Traditional Board Games


There are at least two games from Persia called nard. A more well-known game is of the backgammon family, played with the familiar backgammon board, dice and pieces. Another game is this one. Nard is a game of war, where two equal sides each try and overcome the other with skill and an element of luck. Each player has a king and eight soldiers, on a square board. The object of the game is to capture all of the enemy soldiers.

History of Nard

Nard's only historical reference is in Firdawsi's epic Shahnama (see Firdawsi describes the game in these words:

"He made two dice of ivory with figures the colour of ebony. He then arranged the army similar to that of chess; he placed the two sides in order of battle and distributed the troops, ready for battle and for the assault of the town, among eight houses. The field was black, the battle-field square, and there were two powerful kings of good disposition who should both move without ever receiving injury. Each had at his side an army in its arrangements, collected at the head of the field, and ready for the fray. The two kings advanced upon the field of battle, their troops moved on all sides around them, each trying to outgo the other; now they fought on the heights, now on the plains; when two on one side had surprised a man by himself, he was lost to his side, and the two armies remained face to face until it was seen who was beaten."

It is unclear what role the two dice had, but in other respects the game looks like a form of ludus latrunculorum. It must be said from context that the game described is not chess; chess is mentioned separately in the same poem. Board game historian H. J. R. Murray interprets the game as a modification of ludus latrunculorum, with a king and eight men on each side, lined up against opposite edges of the board at the start of the game. It could have been introduced to the area by legionaries guarding the frontiers of the empire, as ludus latrunculorum was in areas like Britain.

If this interpretation is true, then it gives us a clue about what the "dux" pieces were for in some Roman versions of the game. One suggestion is that the dux moves and captures like other pieces, but is invulnerable to capture himself. In the absence of any clue about the use of dice, the nearest we can come to a complete set of rules for nard is to copy those of latrunculi, perhaps adding that each player throws his own die to decide who begins the game.

Rules for Nard

Rules for Nard
Below are some suggested rules for Nard, adapted from the rules for ludus latrunculorum, its probable ancestor. These have been taken mainly from H. J. R. Murray (A History of Board-Games Other than Chess, 1952) and David Parlett (Oxford History of Board Games, 1999).

1. The game of nard is played on a board of 8x8 squares.

2. Upon the board are set eight soldiers of each colour, black on the back row of the board, and white opposite. On the next row in front of the soldiers, a king is positioned, each player placing the king on the fourth square from his left.

3. Players each roll a die to see who goes first, the higher scoring player beginning the game.

4. A player may move a piece as far as he pleases along a rank or file, though no piece may land on or jump over another.

5. The kings move as other pieces.

6. A piece is captured by surrounding him on opposite sides along a rank or file. The kings may not be captured, but may aid in capturing enemy pieces.

7. A player wins the game when his opponent is left with only a king on the board.


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