After Hours

Five traditional games and pastimes, Linux style

Marco Fioretti has helped out a group of older users by introducing them to computer games that particularly appeal to them -- and to the idea of FOSS, even if they don't realize it.

There's a question that I've been asked a few times in the past, which sounds more or less like this: "May you please put some games on that computer in the room, so the guys can kill time playing when they grow bored of other things?" In all cases the "room" was the living room of a senior couple or the community room of a senior citizen circle. Of course, I was able to answer, "Yes, and I will do it using only Free Software!" The problem, however, was a bit different from the standard "are there any good games for Linux?" issue that pops up every other month.

First of all, no continuous Internet access was available, so any game that depends on it was out of the question. The second problem is more interesting. Those end users have no interest, and they always made it very clear to me from the start, in "modern" computer games. By "modern" they mean anything born with, and specifically for, computers. First-person shooters, RPGs, any arcade game, flight simulators? No thanks. For my users, those kind of games were either too hard to play for all possible reasons, from vision and other health-related issues to "too many rules", or just plain boring. Every time, it turned out that they wanted computer versions of traditional games and pastimes that they already knew and had been enjoying since their childhood. They didn't need, however, solitaire and card games, since they already had plenty of card decks around.

The final common requirements in situation like these come from me: only games that run on Linux natively and are easily installable via binary packages are acceptable; when I visit these people, I never have the time to compile source code (assuming that their computer is powerful enough to compile anything in the first place), or deal with Wine.

Since the games that these senior citizens I met usually like best can be a lot of fun for everybody, here they are, in playfully casual order (not really: they're just listed in my very own order of preference).

Fifteen, Domino, and lots of other puzzles

The dictionary tells me that Fifteen is also known as "Boss Puzzle" in English. Whatever its name, this productivity killer is included in puzzles, a collection of 30+ "little games that you can play for two or three minutes to take a break". Minutes? I spent hours playing Fifteen when I was a kid!

The puzzles distribution also includes a basic version of another game that lots of people enjoy, that is, Domino. The website also hosts Windows versions of each game.

Crosswords

Few things can be more addictive than crossword puzzles! If this is your case, solving them on a computer can be both fun and maybe, in the long run, a way to save money. The easiest way to solve (and print) these puzzles with Linux is by installing Xword. I like the fact that it can save partially completed puzzles and re-load them later on. For those who feel the need for it, Xword also has a built-in clock.

As far as I know, there are no Xword binary packages for all major distributions, but this is not an issue. Xword is a Python/Gtk script, so it will run without problems as long as you install the pygtk Python module. When I install Xword, I also provide a folder of puzzles to solve. A good resource for English ones is the Mac Namara website.

Gnu Backgammon

People in many parts of the world have been playing Backgammon for as long as five millennia, and have no intention to stop. If somebody asks you help to play it on a Gnu/Linux system, install Gnu Backgammon and help them to start and configure it.

I have added this explicit suggestion because Gnu Backgammon only has one defect. Once a game is started, it's a pleasure to use. However, the interface is so full of buttons and options that getting there may be quite annoying for the users we're talking about.

Go

Go is (says Wikipedia) a board game for two players and was born in China over 2,000 years ago. It is one of those games that divides the world in two. Those who frankly ignore it (that includes me) and those who look at people like me and coldly say, "That's your problem pal, deal with it! I still want Go on this PC!"

For me, the easiest Gnu/Linux way to get out of such difficult moments is the Quarry graphical interface, that also includes Roversi and Amazons. Like Gnu Backgammon, Quarry lets users play either against the computer or against each other.

Eh, what about Chess and Scrabble?

Yes, I know that by now you're yelling because Chess and Scrabble aren't in this list. If I forgot something else, please let me know, but as far as those two programs go, here's why they're not here. Chess games for Linux are so many that they will be THE topic of a future post. When it comes to Scrabble, many years ago I used to play XScrabble by Matt Chapman, but then it disappeared. If anybody can recover its source code and patch it to run on modern Linux distributions, thanks in advance!

As a final note for today, I hope that you'll have noticed that this page turned out to be (even against my initial intention) two posts in one. The first is what gives the title to this page. The other is: "How I helped a few people not to feel outcasts of the computer age and to like FOSS," without even realizing it -- at least initially." Back to play Fifteen now...

About

Marco Fioretti is a freelance writer and teacher whose work focuses on the impact of open digital technologies on education, ethics, civil rights, and environmental issues.

4 comments
Mr.Wally
Mr.Wally

This is a great candidate for a computer-assisted game. Having the computer flip the tokens not only speeds up the game but ensures against human errors. This works for person vs. computer or person vs. person. Where can I find this game?

daboochmeister
daboochmeister

From Flowix games - i think many distros have it in their repos now, or simple install. Super addicting to the right kind of person.

dpresley_50201
dpresley_50201

PCLinuxOS has XScrabble in its repositories. I would go to the PCLinuxOS forum and ask where the source code obtained. I'm sure one of the packagers will tell you.

mfioretti
mfioretti

Hi folks! I'm answering here an email I got from Martin, a TechRepublic reader, because the answer is of general interest. Martin tells me that he did a search on scrabble and found: > http://scrabble.game-server.cc > http://www.quackle.org/ > http://packages.ubuntu.com/oneiric/scribble (text based) > lastly there is pyscrabble but that requires internet... I knew about the last three programs, but they were and remain not suitable for my own needs and scenario, that's why I didn't mention them. As Martin says, Pyscrabble, which is great, requires connectivity. Text based software isn't interesting or usable by my "users", so this excluded scribble. I excluded Quackle because on non-Debian systems it must be compiled, while for several reasons I don't always use such systems. I confess, instead, that so far I had missed the first program, Scrabble 3D, for reasons I can't honestly explain. Thanks Martin for pointing me to it!

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