Omnibus: The Game is Afoot!

Today’s guest lecturer at Manifesto University is Dan Harris, who is here to introduce his latest model and teach us a little bit about the ancient board game of Ard Ri.  I’m a sucker for table-top gaming so when a builder manages to combine it with LEGO and history I’m all in. You may remember Dan’s work  and impeccable photography from such fine dioramas as Hadrian’s Wall and Siege of Alesia.  He is a member of Brick to the Past, a crew of British Lego nerds who build historically themed models on an epic scale. Let’s hear it from Mr. Harris himself without my blather to distract the class.


From Dan’s Flickr page:

Ard Ri is a variant of the game Hnefatafl, or simply Tafl, which is one of the oldest games in the world – traced in various versions to the Vikings, Welsh, Saxons, and Irish. It is rare in that it is one of the few games that comprises of two unequal sides. Ard Ri is played on a smaller board and with fewer pieces than standard Hnefatafl and it is one of the most challenging forms of the game. In Ard Ri the defending side comprises eight soldiers and a king, who start the game in the centre of the board. Their objective is for the king to escape by reaching any of the four corner squares. The attackers comprise sixteen soldiers positioned in four groups of four around the perimeter of the board. Their objective is to take the King. All pieces move like the Rook in chess and pieces are taken by “sandwiching” i.e. moving your piece so that an opponent’s piece is trapped horizontally or vertically between two of yours. Unlike other versions of Hnefatafl, in Ard Ri the defending side starts first.  Ard Ri is associated with the Scottish Highlands with Ard Ri meaning ‘High King‘ in Irish Gaelic. ‘Irish Gaelic’ you may ask? Well Scot’s Gaelic is part of the same linguistic family and in fact comes from Ireland. There’s a really good description of the game and outline of its rules over at: Boardgamegeek.

Hnefatafl sets often contained intricately carved pieces and beautifully decorated boards and this is what we’ve tried to create here, taking inspiration from traditional designs and the iconic Uig Chessmen. I say we, because the board was actually created by my girlfriend Dot, who as it turns out has a bit of a talent for cheese-slope mosaics. All I contributed was the structure and pieces.

With such a relatively obscure game you might think this is the first time a builder has tackled Ard Ri, but back in 2010 Elroy Davis took a crack at it with his “Hnefatafl Starting positions” model.

Since we’re on the topic of board games, let’s take a walk down memory lane with some great builders covering a variety of table-top classics.  First up is Canadian KeithLUG member Adam Dodge with his take on Battleship, a game that was first produced in it’s familiar form in 1967 but whose history stretches back to the pad-and-pencil games of the 1930’s.  I have to admit that the ship designs are a little bland, but at least they are functional and iconic.  There is a travel version out there by Kristi , which is worth a look if you’re a Battleship fan.


Next up is Clue, the classic who-done-it from 1949 built by Ian Spacek for round 4 of the 2014 MocOlympics contest.  I love the economy of parts here, every single element matters and is well selected.  I also appreciate both the variety and choice of colors, the board is just striking and immediately identifiable.  There are no garish primary colors here, everything is muted without being drab.  The murder weapons and characters are spot-on and the logo in the center is clever.  The game looks just simple and playable as Battleship, but with a few more advanced building techniques on display. I would love to sit down for this game of Clue with the family.


Marcos Bessa brings something fresh to the party with his take on a modern Portuguese table-top game called Trench.  After perusing the website I’m still not completely sure what’s going on here, but the model of the game board has an amazing texture and I find the whole thing to be strangely hypnotic.  It’s worth noting that Marcos works for LEGO as a Product Designer and lives in Billund by way of Paredes Portugal, so if he’s impressed with the game, I’m impressed.

12584241373_0fecebee7c_o.jpgThe Settlers of Catan hit the shelves in 1995 to immediate acclaim, designed by German Klaus Teuber.  American builder eldeeem gave it the LEGO treatment in 2012 earning over 200 favorites and 34k views and apparently an offer or two to purchase the model.  In my research for this post I came across several versions of Catan but the quality level varied widely.  I’m not sure if eldeem was the first builder to come up with the idea, but in my opinion his version is the best and looks like it would be very easy to customize to a player’s preference.  I’ve found a way to customize all of my favorite games over time so I put a premium on that feature.


Let’s escape the realm of mass-produced games entirely and check out the new-age singing sensation and Iron Builders Siercon and Coral and their home-brewed Sci-Fi miniatures game Star Clash.  While some of the game pieces seem a little underwhelming, the rest of the production is pretty slick and like Catan it seems easily customized.  Seeing the game makes me want to build my own nano-fleet.  Although I don’t know much about the game mechanics (they had no rules posted), it has a familiar look and I’d certainly love to take a crack at it with a beer and a friend or two.


I’m going to end this brief collection of board games with a model that isn’t a board game at all, but absolutely should be.  “Take the City!” not only has a great title, but it looks like a 3D map from a computer strategy game come to life.  Chris Madison is the responsible party, he’s a super talented old school builder who I was glad to see return to the scene after a lengthy absence.  Chris has been known to take a commission from time to time, so maybe I ought to close my mouth and open my wallet.  The flag markers, roads, nano-castle, mountains and coastline are outstanding…I love everything about this model.  The only thing missing is a tray full of extra game pieces and a pair o’ dice.


I was planning on including chess in this post, but there are far too many versions floating round in the digital aether to add to this already bloated omnibus.   Interested parties should look for an article devoted entirely to the venerable game sometime in the near future.  As always, thank you for tuning in, constant reader.