Traditional Board Games

Traditional Board Games for Four

Four seasons chess, from the Libro de Juegos.
Four seasons chess, from the Libro de Juegos.

Sunday, 19th October 2014

Last week I looked at traditional games which support three players. This week I'll look at four-player games. There are many traditional games designed specifically for four, as well as some which play well with 2, 3 or 4 players.

Of the games that I mentioned last week, a number support four players as well as three: Chinese Checkers, leapfrog, nyout, saturankam, thaayam and poo. Poo is played in the same way as the three-player game, but the board is divided up into four groups of three holes, each row being split in half.

Chess has often been redesigned to suit four players. The most recent versions give each player a full complement of chess pieces, but early attempts simply split the two armies in half, giving each player four pieces and four pawns. This allowed a standard 8x8 chess board to be used. Chaturaji is probably the earliest example, which added dice to the game to dictate which piece a player was to move. Four Seasons Chess, from 13th-century Spain, dispensed with dice and was a game of pure skill.

Halma is a popular 4-player game in my own gaming group. We prefer it to its more popular relative, Chinese Checkers, when four are playing. Halma can be played as a partnership game or as a game of all-against-all, and I find it equally entertaining either way.

Two classic cross-shaped race games are designed for four players: the Indian pachisi, and its diminutive Chinese relative t'shu-p'u. Both games put the players into two partnerships, and players must cooperate with allies to get their team's pieces around the board first. The first player to get her pieces home still loses if her ally comes last.

There are few games suitable for more than four. Leapfrog and Chinese Checkers are the only ones currently on this site; leapfrog suits any number and Chinese Checkers will accommodate six (but not five). Alfonso's Book of Games lists some games designed for seven, which I hope to describe in future.

If you think I've forgotten some obvious, good 3- or 4-player games from 1900 or before, then please get in touch and let me know!


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