Linking your favorite traveling artists across the globe
Our first line of products when went into the game business is our portable fabric games. We had experimented with printing on card stock and laminating the boards, but found that they would not lay flat after bering rolled for storage/traveling. But then we hit on the idea to silk screen the art on fabric with plain black ink to represent simple ink-block printing. This means they are not only great for camping or traveling, they are completely machine washable.
I recently returned from 4 weeks of camping and canoeing, and your game was a huge hit! It's so compact it's perfect for stuffing in a backpack. Being cloth, it is easy to clean (nothing stays clean when camping) and we didn't need to worry about keeping it dry (rain, white-water, and overturned canoes). All we had to do was keep our cards in a zip-lock bag. -Nancy, Wisconsin.
We pack them in plain canvas pouches so they could fit in the kit of pretty much any historical reenactor. We've even been able to document a game printed directly on fabric as early as the 1790's. The pouches are big enough to hold the entire set of 8 games in a single package so you can have an entire game closet.
More about specific games later.
"Pope Joan" is one of our most popular fabric games. It appears in the Oxford English Dictionary for the first time in the 1730's but a game using a similar stakes board "Poch" is documented in Germany as early as the 1400's. It's a fairly fast moving game that is easy to pick up within a couple hands even for non-card players. It can be played by as few as two people, but we recommend 3 or more. Pope Joan is also the ancestor to the modern games of "Michigan Rummy," "Tripoli" or "Rummy Royale". Players win coins or chips off the board as they play the face cards of the trump suit. The first player to get rid of their cards wins the and the other players have to pay the winner one chip for every card they were stuck holding
The connection between the name "Pope Joan" and the legend of the female pope is unclear. Game historian David Parlett speculated that the name name may have been corrupted/evolved in English from a similar French game "Nain Jaune" (Yellow Dwarf) to be "nun Jaune/Joan" and eventually to "Pope Joan."
Commit, or “Manille” is another game that is an ancestor to Pope Joan and like "Pope" it features the 9 of diamonds (or manille) as a special card. It is also somtimes spelled “Comet,” the change possibly inspired by the sighting of Haley’s Comet in 1682. There are unconfirmed references that we have read which suggest that Mary Queen of Scots introduced the game to the Scottish court after she returned from France, or that it was introduced to Scotland by Mary of Lorraine (also Mary of Guise, 1515-1560) wife of James V.
Pope Joan became popular during the Victorian era as a social game because it did not require the direct betting competition that occurred in games like Poker, and became a game (using chips rather than money) for the whole family, and even the clergy:
“I cannot condemn the Vicar of Broad Hembury for relaxing now and then among a few select friends with a rubber of sixpenny Whist, a pool of penny Quadrille, or a few rounds of twopenny Pope-Joan... wrote Augustus Toplady, towards the end of the eighteenth century.” -Quoted by “Cavendish”, from a letter reported in Polwhele's Reminiscences, 1773.
Pope Joan also appears in the “old-fashioned card party” as depicted in Dickins’ “The Pickwick Papers” (1836-7):
“Isabella Wardle and Mr. Trundle “went partners”, and Emily Wardle and Mr. Snodgrass did the same; and even Mr. Tupman and the spinster aunt established a joint-stock company of fish* and flattery... Then when the spinster aunt got “matrimony”, the young ladies laughed afresh...” (*“Fish” refers to fish-shaped gaming chips made from mother of pearl which were sold with some 19th century Pope Joan sets.)
The Victorian connection to the game makes it a great option for Steampunk gatherings, and it has become popular among some of the "Royal Court" of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. We include enough glass drops to use as chip for up to 6 players and the rule booklet includes the rules for Pope Joan, Poch as well as the related games of Commit and Queen Nazereen.
Fidchell is my favorite of our fabric games. It's quick and easy to learn, but has interesting strategies, and sometimes catches Chess players off guard the first couple times they play it.
In 1932 a board was found in a crannog (lake dwelling) in Ireland. It contained a 7 X 7 grid of holes, and was decorated with designs used in the 10th century. Many scholars believed it to be a Fidchell (also spelled Fithcheal, or Fitchneal) or "Brandubh" game mentioned in early Irish legends, and related to Scandinavian Tafl games. When we designed our game board I did recreated the knotwork carved into the Ballinderry Game Board for the border art around our Fidchell board.
The Balinderry Game Board