National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

What Kind of Game Would Chesterton Create?

Checkers-Chess Combination Has Author's Whimsy

BY Thomas L. McDonald

September 11-24, 2011 Issue | Posted 9/2/11 at 4:23 PM

 

G.K. Chesterton never invented a game, but he certainly thought about it one summer when he rented a house in Rye, East Sussex, England. It’s hard to tell how much of Chesterton’s Autobiography is pure fact and how much is whimsy. If his account is to be believed, his neighbors for the summer were novelist Henry James and his brother, the psychologist William James. Hilaire Belloc made an unexpected appearance, and Chesterton spent much of that summer in the company of H.G. Wells, with whom he had a minor literary feud.

Chesterton even describes a game concocted by the two literary giants that summer: “It was we who invented the well-known and widespread national game of Gype. All sorts of variations and complications were invented in connection with Gype. There was Land Gype and Water Gype. I myself cut out and colored pieces of cardboard of mysterious and significant shapes, the instruments of Table Gype, a game for the little ones. It was even duly settled what disease threatened the over-assiduous player; he tended to suffer from Gype’s Ear. … Everything was in order and going forward, except the game itself, which has not yet been invented.”

Gype (rhymes with “type,” with a hard “G”) never actually existed in any kind of playable form, but this passing mention has led more than one admirer to wonder, What kind of game would Chesterton create? Paul and Christopher Nowak took up that challenge, inventing and publishing Uncle Chestnut’s Table Gype ($25).

The Nowaks run Eternal Revolution, a company that “prepares and arms Christians to keep, defend and spread the faith in the modern world.” Their work thus far includes a pair of books by Paul Nowak — The Way of the Christian Samurai and The Inconvenient Adventures of Uncle Chestnut — and a line of wonderful T-shirts featuring famous Chesterton quotes.

“The goal of Eternal Revolution,” says Paul Nowak, “is to encourage and challenge Christians to realize the spiritual struggle in which we find ourselves — one that began with the Fall and will go on until the coming of the Kingdom — and live up to the radical call of Christ.”

Chesterton is at the center of this work because the clarity and force of his vision is a powerful tool for modern Catholics. “The more one reads him,” observes Nowak, “the more his cosmic view of creation unfolds, restoring wonder, inspiring change, and amusing the reader along the way.”

The design came quite naturally for the Nowaks. The mention of “mysterious but significant” shapes made them think of abstract strategy games, such as chess and checkers. By using custom dice as playing pieces, they introduced a random element that captures Chesterton’s sense of adventure.

Each copy of Table Gype is handmade by the Nowaks. The game comes in a cloth bag with carrying handles and consists of a printed cloth playing surface, instructions and 32 wooden dice in four different colors. The cloth is printed with a square playing field comprised of 64 squares, with eight-square home rows located on each side. The goal is to maneuver all eight of your pieces for your home row to the other player’s home row.

Gameplay is a combination of chess and checkers, with an entirely new element that keeps the game constantly changing. Each die is printed with six different symbols. The symbol on the top determines the ways that die will move, but this changes throughout the game. The Flame moves one space in any direction; the Book moves one space horizontally or vertically; The Sword moves one space diagonally; the Tree moves one space forward (vertically or diagonally) or one backwards (vertically); the Hat moves like a Knight in chess; and the Ear cannot move at all.

When one player jumps over another player’s die, that die is rolled, thus changing the symbol on the top. For example, a player jumps a Flame piece; the Flame is rolled, and the result is a Book. That piece now moves like a Book. This is a unique design element that introduces a manageable level of randomness into the gameplay. There can be sudden turns of fortune, either for good or ill, and the game is consistently fresh.

The different symbols are drawn from Chesterton’s writing, and together they neatly encapsulate his worldview in game form. Nowak thought it was important to capture these Chestertonian elements in a game, since it’s “a form of entertainment that encourages critical thinking and imagination.”

Because Table Gype plays like a traditional game (checkers with the movement rules of chess), but adds that element of the unexpected (the dice), which Chesterton considered essential to adventure. G.K. would have been delighted with the Nowaks’ efforts.

Thomas L. McDonald blogs at StateofPlayBlog.com.