The Rules of the Games
- Checkers, aka Draughts
- Nine Men Morris, aka Merels
- Hnefatafl, aka King's Table or Viking Chess
- Byzantine Chess, aka Round Chess
- Fox & Geese
- Pente, a game based on Go
- Reversi, aka Othello
The Game of Draughts or Checkers, in its modern form, was around since the 1200s. Played two people on an 8x8 board with 12 pieces of each, light & dark, the pieces start on the twelve dark squares closest to opposing edges of the board. Light moves first. The players take turns moving. The player who cannot move, because he has no pieces, or because all of his pieces are blocked, loses the game. A piece can move one square diagonally forward into a vacant space A kinged piece can move one square diagonally forward or backward. When a piece reaches the last row (the King Row), it becomes a King and the turn ends. The piece is flipped or a second checker is placed on top of that one, by the opponent. A move can also consist of one or more jumps to capture pieces: jumping over an opponent's piece (never your own), diagonally forward, to the adjacent vacant square beyond it; kings can also jump backward. Any piece can jump a king. In a multiple jump, the jumping piece can change directions, jumping only one piece with any given jump, but jumping several pieces with several jumps. Jumped pieces are removed from play. If you can jump, you must, but can choose if you have a choice of jumps, and a multiple jump must be completed; you cannot stop part way through.
The Game of Nine Men's Morris, or Merels, is a simple 2-player game popular in the 1300s; earlier versions with fewer pieces date back to 1400BC. It is played on a square board with 24 points, marked with dots, and pieces may move between them only along the marked lines. The players each start with a set of nine colored pieces. The board is initially empty. Players take turns in placing one piece at a time on any unoccupied point on the board, each attempting to form mills: a 3-in-a-row of a player's pieces along a marked line. Whenever a player makes a mill, they capture (or pound) an opponent's piece. Once captured, pieces cannot be brought back into play. You cannot pound a piece within a mill unless no others are available. Once all pieces are in play, players take turns moving pieces along the marked lines to adjacent points. Players must move if they can:a player who can't move loses. Again, the players are trying to form mills, pounding an opponent's piece whenever a mill is made. Rules vary as to how mills may be broken and re-formed: most allow a piece to move out of a mill, then move back the following turn, providing a clear advantage to the first mill made. A variation requires a minimum number of other moves (not necessarily of the same piece) before a piece may be moved back into the same mill. This could be one (most common), two or three moves,. No such restriction applies if a mill is formed on a different line, or using different pieces. Some rules require the new mill to be along a different line. Some versions of the game apply a special rule for movement: when a player is reduced to three pieces, they are no longer limited to moving only to adjacent points, and may be moved to any unoccupied point on the board. A player reduced to two pieces is unable to form a mill, and loses.
The Game of Backgammon dates before 3000
BCE. The board is a horseshoe track of 24 points, 12 to a side,
numbered from 1 to 24, with pieces moving from higher-numbered
points to lower. The board can be flipped horizontally, starting
positions and direction of play flipped with no change to play.
The two players move their pieces in opposite directions, so the
1-point for one is the 24-point for the other. Points 1-6, where
the player wants to get his pieces to, are called the base. A
player may not bear off any pieces unless all are in base.
Points 7-12 are called the outer board, 13-18 opponent's outer
board, and 19-24 opponent's base. Each player begins with two
pieces on 24, five each on 13 and 6 and three on 8.
Start the game with each player rolling one die. Ties rerolling, the higher roller starts the first turn using the already-rolled numbers. Players alternate thereafter, rolling both dice for their turn. A player must, if possible, move pieces the number of points showing on each die. A piece may be moved multiple times as long as the moves are distinct. If a player rolls doubles, they must play each die twice. If a player has no legal moves after rolling the dice, because all of the points to which he might move are occupied by two or more opponent's pieces, the turn is forfeit. If there is a legal move for one dice only, that move must be made and the other forfeited. If there is a legal move for either dice, but not both, the higher die must be played.
A piece may land on any point occupied by no pieces, friendly pieces, or a single opponent's piece (a lone piece is called a blot). In the latter case, the blot has been "hit," and is temporarily placed on the bar in the middle of the board, thus no point is occupied by both players at once. A piece may never land on a point occupied by two or more opponent's pieces. Pieces on the bar re-enter the game through the opponent's home field: a roll of 1 allows re-entry on the 24-point, a roll of 2 on the 23-point, etc. A player with one or more pieces on the bar may not move any others until all have re-entered the opponent's home field. When all of a player's pieces are in his home board, he may remove them from the board, or bear them off. A roll of 1 may be used to bear off from the 1-point, a 2 from the 2-point, etc. A number may not be used to bear off pieces from a lower point unless there are no checkers on any higher points. First to bear all off wins.
The Game of Hnefatafl, "King's Table," or Viking Chess, is part of the tafl family of games, with fragmentary boards dating back to the 5th century, of which few extant rules remain. A game for two players: one plays the king and his defenders, and the other the attackers. There are either eight defenders and sixteen attackers, as in tablut on a 9x9 board, or twelve defenders and twenty-four attackers, as in tawl-bwrdd on a 11x11 board . The central square, called the throne, and the four corner squares are restricted and may only be occupied by the king. It is allowed for the king to re-enter the throne, and all pieces may pass the throne when it is empty. The four corner squares are hostile to all pieces, which means that they can replace one of the two pieces taking part in a capture. The throne is always hostile to the attackers, but only hostile to the defenders when it is empty. The king's side must move the king to any of the corner squares: the king has escaped and his side wins. The attackers win if they can capture the king. The attackers' side moves first, and the game then proceeds by alternate moves. All pieces move any number of vacant squares along a row or a column, like a rook in chess. All pieces except the king are captured if they are sandwiched between two enemy pieces, or between an enemy piece and a hostile square, along a column or a row--either on the square above-and-below or to left-and-right of the attacked piece. A piece is only captured if the trap is closed by a move of the opponent; it is allowed to move in between two enemy pieces. A captured piece is removed from the board. The king may take part in captures. The king himself is captured like all other pieces, except when on the throne or on one of the four squares next to the throne. On the throne, the attackers must surround him in all four cardinal points. When he is on a square next to the throne, the attackers must occupy all surrounding squares except the throne.
The Game of Chess is played on an 8x8 board. Each player has 16 pieces (in order): rook, knight, bishop (aka elephant or chariot) king, queen (aka general), bishop, knight, rook, & 8 pawns. Modern rules first took form in Italy during the 1500s. The moves of the king, rook, and knight are unchanged. Pawns originally didn't have the option of moving two on first-move and didn't promote. The queen originally could move one square diagonally in any direction or on first-move leap two diagonally, forwards, left or right. In Persian versions, bishops could move one or two diagonally. In Arab versions, bishops could leap two along any diagonal. In the Middle Ages, pawns could be promoted to a queen if it reached the far side. In the 1200s the squares on the board became checkered. Between 1200 and 1600 several laws emerged: checkmate became a requirement to win (a player could not win by capturing all of the opponent's pieces), stalemate was added, pawns gained the option of moving two on first-move, & the king and rook acquired the right to castle. By 1600, bishops acquired their current move. About 1475, the queen got its current move, transforming it from the weakest to the strongest piece. The game had reached its modern form.
White moves first and players alternate moves, no passing a turn. Play continues until a king is checkmated, a player resigns, or a draw is declared, as explained below. Moves are made to vacant squares except when capturing an opponent's piece. With the exception of the knight, pieces cannot jump over each other. When a piece is captured, the attacking piece takes its square; the captured piece removed. The king can be put in check but cannot be captured. Kings move one square in any direction. Rooks move any number of vacant squares vertically or horizontally. The bishop moves any number of vacant squares diagonally. Queens move any number of vacant squares in any direction. Knights move two squares like the rook and then one square perpendicular, like an "L", & isn't blocked by other pieces. Pawns move forward one vacant square, but capture diagonally forward. If it has not yet moved, it has the option of moving two vacant squares forward. Castling consists of moving the king two squares towards a rook, then placing the rook on the other side of the king, adjacent to it, but only if neither have yet been moved, no pieces are between them, and the king isn't under attack. If a pawn reaches the far side of the board, it gets promoted to a queen, rook, bishop, or knight at the choice of its player. The choice is not limited to previously captured pieces. Check is when one or more opposing pieces could capture the king next move. The king's player must make a move that somehow removes the threat(s) of capture. If there is no legal move to escape check, then the king is checkmated, the game ends, and that player loses. The game ends in a draw if: the player to move is not in check but has no legal move, no possible sequence of legal moves leads to checkmate, or both players agree to draw.
The Game of Byzantine Chess, also called round chess, is an about 1000 year old variant of the game of Shatranj. It was popular in the 900s in Byzantium (the city now called Istanbul), hence the name. The game is played on a round board, which is shown in the following diagram, together with the opening setup. Pieces move as in Shatranj: kings, rooks, knights move as in orthodox chess. Bishops (elephants) jump two diagonal. Queens (generals) move one diagonal. Pawns do not have a double first step, but otherwise move as pawns in orthodox chess. Pawns cannot promote. When two pawns of a player going in different directions meet on opposing squares, thus blocking both of them, the opponent can remove both of them - this does not count as a move. A player wins the game by mating the opponent, by stalemating the opponent, or by `bare king': by taking the last non-king piece of the opponent. However, in the last case, the opponent can make the game a draw by baring the other king too in its next move.
Fox & Geese dates from the 1300s and starts with the fox & geese in position. One player plays the 1 fox and the other the 13 geese, Fox moving first and turns alternating. The pieces move along the lines on the board. The Geese win if they manages to trap the Fox, surrounding it so it can't move or jump. The Fox wins when there are only 5 Geese left. Movement is similar to Checkers. The Fox must catch as many Geese as possible so they can't close him in. The Fox moves to any empty, adjacent point. If an adjacent point is occupied by a Goose and the point directly behind is vacant, then the Fox must jump capture it, as in Checkers. Several Geese may be captured in a single turn. Geese also move into any free point.
The Game of Go we create is played on a 7x7 grid board centered within the 11x11 Pente board. (Traditional Go sets are larger, but this has been scaled down for travel.) These rules rely on common sense to make "connected group" and "surround" precise. "Solidly connected groups of stones" are also called chains (vertically & horizontally adjacent pieces of the same color which cannot be later subdivided). The board is empty at the outset of the game. Black goes first, after which players alternate. A move consists of placing one stone of one's own color on an empty intersection on the board. Once played, the piece cannot be moved except by capture. A piece or solidly connected group of pieces of one color is captured and removed from the board when all the intersections directly adjacent to it are occupied by the enemy. No piece may be played so as to recreate a former board position (i.e. no replacing captured pieces), or that causes pieces to suicide (placing a piece which has no adjacent empty places. A player may pass his turn at any time. Both players passing back-to-back ends the game. A player's territory consists of all the points he has either occupied or surrounded. The player with more territory wins.
The Game of Pente is a 1970s game based off of Go, here played on an 11x11 board. The players alternate in placing their colored pieces on free intersections; White begins. The goal is to create 5-in-a-row vertically, horizontally or diagonally, or capture 5 pairs of the opponents. You captures y by surrounding pairs of an opponents' pieces with pieces of their own placed at the ends of the pair. A player cannot "cause" the capture of their own pieces by moving into a surrounded position. The player who first creates 5-in-a-row or captures 5 or more of the opponent's pairs wins.
The Game of Reversi, aka Othello, was invented in 1883 England. It is played with 64 reversible pieces on a 8x8 board, & begins with four pieces placed in a square in the middle of the grid, two light & two dark in a checkered pattern. Players take alternate turns. Dark makes the first move &. must place a piece with the dark side up on the board adjacent to and existing dark piece (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal) AND with one or more contiguous light pieces the new and an existing dark piece. After placing the piece, dark flips & captures all light pieces lying on a straight line between the new piece and any anchoring dark pieces. All reversed pieces are now dark pieces. Light plays their turn the same. If one player cannot make a valid move, play passes back to the other player. When neither player can move, the game ends. This occurs when the grid has filled up, or when one player has no more pieces on the board, or when neither player can legally place a piece in any of the remaining squares. The player with the most pieces on the board at the end of the game wins.
History & Documentation
Medieval & Renaissance Material Culture: Dice Games & Dice. A series of links to various images and other source materials regarding dice, including a museum in Sweden. Wikipedia: History of Dice, Chess, Backgammon, King's Table, Checkers or Draughts, Fox & Geese, and Nine-men Morris.University of Waterloo's Elliott Avedon Museum & Archive of Games. An interesting site which has medieval images of multi-person variations of backgammon.
A Roman icosahedron die is in the collection of the British Museum, among others in the same case, though the game it was used for is not known. Also a 2nd century AD Roman icosahedron was sold through Christie's (pictured at right)
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