# A Hexagonal Slab Of Wood, by Cîang Raokji
Although I live in the nation of Kaimìdo, and it can't be denied that a big portion of my soul resides among these roads, I am from the far region of Hrastaiqua, a small town -- which, really, I would call a cult -- of rich people who refuse to acknowledge the elemental arts. Given this, Baishu, although known by nearly everyone, isn't played much there, and interest in it is looked down upon.
When I was seventeen and certain that I had enough savings to separate from my family, I escaped from my town as a stowaway on a ship owned by pirates from Kaimìdo. The first thing I thought was actually a small realization -- someone in town must be doing fiery business. The other one was hoping that this crew is kind to stowaways, after all, I was sailing with murderers and probably other kinds of criminals.
Inevitably, they noticed my presence in the ship. It did take some interrogation to get partial trust from the crew, and I had to tell them that I escaped from my parents, which made me fear that they would be hired by them in order to find me and bring me back home. They shared some of their fish with me, and some probably dirty but I was too thirsty to really care water. My presence in the boat still made the crew feel uneasy at best, and my words weren't able to change their hearts nor show them mine.
And then they taught me Baishu.
Up to that point, the game had been one of the silliest taboos to me. *"It's just a hexagonal slab of wood with some cute paint on it"*, I thought, *"it's probably not even magic at all"*. So their offering to teach me the game felt like both a small opening to a truth my parents had hid from me and a swarm of otherworldly information making nest right in my mind.
After explaining me the rules, one of the pirates drew a small graph with the six elements in a circle, and lines showing how they interact with each other. It was fairly simple, but it did take me a while to feel confident enough to play without it. I still remember how my first game went. I put two Order pieces next to each other. My opponent had the smuggest smile I had ever seen, putting two pieces next to one of mine, extinguishing it. I realized I could move my remaining piece and place another so that they'd kill his. He then did the same. I was excited, thinking I was being really clever, and then I realized the piece I had on the board was the only one I had left.
Needless to say, it didn't take too long after that for them to beat me.
I was later taught that what he did is called the **troll's opening**, sometimes known as the **scumbag's opening**. The reason being that he just went for a kill right at the beginning of the game, which is normally considered rude. It's called the troll, because the only way I could get rid of it was not feeding it -- which I realized only when I was almost out of things to feed it with.
The only winning strategy against the troll's opening is to move away and build somewhere else with other pieces.
This is where the magic of Baishu started becoming apparent to me. It's a game with simple arbitrary rules, and it reminded me to a concept that mathematician Djahn Kanwei invented, where black and white pieces change according to the pieces near them (which I briefly mention really just because of my love of mathematics). But despite its simplicity, some strange and interesting behavior does appear as the game progresses.
But I think its magic isn't how its complexity transcends the simplicity of the rules that make it up. It's also how the people around it view it. In my second game with the pirates, one of them ended up building a small section with walls on it on one of the corners. Two of my pieces were in it, unable to move anywhere, and the walls were made of Earth and Order. I came up with a strategy to defeat the walls, while she chased around other pieces I had in the board. My lack of carefulness came to bite me back, though, as after I broke the walls open she had made me run out of Fire pieces. It was an overwhelming game, it seemed like she was experienced in overwhelming not the pieces but also her opponents -- playing with her prey in a very feline attitude.
Throughout the game, the other pirates seemed to be very enthusiastic about the way she was playing, and then when they saw me amassing air for my counter attack everyone looked very expectant. It reminded me of how in stadiums people always seemed to cheer loudly and get out of control about what was happening. I am not a sports person nor a fights person, so I didn't understand their fuzz, but playing Baishu and seeing the people around me get excited about the game allowed me to empathize a bit more with the sentiment of seeing your team win a game.
After the game ended, she taught me that **Baishu has an element of area control**. If you own the board, you own the game. The more of the board is covered by your pieces, the easier it becomes to overwhelm your opponent. Everything becomes just a short chase, like a cat chasing a rat. There's a reason it's explicitly said that if the opponent runs out of space to put pieces in, you win.
The walls near the corner were unexpected, though.
After these two games, they seemed to be more comfortable with having me as a stowaway. I asked them if they would please not come search me if my family hires them to bring me back home, and they agreed. It was almost as if having a few games with them had made them change their minds about me -- or more accurately, make a final decision about trusting me. I spent a while looking at the sea while everyone in the crew, sometimes offering to help in simple tasks.
Another one of the pirates had a more fierce way to play. I must admit that the scar going through her eye made me think she was going to completely crush me, but instead, she played more for aesthetics and fun than to win the game. She didn't really have a strategy, she just had fun with the game. Throughout this game, I felt more confident, and she did tell me at the end that she thought I was going to win, but she beat me at the end by making me run out of pieces.
The travel lasted two more nights, since the route we had to take was longer. They weren't bad nights, though. When they had nothing to do, they did theater, sang songs together, showed off tricks that they were able to do, and of course, played Baishu. The fish wasn't bad, but I admit I would have gotten tired of it, had I spent one more night with them.
When I got down on the port, they told me to be careful, and to never do this again, since not all crews would have allowed me on board. In the port, the first thing I wanted to do was getting some food. It didn't take me too much walking until I found a small, cozy café. I had some iceberry chocolate and toasted bread covered in Kjarats, a native parasitic plant that grows on trees. I didn't actually know what to expect of the bread, but I was curious.
While waiting for my breakfast to arrive, I realized that all the tables were carved with a hexagon on them. I asked what it was, because due to all the Baishu I had been playing recently I immediately assumed it was a Baishu board. Another customer came in. They had a quick glance at the menu and took their order -- a few minutes later, after I was brought my own food, they were brought a drink, a small bag full of something colorful, and a small wooden sign that they put on their table.
After I was done with my food, when I got up to pay for it, I turned to read the other person's sign. They were *"accepting games"*. When I asked them what that meant, the first thing they did was ask me where I was from, to which I just said I'm from *"very very far"*. Then they explained to me that here, most cafés let people play Baishu with friends, or have small signs they can put on their tables to show that they're accepting games from strangers. I told them that this was a very big coincidence, since I had just learned about the game a few days ago.
*"Very very far, huh?"*
We talked about many things during the game, many of them irrelevant to the goal I have in mind for this book, but at some point, as a group of friends entered the café and played games with each other, I did ask them what made them want to play with strangers, and what made Baishu so important around here.
They said that I probably don't know this, but Baishu has many meanings to different people. For one, it's taught in schools to help kids get used to the elements and to make teaching their meanings more interesting. A lecture is boring, beating your friends at a fun game while you learn about the world isn't.
I told them that I didn't really know about that. In my home town, Baishu and magic in general was a weird taboo, so having moved here is a big change to me. He asked if I had seen anyone doing elemental metallurgy, or better yet, bending the material. I told them I didn't know what these things were. He told me I should walk around town when I'm done with the game.
I asked them what other meanings the game has. I didn't believe that schools teaching it would be enough for it to be on every table of a café. He told me I was right. That, since this town is full of magicians, people like to have fun with something that reminds them of their magic with friends. Like fights, but calm and friendly. They help stir up conversations, and when there's nothing to talk about, mentioning the ongoing game can be an option too. Traditional Baishu games last hours, it's a way to bring people closer together.
A group of people, presumably friends, entered the café, and I couldn't help but notice that the first thing they did was ask for Baishu pieces. They were being somewhat loud, laughing at and with each other.
*"It also helps cafés make more money"*.
I only noticed how much time had passed when people outside started shooting fire at the lamps on the street to light them up. I couldn't help but remark that in my town that wasn't a thing. Nights were dark, so people usually didn't go outside at night. As someone who had never seen that kind of lamps before, it was a beautiful sight. Looking back at those memories, I find it strange how I could grow so used to the life in this town.
They said that, if I wanted, they would just surrender so I can go outside and find a place before it's late. I said that I wanted to play until the end. It was a fairly uninteresting game after that, perhaps because I was more interested in seeing the city tomorrow at this point. In the end, I won. This was the first Baishu game I had ever won.
I spent half an hour roaming the streets, looking for an inn, or at the very least some place where I could settle down. Most of it wasn't interesting, but there was a point where I couldn't help but notice the beauty of a small park with a fountain surrounded by these special street lamps. The way the fires reflected on the water caught my eye.
By the end of the night, I found a place to sleep until morning.
When I woke up, there was someone else staying in the inn. They told me they arrived at midnight. After having breakfast, I found a Baishu set that the owner said was for guests to play. I asked the other guest if she wanted a game, and to my surprise, she told me she had never played it. They were the only person I had seen throughout my journey so far that had never played it. In a way, that was kind of exciting.
I taught them the rules, drew a graph like the one the pirates made for me to help them play. It seems like they got used to the rules very quickly, because even when at first it wasn't hard to beat them, they still managed to survive. Then they started being actually hard to beat, and it was necessary for me to recede a bit.
I asked them where they are from. They said they were from the center of the town, they ran away from their parents a few days ago. They were from an abusive family. At some point, they couldn't help but feel like every day was going to be the last, until at some point they instinctively ran away. Last night they found this inn, and they're going to stay here until they find a job. Since I probably had some spare, I decided to hand them some of my money. I didn't relate a lot to their story, even though I also escaped my parents. My family was a lot less likely to kill me, to begin with.
It was nice to play a game with a fellow runaway.