Traditional Board Games

Catch the Hare

Catch the Hare in the Libro de los juegos.
Catch the Hare in the Libro de los juegos.

Catch the Hare is an early European hunt game from Spain. One side controls an unusually agressive hare, which can move around the board at will and jump over the hunters to capture them. The hunters cannot capture in the same way, but move so as to block the hare from moving or jumping. If the hare is immobilised, the hunters win; if the hunters are reduced to untenable numbers, the hare wins.

History of Catch the Hare

Hunt games, where a large number of hunters are set against a small number of prey, have been played across the world for centuries. But the earliest mention of such a game in Europe is cercar la liebre, a game played in Spain from the 13th century to the present day. It was first recorded in Alfonso X's book of games in 1283.

Cercar la liebre means “catch the hare”, and the object of the game is for a group of twelve hunters or hounds, controlled by one player, to catch a hare, controlled by the other. This hare is more vicious than most, though, and may capture the hunters to make their task impossible.

It may be that this game was brought to Spain by the Moors, along with the game alquerque which is played on the same board. But there is no mention of catch the hare, or any similar game, in Arabic literature.

The game was taken by the Spanish conquerors to their territories in Central and North America. It was adopted by the American natives, who made adaptations of it, calling it coyote & chickens, and Indian & jackrabbits. In particular, they reduced the number of diagonal lines on the board, and in some cases eliminated them altogether. In one interesting case, there was no piece for the hare, but its position was indicated by pointing with a stick.

There is evidence that the game spread east, too. There are a number of hunt games played on alquerque boards from south and south-east Asia. Sometimes the numbers of prey and hunters are increased, and in some games the board is extended with triangular sections at one or both ends. Though different to catch the hare, the resemblance of these Asian games to the European one hints strongly at some connection between them.

The game continues to be popular in Spain, under the name juego de la liebre, and on the modern board, all the diagonal lines are omitted.

Rules for Catch the Hare

Rules for Catch the Hare
1. Catch the hare is played on the points of an alquerque board, that is, a grid of five lines by five, on which some of the diagonals are marked as in the diagram.

2. One player starts with a single piece, the hare, while his adversary has twelve hunters, all arranged on the board as shown in the diagram.

3. The hunting player moves a piece first, followed by the hare, turns alternating thereafter until the game is finished.

4. All the pieces move in the same way: one step along any marked line to an adjacent point.

5. A piece may move in any direction, provided that there is a line present on the board.

6. A piece may not land on the head of another.

7. The hare captures an adjacent hunter by leaping over it onto the empty point beyond, removing the hunter from the board.

8. As with movement, a line must be present in the direction of the leap.

9. If, after leaping, the hare is in position to make a further leap, it may do so, continuing to leap and capture until it can leap no more.

10. Each leap may take only a single hunter; it is not possible to make a long leap over a row of hunters to take them all.

11. The hunters cannot leap over the hare.

12. The hunters win by enclosing the hare so that it may not move in its turn.

13. The hare wins by capturing so many of the hunters that they may no longer enclose the hare.

Strategic Considerations in Catch the Hare

As far back as 1283, the Alfonso book noted that the hunters have the advantage, and that a good player might reduce his force to eleven, or even ten, and still have a chance at immobilising the hare. The game can easily be given a handicap system simply by adding or removing hunters.

Catch the hare: try it out!


Thanks for the game!

Karen Robinson - 20:41, 08/03/2017

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