Of Aglets and Eyelets
I’ve always been jealous of people who could transform knotted shoelaces into elaborate cat’s cradles. Or, frankly, people who could tie their shoes without them coming undone five minutes later. There’s a reason I’m a socks-in-Birkenstocks kind of guy.
Amabel Holland’s Eyelet is a game for those folks. For me, it’s closer to therapy.
The rules couldn’t be simpler. Really, they couldn’t. In old-timey fashion, they’re printed directly onto the back of the box, which spurred a good two minutes of confusion when I wondered if perhaps the rules sheet hadn’t been included in my copy.
It goes like this. Every turn, you roll two dice. These dictate how far you’re required to “move.” There are two shoelaces at the outset, neither of which belongs to either play, so you’re free to thread them as you see fit. Thread them both? Sure. Thread one shoelace twice? Go for it, you sexual tyrannosaur. The holes and the lines connecting them are unevenly spaced, creating traps and safe passages to take advantage of, perhaps roping your opponent into a corner. But because you can’t know the outcome of their next roll, there’s really no telling that any given spot will capture them. Only probabilities.
Oh, right. You lose when you can’t move. Whether that’s because the laces are too short or when any available openings have already been filled. Again, the rules are so easy that I just assume you’ll understand them by sheer intuition.
The one wrinkle — and it’s big enough to qualify as a fold — is what happens when you roll doubles. You’re still required to move those spaces, but twice over. Four moves instead of two. Your other option is to instead thread your spare “safety” shoelace into an eyelet. But since each player only gets one safety per game, that’s a big decision to make. If you can manage it, you’re probably better off threading four times. At least then you’ll be shortening the shoelaces for your opponent’s turn.
The final rule is a doozy: whoever wins gets to unpick the board. I love it. And not only because it means I’m only rarely the one doing the dismantling.
There’s a certain boldness to Eyelet, especially given how recent years have portrayed roll-and-move as more of a punchline than a legitimate play mechanism. In the past, Holland has expressed her appreciation for Backgammon, and this comes across as an ode to that affection. It’s lovingly assembled, from the hues of the laces to the tactility of the board.
That said, I’m not sure what or who it’s for. Bernard Suits introduced the term “lusory attitude” to describe the psychological state we enter into when we play a game. By accepting the rules, boundaries, fictions, and completion state of the game, we make play possible. Perhaps I’ve become too accustomed to a particular lusory attitude, one that expects certain attendant emotions and goals. Playing Eyelet steps closer to a therapeutic exercise than the usual goals-oriented process. Each of our experiences with the game have left us wanting to play again, but more for the tactile pleasure of weaving shoelaces through and across its board rather than because we have any real desire to win. The effect is pleasant and not necessarily hollow; perhaps the better word is “empty,” the way many relaxing activities could be described as empty of pressures or anticipation. It’s a game for vibing, if I’m getting that word right.
Anyway. No easy answers here. Eyelet is strange and unexpected, but also relaxing, like competitive cross-stitching. And although it doesn’t fit easily into Holland’s oeuvre, it is also so very her. Willing to take a leap on an odd idea, and deeply in tune with what makes a game evoke its proper feeling, even if that feeling isn’t quite what anybody else is trying to bring to the surface.
A complimentary copy was provided.