A new event at this year’s Jane Austen Summer Program is a Regency gaming night. If you don’t know whist from Speculation, you won’t be alone. (Psst: Also on the bill is Blind Man’s Bluff, palm reading and other popular parlor games of the era.) But reenactor and period game aficionado Steve Diatz will be there to help participants learn the rules of the games. We chatted with Diatz to get the low-down.
Tell us a bit about you.
I’m a veteran living history enthusiast of over 35 years, reenacting everything from 18th century/Revolutionary War, 1812/Regency era, Civil War, Boer War, Great War, Anglo-Irish War, and most and best of all, 1930’s/40’s and World War II … all of these I have forayed into military and civilian impressions. My wife, Heather, and I live in Alexandria, Va. [I] retired last August after working 30 years at the local library in Old Town Alexandria. For the “Gaming Room evening,” I will be “Nicholas Armitage,” formerly a Purser (HMS Acasta) of HM Royal Navy.
What first interested you in period games?
I started playing Georgian games in 1983, and presented them at numerous functions (balls, galas, Tavern Days) at Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, in Alexandria, but also at private parties, and events at Carlyle House, Woodlawn, Oatlands, and other historic venues in Northern Virginia.
Can you describe briefly the games we’ll be playing?
Baccarat, Speculation, Whist (card games), Newmarket (a dicing game) and chess and draughts (board games). Baccarat is a card game for many players, that is requires a dealer and is played ‘against the house’, with the object score closest to 9. Speculation will be offered the same way, but players also try to better their hands (highest trump card wins), but attempting to buy higher cards from opponents at the table. Whist was the most popular card game from 1650 to the early 20thc, and was the forerunner of Bridge, but without bidding (2 pairs of partners play against each other, attempting to take tricks of 4 cards played). Newmarket is a live dicing game between 2 players (each casting sets of 4 dice, doing some bidding along the way. Of course, Chess and Draughts (Checkers) are common games played up to today.
What advice would you give for first-time players of these games?
Play is set up for more instruction and enjoyment than any serious gaming, since this may be a new experience for many players. A spirit of fun, patience and historical adventure is what is most required, as there will be much instruction and all activities are undertaken at “no actual gambling risk.” Two hundred years ago, when “ladies and gentlemen of quality” sat down to game, there was no physical money changing hands, over the table, as all gaming debts were paid by ‘notes of hand’ and “drafts upon bankers.” I will have a selection of gaming notes and drafts on hand, for illustrative purposes.
“A spirit of fun, patience and historical adventure is what is most required.”
What’s your all-time favorite period game — and who do you play against most often (I imagine it must be hard to find people to play with you)?
Although I have run a dice table (Newmarket) numerous times, to illustrate gaming quickly to many folks, I rather actually prefer to sit down and play a lively game of whist, since it was a game that anyone could enjoy, for small stakes, and there was no stigma about play…women could partake of it, amongst themselves or in mixed company, without any qualms. Again, it is the forerunner of modern Bridge, without the bidding … partners are seated across from each other, and each player, in turn plays a card … highest card (unless oftrump suit) takes the trick … 13 tricks are a hand, and you play to a set point tally or time limit.