According to Judeo-Christian mythology, a location (equated by some to be Babylon) where there was erected a colossal tower the purpose of which was to reach heaven. God frowned upon this endeavour, halting the construction the whereby workmen found that none of them could understand each other because they were now all babbling, i.e. speaking different languages.

This is also the derivation of the Babel fish.

Just to serve completeness:

Genesis 11:1-9

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.

And they said, Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one anothers speech.

So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

-King James bible ( most other christian bible versions do not differ that much)

Babel is the name of a board game published by the German company Kosmos. As one might guess from the title, it involves trying to build towers.

The game is two-player only, and generally takes under an hour to play, although you can expect to spend longer the first time, as you're learning the rules. It's played on a long, rectangular board, marked with five sites; red, blue, yellow, green and gray. At each site are two squares where the towers will be built (one for each player) and two smaller squares where the players' tokens (made of stone, and shaped vaguely like the obelisk-like tower depicted on the front of the box) can be put to mark their active locations.

There are two decks of cards; one is a small, square deck. This is the tower deck. The cards in it are numbered 1 through 6, representing the different levels of towers. The other is sized and shaped more like a standard deck of cards, and is the people deck. It contains cards of five colors, representing the five sites and their corresponding people. Being a German game, the names of the people are in German. Here are the colors, their people, and the English equivalents:

On your turn, you draw three people cards to add to your hand, then can play cards from your hand to do a number of different things. You can play people cards at your current location (can't change their order once they're down). You can play people cards to change your active location to the corresponding color. You can play the top card from your tower pile onto the tower at your current location, but have to put 2 on top of a 1, 3 on top of a 2, etc. You also must have enough people at the current location (equal to the height of the tower). Once per turn, you can also shift a group of three people from one location to another. At the end of your turn, you draw the top two tower cards and add them to the top of your tower pile (lower one on top).

To make things more complicated, every group of people has a special power. To invoke the power, you must have a group of at least 3, consecutive, of the same color at your active location, and discard one. The powers are:

  • Yellow: Steal the top card of your opponent's tower (at your active location) and add it to your own.
  • Blue: Destroy your opponent's tower (at your active location) and return the cards to the top of the tower deck.
  • Gray: Skip a level in building your tower (e.g. put a 4 on top of a 2).
  • Green: Choose a color. Murder all of the opponent's people of that color at your active location (discard them).
  • Red: Steal the top group of people (all the same color) from your opponent's people at the active location. Add them to the top of your people pile at the active location.

Additionally, any color of people can be activated in this way to force your opponent to discard half his hand, rounded down.

The game is over when all the tower cards are gone. The person whose towers sum to the highest total wins. In the case of a tie, whoever has more cards in his/her hand wins. The game can also end prematurely if anyone ever hits 20 total tower levels (instant win), or gets to 15 before the opponent gets to 10 (also an instant win).

But is it fun?

It's not the greatest game I've ever played, but it's fast and enjoyable. The game is too chaotic to have any long-term strategy, so it's more about tactics. Towers rise and fall in the span of a turn, due to the blue guys. Your pride and joy level 6 tower becomes your opponent's, due to the yellow guys. Large groups of people are massacred by the green guys. Your carefully constructed death squad gets abducted and turned against you by the red guys. In other words, you can't count on anything being around on your next turn.

I used to play all the time with a friend of mine, named Phil. Phil complained that once you got used to the rules, there was, in any given situation, one and only one correct way to play. The game was, once you got to that stage, just luck. I disagree with this assessment, for three reasons:

Firstly, we were keeping track of our games. I can't remember the exact score now, but it was something like 30 to 22 when we stopped playing. This is outside standard deviation for a series of 52 coin flips, leading one to believe that the odds are not 50/50 for both players. In other words, one player is better. If one player is "better," the game is not pure luck.

Secondly, although it's true that on many turns, there really is only one "right" thing to do, there are also many times when you have a choice of two or three equally appealing (or unappealing) options. The game tree does branch, therefore, and surely those choices have an impact on things down the line. Having limited choices is very different from having no choice.

Thirdly, we both had distinctly different playing styles. I focussed on building my towers, trying to go for one of the "instant win" scenarios. Phil concentrated on destroying my towers and people, hoping that I would exhaust my resources and that he could jump into the lead with a sudden building spree just before the tower deck ran out. If there's only one way to play a game, it's an impossibility for players to have different styles.

So, to conclude, the game may have a large luck element to it, but it is not completely devoid of tactics. It isn't a must-buy by any stretch of the imagination, but it's hard to find good two-player board games that aren't too intellectually taxing. So, if "fast-paced, 70-30 luck and skill, two-player board game" sounds like a niche that needs to be filled on your game shelf, you might consider this game. If you generally have three or more people to play games, stick to Settlers of Catan, and if you want something highly strategic, play Go.


Genesis 11:1 - And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.


So the humans were in a pretty good place back there in the Old Testament. However, God got a bit put out when the humans thought, with their one language skills, they could get together and, with that old community spirit, build a tower unto Heaven. That's when He fucked them up with the language issue. And now, so many years later, we have lonely academicians spending their lonely lives studying what we lovingly call "linguistics." A study which all too often turns basely political. A Tower of Babel, indeed.

There are several towers in this 2006 film by Alejandro González Iñárritu. There are cell towers that don't work due to the faraway locales. There are towers of communications which appear to work since they are transmitting data, but the data is so misunderstood as to exacerbate the problems instead of resolve them. There is a tower over Tokyo in which a deaf-mute girl is trapped like a bird in a gilded cage. There's a tower of a mountain range from whence comes the initial bullet which sets off the chain reaction that you'll be watching for a little over two hours.

When I posted a writeup about Amores Perros in 2003, I ended it by saying, "My guess is that this first film by Iñárritu will not be his best one, but it is the best movie I've seen in quite a while."

When I posted a writeup about 21 Grams in 2004, I mentioned that his first film was in Spanish and was about the consequences of harming dogs; that his second film was in English and was about the consequences of harming children; and then I said, "I suppose his next film will be about the consequences of harming the gods. Who knows what language that one will be in?"

And now along comes Babel, a film I just got through watching about half an hour ago. I am still shaking from having done so. If you're an atheist such as myself, you might well believe that "the gods" are random matters of chance. In that sense, this film is exactly about the consequences of being on the short end of that godly love and care. As for the question of what language this next film is in, the answer is, "Too many to pick just one." The storyline moves around between Morocco and San Diego and Tijuana and Tokyo. And, like the truly dysfunctional multitaskers we've all become, just when you get into one part of the story and go, "No! Wait! I want to see what happens here!" when it shifts, within thirty seconds you've forgotten all about that desire and are all caught up in the new locale.

Apparently, this is the culmination of a planned trilogy, so it's not really astonishing that all three films have so much in common. Just as with the first two films, this one centers around the consequences of one accident on at least three different people. In this case, the accident in question is a bit more malignant and could just as easily be called an act of willful violence. However, since the act is in the hands of a child, I would still prefer to think of it as an accident.

Again, the whole cloth of the idea springs from the collaboration between Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga. Both claim to have been inspired by William Faulkner and Kurosawa. You could do a lot worse for role models. As it says in the credits, it comes from an "idea" created by the two of them. What a nice way to put it. They aren't necessarily writers or filmmakers; they're just a couple of guys who come up with these "ideas" and then try to sell them to you. The price of admission they're asking is more than dollars. I think you'll understand what I mean if, like me, you're still shaking after half an hour of the film's being over.

Brad Pitt sports a few wrinkles and gray hairs and Cate Blanchett spends most of the movie bleeding to death on a mat in a mud hut. If you had to pick a weak spot in the film, you could point at these two superstars. I'm betting they begged Iñárritu to "let them in." The more formidable roles are played by the folks you've never heard of before. Boubker Ait El Caid and Said Tarchani as the Moroccan boys with the rifle are very accomplished. Pitt and Blanchett's Mexican nanny Adriana Barraza is better than most. But it is Rinko Kikuchi, playing Chieko, a deaf-mute Japanese teenager who steals the show. Fittingly, the film ends with her and her father, played by Koji Yakusho. And it ends with them unable to speak at the top of a very large tower.

Again, the director of photography is Rodrigo Prieto. And, again, he uses editors Stephen Mirrione and Douglas Crise, and composer Gustavo SantaolallaIt. It's very apparent that all of them have a lot more money to spend this time around, but I can't say that they wasted any of it.

As for what Iñárritu and Arriaga will do next, I cannot imagine. But film making has a new dimension to it from what they've already done in the past few years. I expect I won't be disappointed.

Ba"bel (?), n. [Heb. Babel, the name of the capital of Babylonia; in Genesis associated with the idea of "confusion"]

1.

The city and tower in the land of Shinar, where the confusion of languages took place.

Therefore is the name of it called Babel. Gen. xi. 9.

2.

Hence: A place or scene of noise and confusion; a confused mixture of sounds, as of voices or languages.

That babel of strange heathen languages. Hammond.

The grinding babel of the street. R. L. Stevenson.

 

© Webster 1913.

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