Jernau Morat Gurgeh, a Culture citizen, has played games all his life, and is an expert at it. Being bored with success, he accepts to travel to the Empire of Azad to play one the most complex games known to the galaxy, coincidentally named Azad. The game is played on multi-layered checker boards with dice and cards, and features several different pieces, all with different strengths, weaknesses, and attributes. It is said that the moves one is able to execute in the game are so subtle that an experienced player would be able to figure out a lot about his opponent by watching him play (such as his outlook on life and his political stance). The game is so central to the society of Azad that the winner of the game is automatically the next Emperor.