Traditional Board Games

Games of Europe

The peoples of Europe developed a number of interesting board games, and they also took board games from elsewhere and made improvements upon them. European colonialism meant that many of these games were taken to other parts of the world, influencing native games in other areas.



Agon is a kind of race game played with pure strategy. Sometimes called Queen's Guard, the game features a queen and six guards for each of the two players. The object is to get one's queen to the centre of the board, surrounded by her guards. The most notable aspect of this game is that it is one of the earliest to be played on a hexagonal grid. History of Agon The game of agon is somewhat mysterious and ... (read more...)

Alea Evangelii


An enigmatic variant of the Viking game hnefatafl, alea evangelii was recorded in the 12th century and said to be played at the court of the 10th century English king Athelstan. In hnefatafl games, the king tries to escape from the board with the help of his defenders, while twice as many attackers try to capture him. Alea evangelii is the biggest of these games ever recorded, being played with 73 pieces on a board of 19x19 playing spaces. ... (read more...)



Asalto is a hunt game from 19th-century Europe. It uses a cross-shaped board of 33 points, with one of the arms of the cross marked out as a fortress. Two loyal officers man the fortress, and they try to fend of 24 invading rebels who are trying to trap them. A number of variations were made on this game. German Tactics restricted the movement of the rebels. Officers & Sepoys enlarged the board to accommodate fifty rebels and three ... (read more...)



There is a large family of games called tables, played on a board of twenty-four points arranged in two rows of twelve, each row split into two "tables" of six points. These date back at least to the Romans, who had a game of this type called "tabula". The games are usually played with fifteen pieces and either two or three dice. Backgammon is the most common of these in the English speaking world. The rules are as follows: ... (read more...)



Brandub is a game of the hnefatafl family, played by the Irish. It is the smallest known hnefatafl game. A king and four defenders face eight attackers on a board of seven rows of seven points. The king must escape to one of the corner squares, while the attackers must capture the king. All pieces move in straight lines like the rook in chess, and capture an enemy by surrounding it on two opposite sides. History of Brandub History ... (read more...)

Captain's Mistress

Known more widely as Connect 4, this is a game in which players must drop pieces into a vertical grid, attempting to form a row of four of their own colour. Dating from the turn of the twentieth century at the latest, it is one of the earliest games to use gravity as a mechanism of play. History of Captain's Mistress The origin of this game is unknown. It certainly dates back to about 1900, though it could be ... (read more...)

Catch the Hare


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 ... (read more...)

Chinese Checkers


Chinese checkers is a race game for two, three, four or six players. Unlike most race games, performance is dictated completely by skill rather than any luck element. Players race their pieces from their starting positions, across the board to the opposite end. Pieces move to adjacent spaces, but may also jump over one another like in draughts (though without capturing). It is in the construction of long "ladders" of pieces that may be jumped that a player gets ... (read more...)

Courier Game


The courier game is a mediaeval chess variant played on a 12x8 grid. Each side had a number of novel pieces. The courier which gave the game its name moved like a modern bishop, in contrast to the mediaeval bishop which moved exactly two spaces diagonally. The sage moved like a king, but was not liable to check. And the fool moved one space orthogonally, in contrast to the shatranj-like queen which moved one step diagonally. History of the ... (read more...)

Dablot Prejjesne


Dablot prejjesne is a Sami game from the nineteenth century. It recalls historical struggles between nomadic Sami warriors and Finnish settlers farming the land. One side has a king, prince and warriors, while the other has a landlord, his son and tenant farmers. Despite the differences in names, the sides are completely equal in number and power, making this an even-handed game of war. History of Dablot Prejjesne The nomadic Sami people from Lapland have been quite innovative over ... (read more...)



Called "checkers" in North America, draughts is a game of pure skill between two players. There are many regional variations on draughts, but the one described here is that played in English-speaking countries. Each player has twelve pieces, and play takes place on a chess board. Pieces advance to meet the enemy, and capture by jumping. Pieces reaching the edge are promoted to kings, and may move backwards as well as advancing. The player who captures all opposing pieces ... (read more...)

Eleven Men's Morris

This is a variant of the game nine men's morris, with eleven men per side. It is played like twelve men's morris on the junctions of a board of three concentric squares, with the corners and edges joined. Whereas it is possible in twelve men's morris to jam the board up full of pieces causing a draw, eleven men's morris nearly always leaves the players a little room to move. History of Eleven and Twelve Men's Morris Eleven and ... (read more...)

Five Men's Morris

This is a merels game from Europe, functionally almost identical to six men's morris which was favoured for a time in continental Europe. Each player has five pieces to be placed, then moved, on a lined board. Forming a row of three along a marked line allows an enemy piece to be taken. The player who is reduced to two pieces loses the game. History of Five and Six Men's Morris Six men's morris was popular in mediaeval Europe. ... (read more...)

Four Seasons Chess


Four seasons chess is a version of chess for four players, dating back to at least 1283. It was featured in a book of games commissioned by Alfonso X of Castille. It uses a standard chess board and splits to usual two forces into four, giving each player four pieces and four pawns. It is unusual in that the pawns are split, two going in each direction from the corner in which their player starts. A cross is marked ... (read more...)

Fox & Geese


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 ... (read more...)

Hare & Hounds


Hare & hounds is the smallest and most simple of all the hunt games. Also called the French Military Game, it is played on a board of eleven points, connected together by lines. On the board three hounds try to trap one hare. The hare may move in any direction, while the hounds may move only forwards. The hare wins by getting past the hounds, the hounds by trapping the hare. History of Hare & Hounds The game seems ... (read more...)



The game of hnefatafl is unusual in having two differing sides. One, with the king at its head, has a number of guards with whose help the king must escape from the board. The other side is twice as numerous, and must capture the king before he makes his escape. It differs from traditional hunt games in that the king himself, though prey, has an army of his own, each defending piece having the same powers of movement and ... (read more...)


Leapfrog is a game of capture for almost any number of players, from nineteenth-century England. It plays like a multi-player peg solitaire: players capture pieces by jumping over them, and this is the only move permitted. Once no more moves are possible, the winner is the player with the most pieces. History of Leapfrog Leapfrog is one of those games about whose origins we know very little. It was invented some time before 1898, as the game historian H. ... (read more...)



Ludo is simplification of the Indian game Pachisi. Invented at the end of the nineteenth century, Ludo has been a popular game from then till now. Though the player has some choice in what to do, luck dominates in deciding who wins and who loses, making it an excellent game to play against children. Up to four players each have four pieces, which they race around the outside of a cross-shaped board according to the throws of a single ... (read more...)

Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum

Sometimes called duodecim scripta, this Roman game is a relative, and probably ancestor, of backgammon. It is played on a board of three rows of twelve columns of playing spaces, and its name means "game of twelve lines". Each player has fifteen pieces, and three dice control the game. The players have to enter their pieces onto the board, race them around the three rows, and bear them off at the end of the track. Enemy pieces can be ... (read more...)

Ludus Latrunculorum

Ludus Latrunculorum is an ancient Roman game of pure skill. Two players face each other across a rectangular board which is marked with a grid of squares. The players each have an equal number of pieces, with one player's pieces differing from the other in colour. In some versions of this game, each player also has a "dux", a special piece with increased powers. Pieces move around the board and capture one another by surrounding; a piece of one ... (read more...)


Madelinette is a game of blockade. Two players each control three pieces. Players move their pieces in turn from one point to an adjacent unoccupied point, trying to block the other. The player who first cannot move loses the game. The historicity of this game is now under doubt. History of Madelinette In many games, a player is awarded an incidental victory by trapping his opponent such that the opponent has no legal move. There are a few games ... (read more...)

Nine Holes

The most direct ancestor of today's familiar noughts & crosses is a more advanced game called "nine holes". Unlike noughts & crosses, nine holes cannot be played as a pencil and paper game, but requires pieces that can be moved around. This makes it a true board game. The board is usually, literally, nine holes cut in three rows of three, each hole big enough to take a pebble or other small piece. The rules of the game are ... (read more...)



Petteia is an ancient Greek game of pure skill. Two players face each other across a rectangular board which is marked with a grid of squares. The players each have an equal number of pieces, all of the same type, with one player's pieces differing from the other in colour. Pieces move around the board and capture one another by surrounding; a piece of one colour caught between two of the other is removed from play. The winner is ... (read more...)



Salta is a game of position, played with 15 special pieces per side on a 10x10 European draughts board. Pieces move and jump as in draughts, but the aim of the game is very different. The aim of the game is to get all of your pieces to the opposite side of the board. But the pieces are each marked by suit and number, and must arrive at their destinations in the same arrangement as they started the game. ... (read more...)

Six Men's Morris

This is a smaller counterpart to the better-known nine men's morris. Each player has six pieces to be placed, then moved, on a lined board. Forming a row of three along a marked line allows an enemy piece to be taken. The player who is reduced to two pieces loses the game. History of Five and Six Men's Morris Six men's morris was popular in mediaeval Europe. It is mentioned in a French source from 1412, and a sixteenth ... (read more...)

Sixpenny Maddell

This curious combination of Six and Nine Men's Morris was played in Wiltshire in England, and was observed in 1897. The game is played with six men per side on a board of three concentric triangles joined at the middle. In a similar way to Nine Men's Morris, it allows a row of three men to be formed on the lines that connect the triangles together. Rules for Sixpenny Maddell Rules for Sixpenny Maddell 1. Sixpenny maddell is played ... (read more...)



Tablut is a hybrid hunt/war game from Lapland. It is one of many variants of the old Norse game of hnefatafl, played throughout Northern Europe. A king attempts to escape from the board with the help of eight defenders. Sixteen attackers attempt to capture him. History of Tablut In 1732, the famous Swedish botan­ist Linnaeus took a tour of Lapland, keeping a journal of all that inter­ested him. Among the non-botanic­al observations that he included in this journal were ... (read more...)



Tawlbwrdd (pronounced something like towel-boorth) is a Welsh game, a member of the hnefatafl family of games introduced to the British Isles by the Vikings. These games are unusual among traditional games, in that the sides are unequal and the objectives different. A king and a group of loyal defenders occupy the centre of the board, and around the edges are twice their number of rebellious attackers. The object of the game for the king's side is to get ... (read more...)

The Amusing Game of Kilkenny Cats


The nineteenth century was quite an innovative time for abstract and lightly-themed games. Typical of the type is The Amusing Game of Kilkenny Cats, a game that combines skill and luck for two or four players. Game publishers of the time often used to add prefixes like "The Amusing Game of..." to their titles which give some of the games a period flavour before one even looks at the components. And just as often, the title of the game ... (read more...)

The Game of the Goose


Invented in the renaissance and spread internationally, the Game of the Goose is race game in which pieces move from the edge to the centre of a spiral board. Typically this game is completely luck-based, with players having no decisions to make. But rather than being a children's game, it was traditionally a gambling game, with stakes to be paid into a pot. History of the Game of the Goose Appearing late in the sixteenth century, the game's origins ... (read more...)

Twelve Men's Morris

Twelve men's morris is a strategic three-in-a-row game. Two players each have twelve pieces, and play on a board of 24 points. The players strive to make rows of three along the marked lines, first by placing the pieces on the board one at a time (as in tic-tac-toe), and then by moving the pieces from one point to another along a marked line. Forming a row of three pieces allows a player to remove an enemy piece. A ... (read more...)


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