If you are a fan of science fiction, then you are undoubtedly familiar with, if not a big fan of, Edgar Rice Burroughs.
As a writer Burroughs amassed an impressive collection of books, many among the all-time greats in the world of speculative fiction.
Now, you might wonder what a famous author has to do with a column dedicated to boardgames?
Well, among Burroughs works was the Barsoom series of books, which told stories of a fictionalized Mars. The fifth book in the series was The Chessmen of Mars, in which the author wrote of the game of Jetan, a game he created as a Martian representation of chess.
The game, at least in the book, is that of an ancient war between the Yellow (often seen as orange too) and Black races of Barsoom. The field of battle is thus presented on a black and orange checkerboard of 10 rows by 10 columns, with orange pieces on the north side and black pieces on the south. The board is traditionally oriented to these directions because Barsoom's Yellow and Black races inhabit its north and south polar regions.
Now it should be understood the game of Jetan was developed as a literary device for the book by Rice Burroughs, and at least initially was probably not developed to necessarily be played in the 'real world'.
However, since sci-fi fans tend to be a bit fanatical at times, there were soon those who took Jetan from the pages of the book to actual game play. It hasn't been a perfectly smooth transition, since Burroughs' exact ideas for game play are at times confusing. He has the game detailed in the story, but then in appendixes, has a slightly different interpretation of the piece movement.
Similarly, in the book Jetan is a game with wagering, and that too muddies the waters a bit in terms of game play.
There are however, several websites which do discuss the game, including www.chessvariants.com, and these sites do provide enough insights into Jetan, and its rules, to make the game worth trying out.
Research suggests there was at one time a rather expensive set of pieces available, more as a collectible for the books than to be played. Other than that set, it appears no other commercial Jetan sets have been made.
So this is a game where you need to be a bit creative to make your own. A good starting place is of course a regular chess set. As you might imagine a lot of Jetan pieces have a familiar feel of normal chess pieces in how they move. From there you can play around to create a couple of the more specialize pieces. For example, the small plastic caps used to splice electrical wires together works well.
If you are a true fan, or find you really love the game, a bit of black and yellow (orange) paint can round out a homemade set nicely. Once complete you have a real conversation piece, especially among sci-fi fans.
As a game, Jetan is a little rough around the edges, but when you accept it as something of a novelty chess variant, and as a pathway to get into the mind of one of the great writers of the genre, Jetan is certainly worth giving a try.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 23, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada