight ‘handles’ on each side. When a handle is pulled, a paper-thin slat of wood pulls out. These slats have solid parts and holes. Each slat has a different number of holes and spacing.

The game board is an 8 by 8 grid. Each player has 16 crystals of a single color. The game starts by players taking turns placing the crystals on the board. Once all crystals are placed, a signal is given to begin. The players begin rapidly their handles precise distances. If all four slats in one of the grid spaces are hollow, that crystal falls into the table’s hollow bottom compartment. The winner is the first player whose crystals all fall into the base.

To complicate matters, there is a spinning wheel at the bottom with some kind of repulsive force that moves the slats on their own by one space in a preset pattern. There are several choices of wheel, and some negotiation about which wheel to use occurs before each match.

Players can touch their opponents’ slats, or indeed use telekinesis to move them, but they cannot stand up from their chairs to do so. If a player moves one of the crystals by accident, such as a badly aimed spell or shaking the table, they are disqualified.

As my informant explained, each player must try to move the slats such that their crystals fall through the holes while preventing their opponent’s crystals from falling. There was much strategy and discussion from the audience during this game, but to me, all I saw was some elves sliding handles in and out, sometimes a handle sliding on its own, and the crystals falling randomly into the bottom.

Whip Fencing

This is an impractical sport based on fencing. It is played with two long, thin reeds or stiff cords that are almost more like whips than swords. It is played on a complex court with geometric shapes painted on it.

A referee, for lack of a better term, draws cards from a deck and calls out moves. This requires both fencers to move to certain places on the board, such as the intersection of a triangle and an arc. There is usually more than one valid location. After both move cards are spoken, both players can ‘attack’ at the sound of a chime. Both fencers can attack and defend with the whip-swords, but only in a specified way, based on their current position. So you may be allowed to block in the upper right quadrant if you’re standing at the corner of a square, but not allowed to duck because neither of your feet are on a curve. And you may be allowed to attack from the left, but not from the right, etc.

Players lose if they are hit three times or if they make an illegal move.

I could not follow this game well, although it was interesting to watch and the duelists were graceful.

Red Blue

One of the few children’s games I saw on the island, and one truly incomprehensible, I will call Red Blue. One child, the “alarm” stands in the middle of a circle of children and wears a helmet so they cannot see. All other children face away from the alarm. The “alarm” makes a magical light over their head. When the light is red, children must walk slowly away from the “alarm” while singing. When the light is blue, children must freeze in place and remain silent. If a child is moving during the blue light, the “alarm” can try to mark that child with the blue light and everyone runs up to them and forms a circle around them, making them the new “alarm.” If a child is singing wrong in some way during the red light, the “alarm” can mark them with red light, which takes them out of the regular game, and into some sort of side-game played only by the red-marked children, which I couldn’t understand, but it looked like a sort of slow-motion race with the slowest child the winner.

I tried to ask a few questions of the children, but I couldn’t get an answer as to how they knew the color of the “alarm” if they were looking away from it, how the “alarm” knew who was or wasn’t moving, or just about any detail of the game. One of the children’s parents came by and was much alarmed at my presence, so I had to leave with only these meager observations.

As much as I enjoyed the beauty of the island, I was happy to return to Katariah’s Crown and continue to Elsweyr.

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