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Fiction’s most famous games – and how to play them for real

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From the knuckle-whitening, edge-of-your-seat thrills of Tron's light cycles to the brain-busting strategy of Tri-Dimensional Chess, fiction is full of made-up games put to work as plot devices, action sequences, or merely for a little light relief. Check out seven of the most famous -- and find out how you can go about playing some of them in real life.

Holochess

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Appears in: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, accompanied by timeless C-3PO quote, "Let the Wookie win!"

A chess variant played on a circular board using holographic pieces that actually fight, holochess first appeared on the deck of the Millennium Falcon during the very first Star Wars movie in 1977. Since then, it has popped up in numerous other spin-offs and associated properties.

Can you really play it?
In a manner of speaking. There are no holographic boards that display three-dimensional aliens beating the heck out of each other, but there's at least one fan-made set of rules, and if you're up for a little improvisation, it's not too hard to whip up the necessary round board.

Quidditch

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Appears in: J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels and associated films

A surprisingly brutal mixture of basketball, rugby, and tag, quidditch sees two opposing teams of young wizards, mounted on flying brooms, facing off in an attempt to throw a football-like "quaffle" through one of three floating hoops. One player on each team is also tasked with chasing down a tiny, elusive "Golden Snitch"; capturing it means near-certain victory, an outcome that is probably far more satisfying as a plot device than it is as a sporting one.

Can you really play it?
Of course not...or so you'd think. Creative Potter fans, though, have not been discouraged by their lack of flying brooms and automated airborne doohickeys, and have invented a version of the game playable by us non-magical types. Dubbed "Muggle Quidditch," it involves holding a conventional broom between the legs and trying to throw volleyballs into hoops, while the Snitch is played by a yellow-clad, neutral runner. It's so popular, there's even an official Quidditch league.

Poohsticks

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Appears in: The Winnie the Pooh novels and associated fiction, first debuting in A. A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner, published in 1928.

Players drop sticks over the upstream side of a bridge. The first stick to emerge from under the bridge wins. It helps if one or more of the players is a bear of very little brain, but this is not generally considered obligatory.

Can you really play it?
Yes. Indeed, if you can cross a bridge on a pleasant afternoon's woodland stroll without a quick round or two, you're stronger-willed than most. Keen players gather annually for the Poohsticks World Championship, held on the River Thames in Oxfordshire, England.

Tri-Dimensional Chess

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Appears in: A half-century's worth of Star Trek episodes.

This three-dimensional twist on chess uses a futuristic-looking stack of seven boards of different sized, four of which are movable. A regular prop on Star Trek episodes, the game debuted in one of the original season's pilot episodes, Where No Man Has Gone Before, making it as familiar a sight to Trek fans as Captain Kirk's gut, Spock's pointy ears, or the fast-approaching fist of the school bully.

Can you really play it?
Totally. The chess-like rules are readily available, and the board can be improvised, bought, or even built relatively easily. If you've got the cash, though, you might want to check out this awesome version.

Jumanji

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Appears in: The Robin Williams film of the same name.

Recognizable by its tendency to make monkeys, bats, and giant mosquitoes appear in response to its players' moves, board game Jumanji conceals a whole world of jungle-themed nasties. And Robin Williams, playing a man who's trapped in said jungle for 25 years.

Can you really play it?
Depends. A Jumanji board game is indeed available, but if you expect to have quicksand, monsoons, and crocodiles appearing while you play it, you're in for an important lesson on the differences between movies and real life. The real thing was last seen in the movie's closing minutes, washed up on a beach in France, and we suggest you leave it there. Your homeowners insurance probably doesn't cover elephant stampedes.

Jetan/Martian Chess

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Appears in: Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter novels

What, another sci-fi twist on chess? Yup, something about the game's cerebral, good vs. evil face-off seems to appeal to writers of futuristic tales, and perhaps that's not surprising. Burroughs' version is played on a ten-by-ten board of black and orange squares, with a palette of pieces including the Chief, Princess, Flyer, and Warrior, each with their own characteristic movement method.

Can you really play it?
Yes, although there's some ambiguity over Burroughs' rules. Start here -- and note the revised victory conditions, as the game Burroughs created  ends up in an unsatisfying draw entirely too often.

Light Cycles

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Appears in: Tron, and its sequel. Many video game adaptations. Widely imitated, and more widely parodied.

Primitive by today's standards, back in 1982 Tron's wire-frame special effects were state-of-the-art. But while the visuals have dated, the mixture of speed and brinksmanship exemplified by the movie's gripping light-cycle duels are still enough to have you sidling towards the edge of your seat.

Can you really play it?
Not twice. Careening into walls on motorcycles isn't a pursuit that lends itself to real-life recreation. But if all you want to do is zoom around on your very own light-cycle, and you're not so bothered about the crashing and dying parts of the game, a street-legal replica could be yours for a mere $55,000.

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