Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pic of the Day: The Game of Fortresses

Back in 1999, when I was first getting into Fort Pickens, I came across a site I had some hopes for. One Chris Jones was posting scans of playing cards dating back to 1763, a teaching tool for up-and-coming French fortification engineers. Each card in the deck featured fundamental concepts, starting with lines, angles, and basic geometrical shapes (square, triangle, rhombus, etc.); the circle and inscribed polygons; the geometry between a fort's wall and bastions, and so on.

The cards were put together by a Monseur Dumont under King Louis XVI, building on the concepts codified by Marquis de Vauban, The Man when it came to the science of designing, building, and demolishing forts.

Chris made it as far as the suit of Diamonds in 1998; the remaining sets were supposed to be added each quarter in that year, but to this day the place is a cobweb site.

I've hunted through The Google's vast reaches, hoping to find some sign of the cards--maybe someone else scanned them, or Chris set up a new site, maybe even a deck of them for sale (how cool would that be?).


I'd put it aside, wait a few months, and try again, and a couple of nights ago I hit paydirt, landing on an Italian site that had a full-page scan of the entire deck.
From the description at this site, it was printed as a single sheet and intended to be cut up as playing cards or left whole and played as a board game. From what I've translated of the rules (the 2nd and 4th boxes on the top row), the board game is played starting from the lower left corner (Ace of Diamonds), going in a counterclockwise spiral towards the completed fort in the center. Instead of the 1763 date posited by Chris above, the Italians find 1697 to 1712 a more likely range.

It's a variation on The Game of War; both were designed by Gilles de la Boissière.

The 3.6MB full-size pic is still a bit fuzzy when it's blown up enough to be readable, but it's passable. Not as good as having an original item from 1697--especially the source woodcut--but still worth getting geeked up about.

[UPDATE]--I found a site selling modern reproductions of the original deck for about $15 US.

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