Traditional Board Games


Alquerque in the mediaeval Book of Games
Alquerque in the mediaeval Book of Games

Alquerque is a war game, in which two sides of twelve pieces face each other on a board of 25 points. These are joined by horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines, though not every point has diagonal connections.

The aim of the game is to capture all of the opponent's pieces. Movement is to adjacent points along a marked line, and one piece can capture another by leaping over it to land on the empty point beyond. One of alquerque's most famous descendants is draughts.

History of Alquerque

Alquerque was first mentioned under its Arabic name of "quirkat" in the tenth century, in Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani's "Book of Songs". It was introduced by the moors into Spain, where it gained its current name.

The game was documented in the book "Libro de los Juegos", or the "Book of Games", commissioned by Alfonso X of Castile in 1283. Alfonso's book gave detailed rules of the game, to help with its reconstruction today.

There is much evidence of the travels of alquerque, with similar but modified games being played from Japan and India in the east, and with the game being adopted and adapted by natives of the Americas after contact with the Spanish.

Alquerque was a very influential game. Its most famous descendant is draughts, which marries aspects of alquerque with chess. But there were others. It is probable that alquerque indirectly influenced the northern European game fox & geese, through its immediate descendant catch-the-hare.

Eventually alquerque faded from memory, being outlived both by draughts and by fox & geese. It is thanks to Alfonso's book that we can still play it today.

Rules for Alquerque

Rules for Alquerque
The rules of the game are subject to controversy, as those left to us by Alfonso the Wise are ambiguous, and leave some of the finer detail to the imagination of modern players. Those given here are chosen for their soundness in play, and for their lack of innovations like promotion, that were not mentioned in contemporary accounts.

1. The game is played on a board of five points by five, the points being joined by horizontal and vertical lines in a lattice pattern, with some diagonals added as in the diagram.

2. The game begins with twenty-four pieces, divided between the two players, twelve black for one player and twelve white for the other. The pieces are laid out on the board as illustrated in the diagram.

3. The player who begins is decided at random, or at the agreement of the players. The first player is at a slight disadvantage. Each player moves a single piece as described below.

4. A piece can be moved from its starting point, along any marked line, to an adjacent empty point.

5. An piece can capture an adjacent enemy piece, if a marked line joins their respective points, by leaping over the enemy onto the empty point beyond. The enemy is then removed from the board.

6. If such a capture can be made, then it is compulsory. If there is a choice of such captures, then the player may choose whichever capture he pleases.

7. When a piece has captured an enemy, and is in a position to capture another in the same manner, then the further capture must be made. The capturing piece may, indeed must, perform as many such captures in its turn as are possible.

8. The game ends when one player has lost all his pieces. His opponent is the winner.

9. The game is drawn if both players are equal, and neither can safely engage the enemy without himself losing the game. This most often happens when both players are reduced to one or two pieces each.

Strategic Considerations in Alquerque

Alfonso's Book of Games notes that the advantage in alquerque lies with the player who moves second, but that if both play skilfully then the game should be a draw.

Unlike its descendant draughts, whose forward movement forces players together, alquerque allows movement in any direction, so a player who is behind can refuse to engage.

Alquerque: try it out!


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