The Suicide King

If you’ve ever looked at a King of Hearts, he appears to be driving a sword into his head, which is how this card earns its nickname: the Suicide King. (The name was even cribbed for a Christopher Walken flick.)

In fact, the King of Hearts was originally depicted wielding an axe, with the head of axe appearing on the left side of his head. Over time, either through careless printing or a deliberate design decision, the head of the axe was lost, and the King of Hearts’ weapon evolved into a sword, which he now appears to be using to clear out some deeply embedded earwax.

He’s also the only King depicted without a mustache. Folklore suggests that he’s missing a mustache because, as the King of Hearts, he is without deceit, and mustaches suggest disguise. (Of course, he still has his beard, but nevermind.)

At one point, the French assigned real Kings to the suits: David (Spades), Caesar (Diamonds), Alexander (Clubs), and Charlemagne (Hearts).  Since Charlemagne was cleanshaven (so folklore goes), the King of Hearts had no mustache.

Um …  nevermind (again).

The culprit, once again, is probably the vicissitudes of woodblock printing, since early playing cards were made by hand and not always to the highest standards.

King of Hearts (with axe) circa 1567.

Giant FedEx from Blizzard can only mean one thing…

My review copy of the completely over-the-top special collector’s edition of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is here.

This bad boy is one solid brick of content for $100.  It includes:

  • a PC/Mac version of the game on DVD
  • a light-up 2GB USB drive designed to look like the main character’s dog tags, and pre-loaded with the complete original StarCraft Anthology
  • Behind the Scenes DVD
  • soundtrack CD
  • comic book
  • hardcover book The Art of StarCraft: Wings of Liberty
  • exclusive in-game “pet” for World of WarCraft
  • free downloadable content from
  • 4 guest passes: 2 for World of WarCraft, and 2 for StarCraft II

Say what you will about Blizzard, but they sure know how to stuff a box fully of nifty swag.

Speaking of Gaming Photography … Mancala among the Maasai

My daughter and I love playing Mancala/Wari. (There’s a very nice Mancala app out there as well.) In fact, most western games billing themselves as “Mancala” are actually Wari. Mancala is a family of games, like Poker. Wari (or Oware) is a specific version, and the one with the most popular rule set.

After posting the story about the 3rd International Gaming Photo Awards yesterday, I remembered this picture, which I found on a Maasai tourism site. When I see photos like this, I’m always struck by the ways the world finds to play game. Dig holes in the dirt, collect some pebbles or pips, and start playing. Man, if Games Workshop got hold of this, they would slap some Space Marines on those pips, change the rules every two years, and sell them collectible figures and $4 bottles of model paint.

Having said that, I have no idea what these two dudes are doing. It’s obviously a kind of Mancala game, but there appears to be at least four rows of holes. (?) Maybe it’s a Special Edition Mancala Expansion Set, thus proving that the desire to make your existing games bigger is shared the world over.

App O’ the Mornin’: Hive

When John Yianni’s brilliant game of tile-laying and maneuver was first published in 2001, it introduced an interesting twist on the abstract strategy. The tabletop version features 22 hexagonal tiles made of sturdy Bakelite. Each player gets 11 tiles in white or black, with various tiles depicting a single kind of insect. Players take turns placing tiles so they form a continuous hive, and then move those tiles to trap the opponent’s Queen bee.

Each bug has unique movement rules: the Queen bee can move one space at a time, Ants can go anywhere around the edge of the hive, Grasshoppers can jump, Beetles can move one space and land on top of (and thus block) any other insect, and Spiders can move exactly three spaces around the outside of the hive. No piece may move if its movement will split the hive in two.
The main strategy of the game is control the outer edges of the hive, limiting the movement of the Queen in order to close the trap. You can try the game out using a Java version on the Hive website, which also includes some excellent tips and strategies.
The original Hive game
Thanks to the work of LotusLand studio, this innovative game has become a terrific app. LotusLand went the extra distance to offer a 3D engine that can be tilted, panned, or spun to view the playing field from any angle. It even offers different tile sets as well as the “mosquito” tile, which was initially sold separately from the original game. (A mosquito can take on the abilities of any tile it touches.)
The result is remarkably deep, with unique rules requiring the development of fairly elaborate strategies akin to chess.