The QuantumTM game playfully continues an ancient tradition of board games that evolved to simulate the universes of their players.
Its lineage dates back deep into prehistory, to the times when people first wanted to keep track of the big lights in the sky and needed better computing tools than fingers and pebbles and tally sticks.
Curious skygazers are inventive folks, so they made markers for suns and moons and moved them along a line of holes on a pegboard, in parallel with the celestial racers as these overtook each other in the sky. They perceived that the pegs repeated their periplum in persistent patterns, but with enough seemingly random variations from cycle to cycle to make predictions difficult.
So, in the magical hope that one set of unpredictable events might provide oracular clues to equally unpredictable others, some ancient peg pushers added simple dice to their pegboards. Since people are a playful species and every "what if?" simulation invites playing with the open options, they thereby also invented the board game.
By advancing their pegs to match the number of marks facing up in each dice toss, those early soothsayers simulated the chance events that they ascribed to external powers, and that seemed to affect everything in their otherwise stable and harmonious world, from the events in the sky to those in their own lives.
That's right: the gamepieces were also the game players themselves in their tradition-ruled Stone- Age clans, moving along the equally branchless paths of their passage in equally stable generational cycles, equally subject to random luck and unpredictable external forces.
Typical examples of those first-generation race games are the old and still popular Pachisi from India, the amazingly similar Patolli that had impassioned the Aztecs since ancestral times, and Backgammon which began its successful career as Senet in pre-pyramid Egypt.
The ancient Egyptians said their moon god had brought them this game, together with the arts of astronomy, computing, and writing. They meant that tracking the moon had led them to come up with the gameboard, and that this ingenious computing tool then enabled them to develop those other closely related sciences and arts.
These early players carefully oriented the gameboard to match the path it imitated, and the rules of Backgammon still state that its "inner court" must face the light. Then they replayed on it how sun and moon, and the players themselves, would be "reborn" at the end of their cycles. The gamepieces of this and many other race games still "bear off" or are "borne" at the end of their race.
(For a more detailed description of these astronomical and religious roots of the early board games, and for some surprising discoveries about them, see our ebook "The Board Game on the Phaistos Disk" which begins at www.recoveredscience.com/Phaistosebook01.htm)
Next, the ancient astronomers puzzled about the planets. They made these mysterious "Wanderers" their new gods because planets can go sideways, and even backwards, seemingly at will.
As in the sky, so on earth. The planet- tracking early civilizations offered their members more options and different roles than traditional tribal life. To reflect these greater freedoms of motion above and below, the formerly single-file game- path opened up into a second-generation playing field where some pieces could move in all directions -- the Chessboard.
Each major planet became a Chess figure with its own way of moving, and the once simple race forward turned into a complex battle performed by four major and one minor type of pieces, with two of each major type on each side. The pieces were no longer all the same but represented the different elements in Indian armies as Alexander the Great encountered them: the kings and counselors whom those armies protected, battle elephants, horse-mounted cavalry, chariots which fell soon out of fashion and were later replaced on some of the gameboards by ships, and foot soldiers.
But on another level, these pieces were also celestial bodies, and their motions show clearly which of these bodies each figure meant to mirror:
Majestic Jupiter was the King of the gods and of the game, single-stepping then as now, the slowest in both realms. Since kings don't like rivals on their side, his duplicate counterpart was only a vizier and even more hobbled before later players souped up that piece and transformed it into today's speedy queen.
The red "war" planet Mars has the longest retrograde motion and deviates least from the straight ecliptic path, with an inclination of only one and a half degrees. It moved over the gameboard as a war chariot, already then with the long and straight strides of today's Rook.
Venus veers three and a half degrees sideways, and when passing before the sun it disappears in the glare and thus seems to jump over the middle of its path from Morning Bringer to Evening Star. The Horse which represented that planet on the Chess board jumped one field straight plus one slanted sideways without touching down in the middle, the same move the horse-shaped Chess Knight still performs.
Mercury stays out of sight for even more of its voyage, and when visible near its extremes, it strays up to seven degrees sideways, twice as far as Venus does. So the elephant imitated this behavior by jumping two fields slanted sideways, in the same diagonal direction as today's Bishop but without the continuity of its modern move.
In addition to these planet pieces, the sun and the moon kept plodding along their linear path as they had always done, always forward and never back, and they were still reborn when they reached the end of their line. But now they were Pawns, and like the demystified sun gods and moon goddesses of old, they had now little power until that rebirth transformed them.
The fortunes of war were and are notoriously hard to predict, and initially this was also true for the motions of the four most visible planets. To reproduce this uncertainty on the gameboard, some players used dice to determine which piece would move next. Their reliance on this randomness may have been a carry-over from the older race games but lingered on for many centuries. It is attested not only from ancient Persia but occasionally also from medieval Europe where astronomical prediction long remained a hit-or-miss affair.
However, as the astronomers tried to analyze the convoluted dance of the planets and to predict their pirouettes, so the Chess players tried to analyze and predict the equally tangled choreography of the gamepieces. As the former figured out the rules that govern the planets, the latter ditched the dice and relied on logic alone to determine the time and direction of their moves.
The four colorful planetary gods ceded their scepters to two starkly opposing forces of light and night, deemed good against evil: the four colorful gameboard armies merged into the two black and white opponents of today's Chess, with excess Kings demoted to Viziers and later replaced by equally small-stepping Queens.
The Queens and the ex-Ships renamed Bishops gained their present continuous strides shortly before Copernicus placed the planets on their present continuous orbits -- and shortly before a Queen assisted by Bishops sent the ships of Columbus & Crowds across oceans in continuous journeys.
Indeed, as the race games had done before, Chess also once paralleled the lives of its players in remarkable detail. Many writers have marveled at how well that game imitates the feudal caste societies of Kings and Knights and Pawns where people and gamepieces start from pre-ordained positions and move only in pre-assigned ways.
Even the strategies needed for mastery in Chess match that pre-programmed society's bias for precedent over creative thinking, where quotes from Aristotle et al. often outweighed direct observation: good Chess players do not only analyze the board at hand but construct their moves with the help of memorized archives of eminent games past.
That is what cognition researchers determined when they tried to investigate how people solve problems. They picked the thinking process of Chess players as their study model for complex decision-making and found that champions cram their head with a memorized library of opening sequences and up to 50,000 "chunks" of other pre-analyzed Chessboard situations.
Then they relate each new gamepiece constellation before them to some similar board configuration from the literature stored in their brain for which someone has already worked out the best moves.
The researchers concluded that creativity in solving problems is generally just easy access to a mental library that contains much of the solutions. In other words, to come up with new ideas, you mostly base them on old ones.
Guess again. That archival approach may work for Chess and the canon-quoting contests of its scholasticist world, or for predicting the punctual passage of planets from prior plottings. But archives fail by definition when you venture beyond pre-mapped turf to explore the as yet undescribed, the still mysterious.
By now, the planetary perturbations have yielded their last and slightest wobbles to advances in physics and to number-crunching computers. At the same time, major Chess masters now lose matches to those machines. The planets and their game have no persistent puzzles left, not much room for inspiration or intuition, and no metaphors for the mysteries of our modern world.
Enter the Quantum world. Its mysteries have not disappeared. To the contrary, they are ...
Continue reading, or buy your collector's edition of the Quantum game at www.gamepuzzles.com/histfun.htm#QM