Thursday, September 21, 2006


Howdy and hello to everyone reading this. This is my first entry for Gone Gaming, and I thank Coldfoot for inviting me to contribute to this blog. It’s hard to imagine that I could contribute anything useful, certainly no handy quotable lines, but I hope to have some fun writing and to occasionally mix in all that good fuzzy crap that makes my partner Annie drag me to chick flicks.

About my name, it’s officially "Smatt." Some people aren’t comfortable saying this. Sounds a little to close to "smack" and "splat." Some folks hesitate, certain that they just heard me say "Matt" and that their ears are playing tricks on them. At this point, I must say that I usually decline to correct them. I have better things to do with my time than correct almost every single person who crosses my path. If they do happen to pick up the subtle ‘s,’ they will often say things like "That is an interesting name" or "Very unusual." You will never hear people say that to someone named "Moustapha" or "Ilya," probably for fear of getting their asses kicked, but for some reason, they don’t hesitate to say that to someone named "Smatt." Such is life.

Smatt is a derivative of Steven Matthew. I picked it up in the Peace Corps from a clever Yaley named Marc Hoffman. I liked it; other people liked it; it stuck. Here I am today.

So what makes me qualified to write for Gone Gaming? Well, I suppose that at the core of the reason is that I like games (I love Annie; I like games - this is a very important distinction, and while slip-ups have been known to happen, a night on the couch is a gentle reminder of the subtlety of our blessed language). I like games so much in fact that I started making up my own puzzles for GAMES magazine in 2003. I didn’t like their policy of buying all rights, so I started freelancing to Knucklebones soon after. In the meantime, I got a puzzle on NPR’s Weekend Edition with Will Shortz (Name a bestselling non-fiction author with 7 letters in the first name and 7 in the last; drop the first three letters of the last name to get a bestselling fiction author, 7 letters in the first name and 4 in the last. Who are these authors?) and bothered our local paper the Missoulian about having game reviews and exclusive letterboxing clues for their readers. The Missoulian bit, and I’ve been writing game reviews ever since (I did the letterboxing clues for over a year. They were popular with a core group of people who were disappointed that I ended it. Now I just do the game reviews.) I am in the middle of something with Games Quarterly as well, but it’s too early to know where that is heading. And finally, I am the new store manager of World Games of Montana in Missoula, MT. It’s a lovely place, and if you’re in the neighborhood, come and see us.

The last new game I’ve played several times is "Bagh Chal" (or "Bagha Chal"), also known as "Tigers and Goats." It’s played on the lines/intersections of a four by four grid, though the board has a few diagonals thrown in for good measure. This is a two-player game in which each player chooses a side to play, either tigers or goats. The tiger player’s goal is to eat five goats by jumping them along any straight line if there is an empty intersection just beyond the goat (like in checkers). The goat player’s goal is to subdue the tigers; that is give the tiger player no legal jumping moves. The opening board has four tigers, one in each of the corners of the board. The goat player places his/her twenty goats one by one onto the board. The goat player may only place his/her goats onto the board during this time; he may not move a goat to save it. The tiger player may move and eat at will. Once all the goats have been placed, the player who meets his/her objective wins the game.

This game was oddly entertaining. I played four times, twice as the goats and twice as the tigers. I won three out of the four times. Playing both sides amounts to tricky abstract logic, but I prefer being the goat player. The game is definitely worth your time, and if you’re reading this blog, then you most definitely already have the pieces to play the game. If not, then think about finding a paper and pen for the board and twenty pennies for the goats and four nickels for the tigers. It’s still played today, so it might even help bridge the culture gap if you’re ever in Nepal or the surrounding area.

To sum up: first blog, named Smatt, possibly qualified, likes Tigers and Goats. I suppose I could have just said that to begin with.

Until next time gamers...



Yehuda Berlinger said...

Welcome aboard, smatt.


Anonymous said...

That's great to hear that you've placed game reviews in your local paper. I've placed several reviews in general interest newsstand magazines recently and have only now started pitching newspapers. Very encouraging to hear that at least one person has succeeded.

You can negotiate with Games magazine on the rights that it purchases. Write me at eric at twowriters dot net if you want to know more.

Gerald McD said...

I was interested to read about the Tigers and Goats game. Many years ago (from an import shop, if I recall correctly), I purchased a rather unique set of this game, which was made in Nepal. It consists of a small wooden box that folds on two tiny brass hinges in the middle. Unfolded,
it measures 5-3/4" on each side. The box is wrapped on all sides and edges with very thin sheet brass, held in place on the inside (playing board side) by tiny brass nails. There is a very small, brass, simple hook latch that keeps the box closed. The playing surface is created by hand-tooled indentions in the brass sheet, with decorative designs around the outside edge and in the center of the board. The playing pieces are made of heavy cast brass -- four tigers standing about 3/4" tall and 3/4" long, and 20 goats (lying down) that are 3/4" long and 1/2" tall. The box is hollow (at least one half of it is), with an opening cut in one edge that measures 1"x3/4". The playing pieces are stored in that half of the box. The opening is kept closed by a hand-carved wooden peg that slides in place to cover the hole, with its smaller diameter handle extending out of a small hole in an adjoining edge. Quite ingenious; reminds me of a simple mechanical puzzle. The game came with rules typed on one sheet of paper, which had obviously been reproduced (probably many times) on what I would guess to be a very old copy machine. It has ink smudges and streaks on it, from the copy process. It calls the game Tiger and Goats Game, with an explanation that it is called "Bagha Chal" or "Tiger Move" in Nepal, and it says the game has been played there since the fifth century. The game's objective and movement rules are exactly as you have described them. There are no initials or other obvious marks anywhere on the box or playing pieces to indicate the craftsman/artist who made it, and there is no business information or date on the rule sheet. I have never played the game, although it appears somewhat similar to a game I played as a child -- Fox and Hounds (or Fox and Geese). Bagha Chal would seem to be a better game than that one. I purchased it and have kept it because I think it is a neat addition to my game collection.

Anonymous said...

The reason people think your name is unusual is because it is a made up name, in a rather pretentious way. It's a daft name. You'll agree when you are older.

Melissa said...

Welcome, Smatt.

I would guess that the second author is Stephen King but I can't think of who #1 could be. :)

Coldfoot said...

Pretentious? Maybe.

What does that make someone who posts annonymously?

Smatt said...

There's no point in arguing with you, Anonymous. But allow me to share with you my elation that a person like you could humble yourself to read my lowly blog. Keep up the good work, and I encourage all upcoming comments, insults, ideas if you have any, and anything else you would like to contribute. Thank you.

Smatt said...

And to yehuda, eric, gerald, melissa, and coldfoot, thanks for the welcomes and feedback.

I'll respond briefly to things that you have said to save time and reading space:

yehuda - Thank you.

eric - Our local paper has a readership of 32,000. I looked around at other papers that serviced about the same amount of folks and got some nibbles. The bigger papers fill their pages with staff and syndicated columns almost exclusively. So hit the small papers hard. Also, I've negotiated with GAMES in the past. I wrote WILD CARDS, and they just prefer buying rights with the small stuff. So I opted to bypass the whole issue. Thanks though.

gerald - It was great hearing about your set. I hope you get opportunities to play from time to time.

melissa - Stephen Hawking

coldfoot - Thanks.

Anonymous said...


Here are the Bagh Chal rules in french :