Cyningstan

Traditional Board Games

Fox & Geese

A modern fox & geese set.
A modern fox & geese set.

Fox & geese is a hunt game from northern Europe. It was popular in Scandinavia and the British Isles, though examples and modifications have been played historically throughout Europe, the game eventually spreading to North America and being adopted by the native Americans.

The game is played on a cross-shaped board, known to modern players as a peg solitaire board. Thirteen geese must trap a fox on this board, while the fox attempts to capture enough geese to prevent them from achieving their objective.

History of Fox & Geese

History of Fox & Geese
The game seems to have surfaced in late mediaeval times. Some say that the norse word 'halatafl' refers to fox & geese, which would meen that the game is mentioned in the 14th century saga of Grettir the Strong, though others think the word refers to a type of gaming board used for hnefatafl.

The earliest uncontroversial record of fox & geese is from the accounts of English king Edward IV (r. 1461-1470 & 1471-1483). His account books mention the purchase of two foxes and 26 geese for "marelles", probably referring to two games of fox & geese. (Queen Victoria was a later Royal fan of the game).

The earliest form of the game had a fox against thirteen geese. Later forms increased this to fifteen and seventeen geese, restricting the geese's powers of movement in order to counteract their increase in numbers. In the eighteenth century, the fox & geese board inspired the invention of peg solitaire. In the nineteenth century, the number of foxes were increased to create the game of asalto.

Rules for Fox & Geese

Rules for Fox & Geese
Later games diversified to the point that no one of these variants can claim to be the standard. Nor did any of them realise their particular aims of balancing the game with any great success. The version reproduced here, then, is the original, which is one of the simplest, and is not too unbalanced as to preclude enjoyment.

1. Fox & geese is played on a cross-shaped board of 33 points, joined by horizontal and vertical lines, and by diagonal lines in certain places (see diagram).

2. One player takes the part of thirteen geese, which start the game on the bottom three rows of the board (again see diagram). The other player takes the part of the fox, which may start on any empty point he pleases.

3. The geese take the first turn, the player moving any one of them from its point, along any marked line, to an adjacent empty point.

4. The fox then takes a turn, moving in exactly the same manner as the geese. Play then alternates between the two players.

5. Instead of moving as already described, the fox may kill an adjacent goose by jumping over it onto the empty point beyond, providing that the points are linked by a marked line. The goose is then removed from the board.

6. If the fox, having jumped, is in a position to kill a second goose in the same manner, he can do so immediately. Any number of subsequent geese can be so killed during the fox's turn, if their player is foolish enough to leave them so arranged.

7. No goose can kill the fox.

8. The geese win the game by trapping the fox, so that he is unable to move at all in his next turn.

9. The fox wins by capturing enough geese to prevent them winning as per rule 8 above. In theory, four geese could trap the fox.

Strategy in Fox & Geese

It has been observed that the game favours the geese, who should win with perfect play. Played carefully and patiently, it is possible for the geese to avoid being captured by the fox.

The fox, then, must try to exploit mistakes made by the geese, sometimes looking ahead to see if there are forks and pins to be created.

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