Young adult fantasy with 'game of life'...!?


May 2, 2012
Hey guys, first post here and I hope someone can help (although this is tenuous at best)!

I remember reading this book as a teenager (mid-90s) and I'm fairly sure it was in the young-adult fantasy genre. The main character was a young girl, who has run away from home, or something similar. I recall her ending up on either an zepplin/airship or a boat, and she's given/finds a sextant that belonged to her grandfather (maybe?).

The only other thing I remember is that a board game featured heavily in the book. It was called the 'game of life' I think. It worked with a series of mechanical tiles, black on one side and white on the other. They would be wound up and arranged in complex formations. When the game began, they were activated and would react to the tiles surrounding them, flipping their colour based on the colour of the tiles next to them. In this way formations could be created, and I think the end goal was to effectively create a virus-formation that dominated your opponents tiles as the game progressed.

Now I'm fairly sure the two elements (girl and game) are from the same book, but I may be wrong (just to make it easier).

Any help or suggestions would be amazingly appreciated!

I instantly think of Bill Pullman's The Golden Compass when I read this, but not sure that is what you are after. I don't remember a board game being involved.
Yeah, it's not The Golden Compass, pretty sure it pre-dates that. Thanks though.
It resonates with a book called something like, 'Glory Ice,' but I can't find anything about it on the web and don't remember the author.

The game was mainly played by lower-caste males iirc, in a matriarchal society. If it's the same book, the lead and her sister were naturally-born twins (they had a long absent father), and thus looked different from their, 'Sisters,' at home who were cloned.
Yeah it's not The Player Of Games, although that's definitely on my to-read list (along with everything Banks has written)!

The Ace, that is definitely sounding like the right track! Those elements all ring a vague bell. Steps in the right direction, thanks!
The Game of Life-- the game itself-- sounds a lot like John Horton Conway's game of "Life--" it's played on a grid. You position markers on the grid, and at every tick of the game clock, tiles are created or destroyed following these rules:

  1. Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if caused by under-population.
  2. Any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives on to the next generation.
  3. Any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overcrowding.
  4. Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction.
See's_Game_of_Life for a brief synopsis.

In the 1970s Scientific American magazine had a column that tracked the game and discoveries about shapes that could populate the grid. Shapes can move across the grid, tick by tick; some shapes are stable, and there are several 'glider guns' that can repeatedly create moving shapes.

--Paul E Musselman
Yep, that's the game! I actually played a computer version of it many, many years ago (but still years after reading the book).

Aaaaand BINGO! I think I may have found it. David Brin's Glory Season.

Thanks guys, hopefully it's the book I was thinking of!

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