A GAME AS OLD AS TIME

A game as old as time

They say that there is nothing new under the sun and that applies to boardgames as much as anything else. Here at Digital Future Games, for instance, our debut release – Mandala – is an updating and reimagining of a game we invented and published back in the early eighties. It has all the pop and pizazz of a 21st century gaming app but, at it’s heart, it’s very much the same game that our group of friends put together over thirty-five years ago.

A magical history tour

The mandala has been part of human culture for millennia. From Hindu and Buddhist traditions, through the Persian Shamseh found in Islamic art and the Celtic cross of Christian iconography, its influence can be seen everywhere.

In 1982, when we were spitballing ideas for a new board game, mandalas had recently enjoyed resurgence in the West thanks to the New Age culture of the 60s and 70s. While we knew that, what we didn’t know was that mandalas had been influencing boardgames – albeit subconsciously – long before we set down our rules.

Take your turn

Checkmate

When we look at a game like chess, for instance, we think of simple rules laid down over the centuries and accepted by all, but every culture had its own variations. Persian chess has a piece which cannot be lost without losing the game, Chinese chess is played on a board of only 3×3 squares, and so on. These are not just arbitrary decisions, but rooted in their respective cultures, one where the Shah is absolute and one where the emperor was confined within his palace walls.

So where does the mandala come into this? Here we have to look towards the theocratic Byzantine Empire, where chess was played on a circular board made of concentric rings, split into spaces. A culture centred on religious matters would find much to approve of in a game utilising the spiritual symbology of the circle as its core.

Take your places

Patterns within patterns

Mandalas are about more than circles, though – they have to do with geometric patterns and the compartmentalising of the aspects of nature into their respective elements. This was a common belief across pre-Renaissance Europe. Indeed, it was the foundation of alchemy, which would in turn develop into the modern science of chemistry.

While it might never be spoken, these twin aspects of the mandala also found their way into the boardgames of the time – games like Gala and Tablut. Indeed, it can be argued that as simple a game as Ludo, with its four players moving their differently-coloured pieces clockwise around the board, can trace its roots – however vaguely – back to this phenomenon.

What goes around (and around) comes around

At Future Games, we were more likely influenced by the album art on our Jimi Hendrix LPs than we were the accumulated cultural impact of a few thousand years of human development.

All we can say for sure is that we’re proud to have played our part in a gaming tradition that stretches back centuries. And we’re even more proud to have brought that concept right into the modern day.