Once the preserve of the nobility and the very
rich, the game of Mir’bals (or "Mira’s Balls", as it was originally called), is
today enjoyed by even the lowliest of
Sarvonian peasants, thanks to the tireless work and dedication of
everyone’s favourite herbologist, Miraran Tehuriden.
It may surprise some to see how quickly this humble new game has risen in popularity, particularly among all classes and ranks of Santharian folk. However, its beautiful simplicity of play, its portability and adaptability, and the fact that it requires relatively little equipment has made it almost as popular as Knuckles and Houses with a wide range of people. And, like dice and cards, one's social status can still be clearly indicated by the choice of medium, with as little or as much expense as one chooses - as such, it was inevitable that the nobility would seize upon it as both a novelty and a chance to exhibit their wealth. The common folk, somewhat annoyed at this co-opting of 'their' game, have nicknamed the more elaborate, dirt-free versions "Nob'bals" (pronounced NOHB-alls), short for "Nobles' Balls"... or so they claim.
Picture description. The fierce orc and Compendium contributer Tharoc Wargrider with a pouch of gaily-coloured Mir'bals. Image drawn by Seeker.
There are many variations of the game and rules, with even neighbouring
villages having their own twist, but the equipment needed is the same the land
over; a steady hand and a pouch or bag of the gaily-coloured, spherical seeds
known as Mira’s Balls.
History. The game of Mir’bals is not, as some would have us believe, an ancient and traditional pastime, handed down through the generations like a treasured trinket. Indeed, its origins can be traced back only as far as the early foraging trips and herbological experimentation of its attributed creator, Miraran Tehuriden.
During the early days of his career Miraran had very little money, and in order to pay whatever bearers, guides or trappers he needed for his field trips he had to resort on many occasions to giving them a share in whatever discoveries he made. It was on one such trip as this that he made what was to become one of his greatest discoveries, the Taenish Plant (this exotic egg-laying flower is described comprehensively in the Herbology section of the Library, so no further explanation is necessary here).
By a remarkable stroke of good fortune, he happened upon a small group of Taenish plants just as they were in the process of laying their eggs, and he managed to gather a goodly number of these seeds with the intention of transporting them to his (at that stage) small greenhouse where he would attempt to grow them for further study.
That is where his luck deserted him, however. As he had found the new plants just as the groups’ provisions were almost depleted, they faced a long trek back home with very little food and, more importantly, ale. Knowing that only a handsome bonus would convince his rag-tag team to remain with him on the return journey, he had no option but to distribute the taenish 'eggs' amongst them, and try to convince them that they would fetch a good price in the markets due to their attractive colourations and for the beautiful flowers they produce. This didn’t go down too well with the motley crew, but through a combination of his linguistic dexterity and downright dishonesty, he managed to sooth their furrowed brows, at least temporarily.
During the nervous (for Miraran at least) return trip, the bearers, as is common with their type, took to gambling with their seeds in an effort to increase their share of the booty. However, as there were no four-house cards to be had, and the seeds were inanimate so they couldn’t be raced, they needed to find a way of using them in some sort of game.
Overhearing their loud discussions about the best way of doing this, Miraran saw an opportunity to help ease the obvious rebelliousness that had been growing over the last few days. He had been sat nearby, rolling a couple of the multi-coloured spheres around in the palm of one hand when suddenly he had an idea. Standing in the middle of the disgruntled assembly, he took a stick and drew a large circle in the dust, and within that he drew a smaller one. Next, he took one seed from each man (after much grumbling and cursing) and placed them within the inner circle. “Now,” he exclaimed, “each man shall take it in turn to roll one of his remaining seeds from outside the large ring towards the seeds within the smaller ring, and however many of the other seeds he manages to dislodge from the inner circle, he shall claim as his.”
The porters, who had been huddled round, watching intently as Miraran set-up the game, eyed him and each other in suspicious silence. Then, one man took a seed from his pouch, took careful aim (using his tongue and one eye to aid his concentration), and flicked it at the group of coloured orbs. There was a loud “CRACK!”, and although his seed had remained within the centre ring, he had managed to dislodge three of his opponent’s seeds. “HA!” he exclaimed loudly, “I win!”
Before long, the whole group was engaged in the game, taking it in turns to roll their balls around the circle. This simple game became a nightly pursuit for the men of his party, and undoubtedly saved Miraran from either a severe battering, or at the very least, having to carry all his equipment back home on his own.
On their return to their homes, the porters wasted no time in trying to ‘cash in’ on their seeds, and very soon their beauty and rarity saw them bringing high prices indeed whenever they appeared for sale. Master jewellers would buy them to turn into brooches and pendants for the wealthy ladies of the area, and cooks found that if cooked, they made excellent ommelettes, complete with the tasty young shoot inside. Ever watchful for an easy san, Miraran began to make regular trips to his secret stash of Taenish Plants, bringing back as many seeds as he could carry. His experiments in growing and cross-breeding the various colours were a big success, and it wasn’t long before his coffers were filled with the coin of some of the wealthiest people in Nybelmar. Unfortunately, this meant that the simple folk who had been the first to play with Mira’s spheres were unable to afford the pleasure any longer, and had to resort to using pebbles, or carving them from wood. Neither of these proved successful though, as it was almost impossible to achieve the perfect roundness of Mira's orbs.
However, in a rare moment of benevolence, Miraran decided to produce even more of the seeds and began to pay his staff with them, thus reducing the prices at the markets and allowing everyone the opportunity of sampling the delights that playing with the seeds could bring, as well as ensuring that even more coin stayed in his pockets.
As has been previously stated, the only equipment needed for a successful game
of Mir’bals is a steady hand and a pouchful of the seeds themselves, although a
good aiming eye is always counted as a bonus. As you will see later in this
report, each variation of the game requires a slightly different playing area
with different regions having their own variations in size and design. One can
often tell the rank of a player by the quality of his equipment. The rules for
each game will be explained in the relevant section.
The seeds, or balls, have acquired various names throughout the regions; mirps, twists, dobbers, flirters, kings and crowners to name but a few. Some of these refer to the different colour combinations seen within the seeds themselves (such as twists, flats, straights and painters) , whilst others let competitors know how valuable a particular ‘mirp’ is. For example, A seed of average size is known as a ‘flirter’, whilst a larger than average seed makes it a ‘dobber’ which is worth 2 flirters. This same seed, after winning a certain number of contests becomes a ‘crowner’, and after beating another ‘crowner’ it becomes a ‘king’. Each of these crowners and kings is worth a varying number of flirters and dobbers, depending upon the region.
The numerous colour and pattern combinations within the seeds have their own values that vary greatly from village to village, and are far too complex to explore here. Suffice to say that every player (or Baller) knows to the exact ‘flirt’ how much his bag of balls is worth, and knows the patterns so well that he can spot one of his own balls even when mixed amongst a mass of others. Unbelievably, some Mir’bals achieve such high status amongst ballers that they have become almost legendary, with tales told and retold about how they ‘Smashed open the Castle and scattered every target ball into Mira’s Ring in one flick”, or some such.
The playing surfaces show as many variations in design as the patterns on the balls themselves, ranging from the simple 'circles in the dirt' used by the lowliest peasants, up to the elaborately carved and bejewelled tables made from rare woods and precious metals by master craftsmen for the high and mighty.
As one would expect, as the game is of Nybelmarian origin the residents of that land have created the most intricately detailed 'arenas'.
As in all areas, the traditional 'Mira's Ring' is still the surface most widely used owing to its ease of construction, but for the wealthier players who prefer not to scrabble about in the dirt like peasants a raised personal playing area is a must.
Known as 'courts', they are usually built atop a sturdy table measuring at least two and a half peds by one and a half, although it isn't unusual to see them much larger than this. It is rumoured that a certain official who fancied himself as something of an expert player developed an addiction to gambling on the outcome of games. In order to give himself an edge over his competitors, he had an enormous table built which ran around the entire circumference of the largest room in his house. Such was the complexity of it's landscaped surface that he invariably beat everyone who challenged him, having spent many hours mastering its every hazard and obstacle.
Whatever their size, Nybelmarian courts are always beautifully landscaped, with moss hills, puddle-lakes of coloured water, soft sandy beaches and small ferns for trees. Some of the more progressive thinkers and tacticians have begun to introduce beetles and small animals to the court to add an element of uncertainty to proceedings. No two courts are alike, with each player choosing to landscape his table with a representation of a favourite region or scene, or perhaps a miniature rendition of his homeland. Whilst these immaculately detailed Nybelmarian courts are seldom seen outside of that land, the other playing surfaces have found favour across much of Sarvonia, being replicated using local materials.
The most commonly seen board (apart from the ubiquitous dusty Mira's Ring) is the simple table-top variety found in many taverns and homes. Usually kept under a bed or leant against a wall, it is simply constructed using planks of wood held together by a raised frame. A pail of sand or dirt is also usually kept nearby to use as the actual playing surface, and after play has finished it is simply poured back into the pail. Some taverns in well-to-do areas provide ordinary-looking bar-room tables which flip over to reveal a playing surface attached to the underside.
In dwarven regions, or hostelries which cater for mainly dwarven clientele, the tables, or slabs as they are known, are most often hewn from whatever local rock is most available, although rock crystal, norsidian and whenstone seem to be the most popular.
The actual playing area will be covered with the finest white sand, wetted with the purest mineral water and packed down to a hard surface. Oftentimes the edge of the slab will be decorated with mosses and dainty mushrooms.
The wealthier dwarves will eshew the stone slabs of their bretheren, replacing them instead with trays of silver and even gold, covered all over with examples of the finest metalwork sans can buy.
There are many other variations on Mira's Ring to be seen throughout the lands, but these few examples should present the reader with sufficient insight into their diversity.
Whilst this all sounds very confusing to the untrained ear, it becomes second nature very quickly after one becomes embroiled in the exciting world of Mira’s Balls.
Techniques. There are almost as many different techniques to playing your ‘flirter’ as there are ways of playing the game. An expert baller will be capable of using any one of them, but everyone has their own particular favourite.
The most common technique is known as ‘Thumbing’. The basic method of thumbing is simplicity itself to master; bend the forefinger of your playing hand around the tip of the thumb and place the ball in the angle created. Softly squeeze the finger and thumb together, thus trapping the ball in place. Next, select your target ball or balls and place your hand, knuckles down, on the edge of the playing circle facing them. Using your skill and judgment, make any further alterations to elevation and direction, then flick your thumb outwards, releasing the seed towards your target. The ideal ‘thumb’ will see your ball fly across the circle without touching the ground, striking your target ball and sending it careering into several others on it’s way out of the inner circle, hopefully taking a few of them with it.
This technique affords the user much more force with which to scatter the target balls, thus increasing the likelihood of a successful strike.
The next method of propulsion is ‘flicking’. Simply select your target, place your ball on the edge of the circle in the spot you consider most advantageous, and then flick it as hard as you can using your forefinger. This method leaves your ball open to ‘drag’ and diversion from the ground, unless you can create a little lift by aiming your flick at the underside of your ball. This, however, must be judged well, as too much lift will see your ball sailing over the pack and landing in the empty dirt beyond. Failure to hit any of the target pack with any of your balls results in the offending ball being forfeited and placed in the inner circle.
The final method we shall describe here is a variation on flicking and is the most uncommon system used today, attempted by only the most expert of ballers. ‘Palming’ is rarely used as the potential for missing is far greater than with any other technique. After selecting your target, place your non-playing hand knuckles down at the edge of the playing area and sit your ball in the centre of your flat palm, line up your shot and then flick your ball in the same way as described above. The slight elevation afforded by your flattened hand negates any ill effects from the ground, but having one’s hand in this position prevents accurate line-of-sight targeting, hence why it is used by only the very best ballers, and even then it is only used a way of ‘showing off’ their skills.
Variations. The most common variations of this game can be summarized as follows:
This is the name widely given to Miraran’s original concept. After all these years this is still the most commonly played of all the variations, requiring nothing more elaborate for a playing surface than a patch of dirt 1 ped across. It is not uncommon in the more well-off households to see specially built cloth-covered tables with a Mira's Ring atop. These tables are bought by the wealthy so that they are not seen to be scrabbling around in the dirt like commoners.
The rules for Mira's Ring are identical to those set out by Miraran in that forest clearing. A circle of no less than 1 ped and no more than 1 ped and 1 fore is drawn on the ground. This is known as ‘Mira’s Ring’. A smaller circle (known as ‘The Castle’) of no more than 2 palmspans and no less than 1 palmspan across is then drawn within the larger circle, using the same centre. It is worth noting at this point that whilst the dimensions of Mira’s Ring are to be strictly observed, the dimensions of the Castle are subject to change, dependent upon the number of players, and the number of balls they elect to use as targets.
The players must then agree upon the value of the balls they are going to play with. It is then up to the individual player to reach this value using any combination of balls he sees fit.
The value of the balls each player will place within the Castle is then determined, and again it is up to the individual how this value is made up. This is where a game can be won or lost, as the smaller value balls need more of them to be used as targets, thus increasing the likelihood of one of them being targeted. However, using a high value crowner or king has its obvious risks as well.
Once these decisions have been made, each player places their chosen target balls within the Castle, and a playing order is chosen, oftentimes by drawing straws, but age, height or skill are equally likely to be used.
Once the game has begun, each baller takes it in turn to play their balls until all of their targets have been removed from the castle. As more and more players are eliminated, the game becomes harder as there are less target balls to aim at. This is where the most skillful players come to the fore.
The game is over when there are no more target balls left in the Castle. At this point, each baller will count-up the value of the balls they have won to decide a winner. Strangely, this may allow a baller who was eliminated quite early in the game to become the eventual winner.
The Wall Game
Also known as Walls and Balls or Balls to the Wall, this variation of Mir’bals is usually played by inhabitants of the larger towns and cities where the hurly-burly of everyday life leaves them with little time to devote to a lengthy round of Mira's Ring.
There is no playing area to speak of, with an open space bordered by a wall being the only requisite. The larger the space one can find, the better, but the Wall Game can just as easily be played in a narrow alleyway.
As with most of the variations of the game, any number of players can join in a round of the Wall Game, but a minimum of two is needed. After deciding on a playing area and clearing it of the bigger pieces of debris, the ballers (or in this case, wallers) agree on the number of the balls they will be playing with. In this instance there are no target balls, and so the values of the balls played isn’t as important.
After choosing the playing order, the players stand a measured distance away from the wall (this depends on the available space) and take it in turns to roll their first ball towards the wall. Whoever’s ball settles closest to the wall is deemed to have won that round, and collects all the losing balls as his prize. In some regions, hitting the wall is acceptable, but in others it means that your ball is 'dead' and you have to miss that turn.
Returning to the starting line, all the losing wallers take one pace towards the wall, whilst the winning waller must remain in his original position. The next round commences using the same playing order as before, and again, the winner is the waller judged to have got his ball closest to the wall.
The game continues in this fashion, with the losing wallers taking a step towards the wall whilst the winner of the previous round must remain one step behind them. Once a predetermined number of balls have been played, or an agreed distance from the wall has been reached, the game is deemed to be over and the wallers gather to add up their spoils.
Defend Your Balls!
This unusual game is played by younger children who have not yet developed the skill and dexterity of the older ballers. The playing area has no size limits, and the game can be played anywhere from a small room to the length of a whole street. The balls used are usually of poor quality, having been found or handed down to them after they have become damaged.
There are usually only two players involved in a game, and only one ball per player is used. This is just as well, as that is all they usually possess! After deciding the boundary’s of the game (between the stool and the wall, or this end of the street and the tavern door etc), the first player (usually the best fighter, as this is the way most young lads rate themselves against each other) will either roll, flick or throw his ball as far as he deems necessary in order to prevent his rival hitting it with his ball.
It is the task of the second player to get his ball as near to his opponents as possible, but without leaving him a chance of a clear shot on the next turn.
This process is repeated until either player feels he has the chance of a shot on his opponents’ ball, at which point he must state his intentions by saying loudly, “Defend your Ball!”. At this signal, the ‘defender’ can, if he chooses, stand directly above his ball and form a barrier behind it using his feet. This gives him the opportunity of a return attack should the ‘attacker’ miss.
If the attacker successfully hits the ball of his opponent, the game is won and he gets to keep both balls as reward. Oftentimes, the ball is returned to its owner as an honourable gesture, as it is most likely his only one. This depends, in part, on the relationship between the two players, of course.
A new twist on this game, known as “Holey Balls” has recently come to light. As with “Defend your Ball”, the playing area can be as large or as small as is appropriate, with greater difficulty coming from the bigger areas.
Once the area and number of holes have been agreed upon, the players (any number can join) go around and find small holes in the ground big enough to accommodate a flirter, but not so big as to make the game too easy. If none can be found in suitable places, then one is usually dug, either using a small tool or the heel of a boot.
One ball is allowed per player, and turns are taken to flick or roll ones ball into the first hole on the ‘course’. A tally is kept of how many shots each player took to ‘hole’ his ball, and the player who took the least number of shots to complete the course gets to choose one ball from another players pouch as his trophy.