Traditional Board Games

Mediaeval Games

Knights Templar playing chess.
Knights Templar playing chess.

Games from this period share much of the character of the ancient games. The main difference is that many more of them have survived intact - particularly those which survived till the coming of the printing press.

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...)



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 ... (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...)

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...)


Chaturaji is a four-handed dice chess variant from India. Four play in two partnerships, black and green against red and yellow. A die is used to decide which pieces can move at any given turn. This game differs from many other chess variants in that kings are not subject to check, but may be captured and ransomed. History of Chaturaji Once considered as the original game of chess, this four handed Indian variant is now thought to be a ... (read more...)



When people say that chess was invented in India in the sixth century, they are not exactly talking about the game we play today, with its powerful queens and striding bishops.  The chess invented in India, called chaturanga, while recognisable as a kind of chess, had some differences from the modern game. History Chaturanga means "four limbs", or "four parts", a poetic reference to the four divisions of the army as used in India in ancient times: ... (read more...)



Chess is one of the best-known board games in the world. It is one of the most deeply-studied games, and the subject of serious competition and scholarly analysis. There are many different forms of chess, not only historical curiosities but surviving regional variants. The version described here is the modern game as played in the west. It is played on a chequered board of eight rows of eight squares. 32 pieces are used, sixteen per player, of six different ... (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...)



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...)

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...)



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...)


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...)


Mak-ruk is chess as played in Thailand. It differs from western chess in that the pawns start the game on the third row, and that some of the pieces have different moves. There are also rules to ensure a more speedy end game in the case where one side is reduced to a lone king. This form of chess is still played in Thailand, and has recently received some attention around the rest of the world. History of Mak-ruk ... (read more...)


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 ... (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...)



Played by the Aztecs, patolli was a race game on a cross-shaped board. Pieces raced around the board according to the throws of five beans, which were marked on one side and plain on the other. Complete rules for the game have not survived, but board game historian R. C. Bell proposed a plausible reconstruction for them. History of Patolli Patolli was played by the Aztecs at the time of the Spanish arrival in Mexico. It was a gambling ... (read more...)



In Arabic, chess is called shatranj. In English language texts, shatranj refers to the particular form of mediaeval chess brought to Europe from the middle east. It has major variations from the modern western game, making it of much different character. Shatranj gives much shorter moves to some of the pieces. The pawns only move one square forwards, even on their first turn. The long move of the bishop, called the elephant in shatranj, is instead a short diagonal ... (read more...)



Shogi, or “the general's game”, is the form of chess popular in Japan. It is played on a board of nine rows of nine squares, each side having twenty pieces. It is unusual among chess variants in that captured pieces may be re-entered into the game on the captor's side; the pieces are formed in such a way that the piece's ownership is indicated by its direction of facing, not its colour. History of Shogi History of Shogi Tradition ... (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...)



Tâb is a war game from the middle east. Historically it was played a across the Islamic world, from West Africa to Iran in the east, and from Turkey in the north to Anjouan in the south. The game is played by two on a board of four rows of (typically) nine squares. Each player has nine pieces which move around the board as if it were a track, according to the throws of four casting sticks. Pieces do ... (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...)

Xiang Qi


The Chinese have their own game of chess, called xiang qi, pronounced "shyang chee". It differs from the European game in a number of ways. The board is a lattice grid of ten ranks nine points each. A river divides the two sides, and at each end is a marked 'castle', to which the generals (kings) and ministers (queens) are confined. The pieces sit on the points, not in the squares. The moves of the pieces are similar to ... (read more...)


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