Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Games Galore

By THL Raffe Scholemaystre

Many games developed throughout period to entertain the gentles of the this time. Many of these games have been passed down to us nearly unchanged exfept for the name, while others have kept the name but have changed greatly over time.

Only some of the games that were played in period have been played throughout history. Games like Mancala, Marienbad (or Nim), the Morris variations and Tables (now generally called Backgammon) have existed in one form or another back to ancient Egypt and Mesoptamia and some back to pre-history. Dice have been found dating back to at least 900 BCE. Mancala and Morris and Marienbad seem to have been common in many cultures around the world.

Other games were developed in one area and spread elsewhere. The classic example is that of Chess. It was developed probably in India and was common in the Arabic world by the time of the Crusades under the name Shatranj. It was introduced into Europe and developed slowly into Renaissance Chess fairly similar to modern Chess.

Tables or Backgammon was popular in Roman times, faded and then was reintroduced again through Islamic culture. Backgammon started with many variations and eventually Nard would become the version most play today.

The development of the playing card, around 1371, changed games forever. Dice became less important as cards gained popularity, One of the earliest card games, Thirty-One, was an adaptation of a dice game of the same name. Many late Medieval card games survive today, but under new names. Vieux Garcon became Old Maid, Andare a Piscere is Go Fish, and Noddy is a precursor to Cribbage, which was developed in the 1630’s.

However the games of Bridge, Poker, Rummy, Solitaire, Black Jack, Euchre, Dominoes and Chinese Checkers were developed after 1700 and many late in the 19th Century. While some games like Parcheesi did not reach Europe until the late 17th Century.

In the accompanying chart, I have attempted to layout what games were developed or introduced into what region and when. If a game was played in an earlier period, one can generally assume that the game was known later.       Since many rules varied by gepgraphy and over time, it is very important that the players opf a game agree on the rules you will be using before you begin play. For the exact rules for the games noted here please consult the texts listed below.

Smith, P.J., “Period Pastimes”, The Complete Anachronist #71, SCA Inc, Jan 1994

Schovanek, J., ed. “Indoor Games”, The Complete Anachronist #2, SCA Inc., Jan. 1983

Salamallah, Medieval Games, Raymond’s Quiet Press, Albuerque, NM, 1982.

Bell, R.C., Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations (Revised Edition), Dover Publications Inc., 1979

Norman on the Hill

By Lord Brian Goodheart

General type: Physical, Wrestling

Adult Involvement: Supervisory as a minimum. Direct involvement optional.

Props: A high spot. Even a one meter (three feet) rise is enough.

Premise: Variation on the “King of the Hill” games we have all played as children.

Number of Children: Three to ten.

The Norman King sits down on top of the “hill”. A small mound just one meter in height will do.  In outdoor events there are often sloped areas on the sides of buildings or on the edge of clearings. Do take care to avoid excessive drops.

The Norman King is required to always remain sitting. He can’t stand up. Even if yanked up by the others he needs to get his behind onto the ground. He can waddle around on the ground so long as he keeps down on the ground. In fact because the King is limited to sitting you don’t need a very tall hill to play on. The Saxon peasants are in a revolt and are trying to pull down the King. The Saxons can stand up. It takes a strong King to keep the rebellion under control. If the Saxons can pull the Norman King down to the bottom they have won the round.

Whatever Saxon player does the most to get the King down (like actually pulling him down single handily) gets something wonderful! He is promoted to being a Norman King! The new King goes to the top of the rise and sits down. The previous King is now among the Saxons and the rebellion starts up again.

In playing with lots of kids you will want to set up a game balance. Six kids pulling on one King will always pull him down. So to keep it fun if the Saxons are winning easily then the King gets to add “Guards”.  The job of a Guard is to protect the King. The Guards are allowed to stand. They can wrestle the Saxons as much as the want. Usually you only have one or two Guards so the Guard needs to keep running back to the King to get yet another Saxon off.

Play time is quite long. The kids can really get into this one. It can be done with adult involvement or just supervising. Being a rougher game it appeals mostly to boys. It does a wonderful job of using up their energy and it teaches about medieval politics too!

One further safety note for adults or larger children. When being wrestled by others try to watch out for how you may land. If you might fall onto someone if you resist it is a better practice to let yourself loose so that you can move around the possible “impact” point.

Hunter's Cloak

By Lord Brian Goodheart

General type: Physical, Chasing

Adult Involvement: Supervisory as a minimum. Direct involvement optional.

Props: One or more of cloak, blanket, tabard or other large spare clothing.

Premise:  The children chase each other tossing the clothing to catch each other.

Number of Children: Two to many.

One group of players start off as being Animals. The kids may enjoy making various animal sounds as they play. The other group are Hunters. The Hunters toss the cloak (or clothing) to catch the animal. When a hunter catches an animal they both change sides. The new hunter uses the cloak used to catch them.

All the children will get to take turns chasing and being chased. A large outdoor play area works best.

A very important rule to get across is that the clothing is tossed. Wrestling to get the clothing on is not allowed. That tends to get into very forceful play in which someone could get hurt. The proper toss for the clothing has it completely out of the Hunter’s hands by the time it touches the Animal. Only light contact by the clothing is required to count as a success catch.

While adults can certainly join in the game it is important for the adults to watch how the catching is being done. It is possible for the adult involved to take a breather from being an active participant and just watch that safe play is being adhered to.

In this game no one is to be tied up in the cloak. Doing this would also require breaking the “let go” rule.


By Lord Brian Goodheart

General type: Physical, Boffer fighting and chasing

Adult Involvement: Heavy involvement including a lot of running

Props: A cloak or blanket and a few boffer weapons.

Premise:  The adult uses the cloak to fend off attacks by the children.

Number of Children: Two to five.

Give out boffer weapons to the kids. Adult gets the cloak/blanket to use.  The children try to kill the adult with their boffer weapons.  If they score a good hit (or a few simple ones) the adult should act out a death. Then the game restarts so play can continue.

The adult in turn is using the cloak as a net. When the cloak is being used while being held onto, I recommending restricting the cloak fighting role to adults. Below are a few basic ways to use the cloak.

To trip the children, hold onto one end and snap the other out skimming the top of the grass. This will catch the children at their ankles or knees.  They will likely slowly fall down onto their knees with time to put their hands up.  If you do catch a child do not tug on the cloak as you could turn the slow fall into something fast and painful.

You can also hold the cloak out much like a bull fighter does. This gives you something to block or catch the boffer weapons with.  If you get a boffer weapon you can fight with it yourself. The children will have more fun if you drop it after a few moments. Of course the dropped weapon acts like bait to draw the children to where you can catch them.

If you act quickly you could also toss the cloak over a child’s head to catch them in the net. A good toss will flutter the cloak out. You can wrestle the child to the ground. When catching a child in the cloak it is recommended to let go of the cloak.  This reduces the chance of a strong impact or an accidental pull that could topple the child.

One more way to use the cloak is to chase after the children. You can toss the cloak over them, much like in Hunter’s Cloak, to catch a child. Again be sure to let go of the cloak when catching a child in it.

Anyone caught in the cloak is to be released after a few seconds. Likewise if the children “kill” the adult they also return to play in a few moments.

Cloak and Drag

By Lord Brian Goodheart

General type: Physical, Chasing

Adult Involvement: Physically intense

Props: A strong cloak.

Premise:  The children chase your cloak and try to hold on.

Number of Children: Two to four, smaller children only.

This game is suitable for entertaining up to three or four *small* children. The limitation on child size will quickly become obvious. The adult involved will also get quite a workout.

Take a cloak and put it on the adult. Make sure it is a strong and sturdy cloak. If a cloak pin is involved make sure to turn it over in the cloak material a couple times. To avoid accidental stabbings of anyone involved.

A “White Knuckle Death Grip” on the cloak closure, whether by pin or hand, is highly encouraged. Okay now for the game. The Children try to grab and hold onto the cloak. The fun comes from the adult dodging, weaving and dragging the cloak around. With a simple twist the cloak is sent spreading out over a wide arc giving the kids something to chase over a long distance. By doing such cloak swirls the adult will use a lot less energy then the kids. The adult can also walk or jog making the small children run at their top speed to catch up. You can tease the children by turning around just as they are about to catch up. This spins the cloak and you can pass it right over their heads.

It can also happen that a child could sit down on the cloak. Often you can actually pull the child along on the ground. A sudden tug or arcing turn though will usually get the cloak free.

If the children do get a solid grip don’t use a forceful pull. Instead either lower yourself to the ground letting the kids pile up on you in victory then restart. Or you can spin yourself and the cloak. Be careful to watch the balance the children have.

Playing (and inventing) this at Murder Melee in the Meadow I found that I could safely manage about three to four children on the cloak at once. More than that and it became difficult to avoid collisions or overloading the cloak.

Period Dice Games: Series One, Easy

By THLaird Colyne Stewart, May AS 38

There are many variants on games using dice from all over the world. To narrow things down a bit we will only be looking at dice games that require nothing other than dice to be played (except, of course, for some coin to gamble with on the outcome). These games all use the common six-sided dice that are most common today. (Some games, like Blind Dice, needed special dice.) They are all also relatively easy to learn and to teach to new players. There do exist period dice games (such as Medio Azar, Panquist or Al-Falahia) which are much more complicated.

As Much with Two as with One

For this Spanish game two dice are needed.

1. Each player throws one dice to see who goes first. (Presumably the person closest to 6. A roll of 1 would be re-thrown.)

2. Each player would then take turns throwing both dice until someone’s roll matched the first cast.

Equal with an Ace

This Spanish game needs three dice to play.

1. Players take turn throwing all three dice.

2. The first to roll a double and a 1, won.


This game existed between at least 623 and 1600 CE and was known by many names. This is a simplified version that could easily be played in the food court at Pennsic.

1. Player 1 takes two dice and rolls the “main”. The main must be 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9. Player 1 throws until one of these numbers is achieved.

2. Player 1 then throws the two dice to determine his number, which had to be a 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10. If it was a 2, the player lost, and all bets placed on him were lost. (Others were free to place bets with each other on the outcome of the players’ rolls).

3. If the main is 7 and the player rolls a 7 or 11, or the main is 8 and the player rolls an 8 or 12, the player wins. If the main and the number are the same, the player wins.

4. Once the main and number were rolled, if they did not match any of the previously mentioned combinations, the player continued to roll until he matched his main or his number. If he rolled his main, he lost. If he rolled his number, he won.

5. Play then proceeded to the next player.

He Who Throws Most Wins

This is most likely the easiest dice game possible.

1. Players take turns throwing a predetermined number of dice.

2. Whoever has the highest result, wins.

In and Inn

A game for two or three players, requiring four dice.

1. Player 1 rolls the dice. There are several possible outcomes. If he rolls doublets, it is an inn. If no doubles are rolled, it is an out. If four of a kind, or two sets of doubles are rolled, it is an in and inn. (Triples count as a double.)

2. Inn beats out while in and inn beats inn.

3. If everyone throws the same, the round is over. Presumably the pot either carries over to the next round or is split between all players.

4. If two players tie, they roll again or split the pot between them.


Six dice are needed to play.

1. A set number of numbers between 6 and 36 were designated as winning numbers.
2. Players then rolled all six dice. If their roll equaled one of those set numbers, they won.


A game for two players using three dice.

1. Player 1 rolled the dice until he rolled triplets.

2. If the result was 10 or higher, he won the pot and continued throwing. If the result was under 10, he lost and play proceeded to player 2.*

*Salallamah gives results for over 10 and under 10, which would leave no result if the total on the dice equaled 10. Therefore I have assumed that 10 counts as a win.

Shut the Box

Thought his game is often played with a board, it can be played without one as follows. Players will need 11 dice.

1. Set up nine dice so that the following numbers are shown: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3. (The second 1 represents 7, the second 2 represents 8 and the second 3 represents 9.)

2. Player 1 rolls two dice. He can them remove the dice that correspond to his roll, or remove the one that equals the total of his roll. (For example, if player 1 rolls a 3 and a 4, he could remove the 3 and the 4 or the 7.)

3. Once the 7, 8 and 9 have been removed the player rolls one die.

4. His turn ends when a number cannot be removed. The numbers left are then totaled.

5. Player then proceeds through the rest of the players.

6. When all players had finished, the one with the lowest total won. The losers paid the winner the difference between his result and theirs. (So, if player 1’s turn ended when he had only the 1 left, and player 2’s turn ended when he still and the 9 left, player 2 pays player 1 eight of whatever currency they are bidding.)


This die game is the ancestor of the card game of the same name. The object is to come as close to scoring 31 points as possible, without going over. It was played with two or three dice. Rules varied from place to place and time to time. Below is a very easy version of the game.

1. Player 1 rolls the dice until he reaches a number close to 31. If he goes over 31, he looses.

2. Player 2 then does the same.

3. Whoever is closer to 31, wins. If both end with the same number, whomever reached that number with the fewest dice rolls, wins.

4. If the number of die rolls are also the same players can either split the pot, carry the pot over to the next round, or cast one more die each, with the highest number taking the pot.

Three Throws

1. Player 1 rolls any set number of dice three times. The results of all three rolls are combined.

2. Play then proceeds from person to person. High score wins.

3. In the case of a tie, those players may cast again between them, or split the pot.


Lord Brusten de Bearsul, The Compleat Anachronist: Non-European Games, Vol. 78, March 1995.

The Compleat Anachronist: Indoor Games, No. 4, January 1983.

Patrick J. Smith, The Compleat Anachronist: Period Pastimes, Vol. 71, January 1994.

Salaamallah the Corpulent (Jeffrey A. DeLuca), Medieval Games, third edition, August 1995.

History of Dice

Making Dice and Knucklebones

What the Mongols Did for Fun: Playing with Shagai

By Qadanchin Bayar

Mongols are a very resourceful group of people. The barren landscape and extreme weather conditions in which they live make agriculture impossible, thus forcing them to find sources of food in cattle, game, fish, and other foodstuff obtained by trade.

It is the combination of the abundance of sheep and horses, the harsh weather, the gregarious nature of the Mongols and their thrifty use of their resources, that fostered the development of activities like horse races and the different variations of “Shagai” or games with anklebones.

A Shagai is a small, moving bone located in the “knee” articulation of the back legs of certain mammals (the tarsus), especially those animals with cloven hooves, and whose back legs bend the opposite way of the front legs. This can be seen in dogs, cats, horses, sheep and cows.

Top: Goat side. Bottom: Camel side.

These bones were also known as “Tali” and “Astragalus” in Rome and Greece, and were the precursors of dice, given their somewhat regular shape and four distinctly shaped sides. A theory worth investigating would be that early pastoral cultures with good access to goats and sheep would have used these bones as dice before they achieved a degree of tool skills that allowed them to carve more regular dice out of other materials.

Mongols use Shagai to play different games all through the year, and especially during winter, when the temperatures force most of them indoors. The hardier persons like to play “Ice Shagai”, a game that can trace its roots to the times of Chinggis Khaan, an ardent player himself.1

To play Ice Shagai, the participants set two “goal post” stones on a large frozen surface, most of the times on a wide river. Between these stones, they then set five Shagai in a line. The players place themselves 80 meters away from the Shagai and throw a ball made out of shaped hide, with the objective of hitting an anklebone and making the ball slide further between the marker stones. This game is incredibly challenging, not only in terms of skills, but also in endurance. It takes a very hardy Mongol to play on the ice at winter temperatures of minus 30°degrees Celsius!2

Luckily, there are plenty of other games that can be played with Shagai, that don’t require being outdoors. They can vary in terms of complexity and duration. However, at the time this was written, they cannot be documented within the SCA period. Since we don’t know the Mongolian name of each of these games in their native language, I will call three of them the “Horse race”, the “Mongolian Jacks” and the “Anklebone shooting game”. Due to space limits, I will only describe the horse-race game and the Mongolian Jacks, and will briefly describe the anklebone shooting game.

The horse-race can be played by two or more players, with a “racetrack” made of a line of at least ten bones. The longer the track, the longer the game will last. Each player puts one bone on its “horse” side (see above picture) besides the beginning of the racetrack line. After deciding who goes first, the players will take turns throwing an anklebone as the dice, and when it lands on the “horse” side, they will move their bone on the starting position one step further along the racetrack (measured by bone size). The player whose “horse” reaches the end of the bone racetrack wins.3

Mongolian Jacks are played a bit like modern Jacks, but without a rubber ball. A given number of bones (the more bones, the longer and more difficult the game) are thrown on a hard surface. One player immediately has to pick up all the bones that have fallen on the “horse” side from the pile, without touching any other bones. If he does, the turn goes to the next player, who gathers the remaining bones and throws them again, to repeat the process. The player with more “horses” wins. An interesting variation of this game is using a small square piece of chainmail as a ball, throwing it upwards and picking the bones with the other hand. If either the player touches other bones that are not “horses”, the bones fall from the hand, or are picked with the other hand, the player loses the turn.4

Top: Sheep side. Bottom: Horse side.

Lastly, the anklebone shooting game in which, after throwing several bones on a hard surface, a player has to identify pairs of bones that have landed on the same side (sheep-sheep, horse-horse, goat-goat, etc.) and flicks one of the pair of bones to try to hit the other bone of the same pair (like playing marbles), but without touching other bones or bones fallen on different sides. The rules of this game are more extensive and make the game increasingly more difficult for the winner as it progresses.5

As we can see, there is no shortage of game possibilities to be played with these humble bones. They can be dyed or marked to establish a “target” bone; they can be thrown down on a slanted surface to try to hit any of the bones below, or be used as imaginary cattle to play betting games... the possibilities are endless.

Shagai are easy to obtain from sheep, they don’t require specialized skills to prepare, and by their nature, are free. These factors make the Shagai very popular and abundant among the Mongols, who love to get together to play, listen to music and chat at any given occasion.

How to get your own Shagai

Let’s face it. Urban dwellers don’t have too many sheep roaming around, and the chances to get back lamb legs that haven’t been cut through the knee joint aren’t that great. However, if there is a “Halal” meat-shop in your neighborhood (where meat comes from certified sources and is handled according to certain health/religious practices), you have good chances of finding complete lamb legs, or asking the butcher to sell you only the section you want.

Another point to consider is how squeamish you are by handling raw meat and bone, or if you are vegetarian. In this case, you are better off finding a store that sells either plastic replicas of anklebones (also called knucklebones) or making them out of sculpturing clay. It is advisable also to practice safety precautions when you manipulate the raw meat and cut open the legs with a sharp knife.

In my case, I stumbled on a few difficulties that make for a great learning experience. I got a pair of front legs and proceeded to boil them. Needless to say, I will be eating lamb for quite a bit...
After much hacking and whacking, I discovered that the front knee is made of several small bones, none of which looks like those in the pictures above. I then decided to try with the section close to the hooves, without success. Baffled with this, and thinking that my lamb was genetically altered, I searched the web for clearer instructions. I found confusing references to knuckles and ankles, but nowhere was it mentioned that the shagai, tali or astragalus is located in the back legs.

My inspiration came when I searched for the word “astragalus” in the dictionary, and it mentioned that it formed part of the “tarsus”. The middle joint bones of the front legs (or arms) are called “carpus”, from which we get “carpal tunnel syndrome”, whereas the back joint bones (or foot bones) are called “tarsus”. Eureka! Enough with the anatomy lessons.

I bought my back legs of lamb, this time buying only the joint section, and cut them open without boiling them first. I found the Shagai in between the long spur of the joint, and the lower leg bone. It was easier to extract it without boiling the section first, because the tendons are softer and the bones can be separated easier.

Once you obtain the Shagai, it should be boiled in water for 30 minutes to make the gristle become easier to clean off. If you wish, you can then dye the bone using fabric dye, or mark it with a Dremel or a cutting tool.

Happy playing!

Notes and references

1. The Secret History of Mongols, translated by Francis Woodman Cleaves, Harvard-Yenching Institute, Harvard University Press, 1982, Cambridge, Mass

2. Mongolia Today – Online Magazine, Issue No. 5,

3. In conversation of May 24, 2002 with Gülügjab Tangghudai of the Silver Horde, Province of Ostgardr, in the East Kingdom (m.k.a. Luigi Kapaj).

4. In conversation of May 24, 2002 with Gülügjab Tangghudai of the Silver Horde, at Ostgardr, in the East Kingdom (m.k.a. Luigi Kapaj).

5. From the web-pages of Daniel Andre Roy

Useful links

· Eachna's Celtic Knucklebones Page, for methods to clean and play with knucklebones. 

· Roman Board Games, for the type of games Romans and Greeks used to play with knucklebones. 

· MacGregor Historic Games – Dice & Dicing Games, for plastic replicas of knucklebones. 

· The Silver Horde, for Mongolian culture within the SCA. 

The Tafl Family of Games: Rules and a Brief History, With an Emphasis on Tablut

By THL Colyne Stewart (MKA Todd Fischer, A.S. XXXVI)

Tafl is the catch name for a group of games popular in northern Europe up to a few hundred years ago. Variants have been found in Finland, Scotland, Ireland, England, Scandinavia and many other countries. Anywhere that had contact with the Vikings had contact with tafl.


The oldest record of a tafl-like game is from 250 BCE, when the Germanic tribes first entered recorded history. The oldest board found to date was in Denmark. The board was dated to 400 CE.

Tafl was written about in folk tales, poems and epics throughout northern Europe. It appears in an English manuscript dated somewhere during 925-940 CE, and in a Swedish botanist’s journal in 1732. (It is from this journal that we get most of our modern information on how to play from.) Gweyddbwyll (a Welsh variant) is included in the Arthurian legends, where Owain (a Welsh hero) bests King Arthur.

Being a good tafl player was so important that when the Norseman Earl Rognvalder Kail bragged about his skills, he topped his list with his strength at tafl.

The Rules

The most prevalent version of tafl, the one you are most likely to encounter today, is the Finnish version, called Tablut. Tablut was played on a 9 x 9 checkered board. One side, the defenders, consisted of 9 men, one of whom was the king. They were usually white, and were placed in the center of the board. The king was placed in the center of the board, on a square called either the King’s Square, the Throne, or konakis. The attackers numbered sixteen, were most often red, brown or black, and set up on the edges of the board. The white side represented Swedes, and the black Moscovites (Russians). In other versions the King is called Hnefi (‘King’) or Cyningstan (Old English for ‘King-Stone’), and the pieces were called Hunns (‘knobs’), Taeflor (‘table-men’) or taefelstanas (Old English for ‘table-men’).

Pieces moved like a rook in chess, which is any number of spaces orthogonally (up or down, left or right, not diagonally).

In most variants any piece could move through the Throne, but only the King could land on it.

Pieces were captured by having an opponent close in on two sides, either top and bottom, or left and right. If a piece moves intentionally between two enemy pieces of its own volition it is not captured. Multiple captures were possible.

The King is captured by being blocked on all four sides. If the King is sitting beside the Throne, and is blocked by white on the other three sides, he is captured. Also, if any defenders are sitting beside the King, and they and the King are blocked in so none of them can move, the King is captured. (In some modern versions, the King is captured like any other piece.) The King is allowed to take part in captures for his side.

As should be obvious by now, the attacker’s goal is to capture the King. The King’s goal is to escape. There are at least two different ways to play this:

1)     Get the King to an edge. In this version, the King wins if he reaches an outside edge of the board. If he makes a move that opens up a clear path to an edge for the King, he announces “Raichi”. If this path is opened by white’s move, he does not have to announce this, and can take opportunity of the opening on his next move to win the game. If he has two clear paths to an edge, he announces “Tuichi”. Two paths cannot be blocked during one move, so it is an automatic win.

2)     Get the King to a corner. Some tafl boards have been found with ornate corners, leading scholars to believe that in some versions the King had to get to a corner to win. In this case, one of two rules had to added, to keep white from simply blocking the corners and forcing a stalemate.

2a) The corners count as Thrones, which means only the King can land in them. This doesn’t stop white from simply sitting beside them, effectively blocking access for the King, so most modern tafl boards use the next rule.

2b) The corners, and the center Throne, count as hostile spaces. Anyone sitting next to one is at threat of capture. Once the King leaves the Throne, he cannot land on it again.

Other Possible Variations

There is a lot of conjecture about what ancient games were really tafl games. Evidence is being pieced together from fragments of poems, journal entries and other such sources, and are usually incomplete or evasive in meaning. The one constant seems to be that the boards always had an odd number of checks, and that the defenders had half the number of men as the attackers, plus the King. Also, the attackers generally go first.

1)        Fitchneal (Irish), played on a 7 x 7 board. Some game historians actually think this was based on an older Roman game, and was not related to Tafl at all.

2)       Tawlbrydd / Tawlbrydd / Tawl-Bwrdd (Welsh), played on an 11 x 11 or 13 x 13 board. Tawl-Bwrdd is usually translated as ‘Throw Board’, and dates back to 914-943 CE. It was played on an 11 x 11 board, with the King and twelve defenders against twenty-four attackers. The way in which this game’s name has been translated, leads some to believe that dice were used in play. Some say that an even roll meant you missed your turn. Others believe that the roll told you how far you could move a piece that turn. This is disputed, as the randomness involves cuts down on a game of skill and tactics.

3)       Hnefatafl (Saxon), translates as ‘King’s Table.’ At least one example exists of hnefatafl being played on an 18 x 18 board. Therefore, it is surmised that the pieces were actually placed on the corners of the checks, instead of in the checks, turning the board into a 17 x 17 board.  (Many eastern games, such as Go, were played like this.) Hnefatafl on a 19 x 19 board greatly resembles Alea Evangeli. 

4)     Alea Evangeli (Anglo-Saxon), played on a 19 x 19 board. In this version the defender moved first and the four defenders right around the King are the King’s Guards, and cannot be captured. The other defenders are called Huns.

5)     Some games were played on a 7 x 7 board where pieces could only move one space at a time, such as Scotland’s Ard-Ri (‘High King’). Escape was to the corners.


Sire Bohémond de Niée, Hnefatafl: The Viking Game.

Lord Brustende Bearsul (Patrick J. Smith), “Period Pastimes,” The Compleat Anachronist #71: Ways to While Away a Siege, 1994. 34-35, 46.

Gerhand Kendal of Westmoreland, “Alquerque and Tafl Games,” The Compleat Anachronist #4: Indoor Games, Jan 1983, 27-31.

Helmfrid, Sten, Hnefatafl: The Strategic Board Game of the Vikings, version 2, 2000.

Knutson, Charles, “The Games of the Vikings,” Renaissance Magazine #22, 2001. 22-23.

Salaamallah the Corpulant (Jeffrey A. DeLuca), Medieval Games. Third Edition. Willimantic, CT, 1995. 72-75.

Is Tablero Period, and Should we Care

By Colyne Stewart (March AS XXXVI/2002)

One of the first games I learned about when joining the SCA was Tablero de Jesus. That may have had something to do with the fact that the Peers here in Ealdormere (and seemingly everywhere) are enamoured of this drinking game. When I originally asked about its origins I was told that the game was likely invented by someone in the SCA. However, upon doing a bit of reading (in the few sources I could find) I came across claims that it was a 15th Century Spanish gambling game.

Recently a discussion on the Games Guild of Ealdormere e-list has re-sparked my interest in tracking down the origins of this game, so I began my research a new.

While most sources claim that the gambling game was invented in Spain in the 15th Century, there are some in An Tir who claim that it was a good gentle from that kingdom that added the drinking component. There, they call the drinking version Tablero de Gucci (Lilith Runesdattir). Other sources say that the Scots added the drinking component, and called the game Toblero (The Game Cabinet).

For documentation all we have is second hand information. According to a post to hist-games, made by Justin de Coeur, Tablero was likely introduced to the SCA by a fellow named Gerhard Kendal. He there quotes photocopies given him by Amanda Kendal of Westmoreland (Gerhard’s wife) that were written by I.Y. Erzbergen-St.Susse, Ph.D., Queenswood Professor of Medieval Studies at Brunswick University. De Coeur says the photocopies gave the following history of Tablero:

1.   That the game is known to have been played by Cistercian monks at the Abbey of Los Santos de Campo in Granada by 1404 and that boards have been found in a few Spanish abbeys, as well as Tuscany, Provence and the Low Countries.

2.   That the Abbot of Cleaves in England, in 1449 refers in his journal to "the Jesus boarde".

3.   That the Bishop of Limoges defended the game in 1446.

4.   That the game was banned by Pope Sylvester V in 1458.

5.   That Cardinal Martino d'Allesandro says in his memoirs that he introduced the game to the papal court in 1456.

6.   That the board being sold by Erzbergen-St.Susse is based on one found at the Abbey of Saint-Michel-des-Fosses in ProvenceThis board is highly decorated, with a floral motif covering most of the squares and featuring various religious symbols on some of them. No one seems to know if these symbols influeneced play or were merely decoration, but in the footnotes there is a reference to a British professor Bryce Ryefield as having given an opinion on one of the odder symbols on the board.

However, according to other sources, and my own research, all these arguments are flawed. We will look at each in turn.

First, that the game was played by Cistercian monks at the Abbey of Los Santos de Campo in Granada by 1404. I cannot find any record of such an abbey. Senhora Ester Mendes says, in her post to hist-games, that no abbey existed at that time by that name. This doesn’t seem unremarkable, since during 1404 Granada was under Muslim rule!

Likewise, I can’t find record of any city named Cleaves in England, supposed home of  the Abbot of Cleaves, who wrote of the game in his journal. Mendes claims that the only Cleaves she could unearth was a town in Germany.

As for the Bishop of Limoges, well. There was indeed a Bishop of Limoges in 1446, but I cannot find any mention of him tied in with Tablero (other than on pages quoting the same source material). It may have been helpful if the Bishop’s name had been supplied.

And what of Pope Sylvester V, who supposedly banned the game in 1458? Such a person did not exist. The New Advent Online Catholic Dictionary has no listing for a Sylvester V (though there were Sylvesters I through III). Callistus III was Pope in 1458.

Neither does there exist any record of Cardinal Martino d'Allesandro or Professor Bryce Ryefield. Even the author of the game’s history itself, Dr. I.Y. Erzbergen-St.Susse, seems to be a fabrication. I can find no record of her/him, nor of a Brunswick University. Everyone and everything quoted to support the existence of Tablero does not seem to exist itself.

It would seem that Gerhard Kendal’s source material is flawed. In an email copied to hist-games and dated July 25, 2001,

Gerhard claims he learned the game from Duchess Merowyn de Lyoness of the West Kingdom (Teceangel). Pouring over the Order of Precedence for the West Kingdom I did not find a Merowyn de Lyoness, though I did find a listing for Merewyn de Lyonesse.

It is possible that this is the same person, and Gerhard Kendal simply misspelled her name (and gave her the wrong title; this good gentle is credited as a Viscountess, not a Duchess). I have personally emailed Gerhard Kendal to ask him about Tablero, and in response he sent me the exact same email posted to hist-games. (He also said he’d send me a photocopy of his board and documentation but has so far not done so.) I have thus far been unable to track down an email for Viscountess Merewyn de Lyonesse.

In looking at further posts on hist-games, I found one by Melissa Kendal of Westmoreland, who claims that her brother, Andre Lessard (Derek Stevens), invented the drinking aspect of Tablero, after learning the game in 1976 from Maelgwyn and Merewyn de Lyonesse. I emailed Melissa to see if she had any more information on the subject but have not heard back from her.

So, what is the verdict?

Without being able to consult primary documentation first hand, and having its supposed points of support repudiated, we must work under the assumption that Tablero is a modern invention.
Does this mean that we should stop playing and teaching it? I don’t think so. Though the SCA is at its heart a recreation group, it is often billed as ‘the Middle Ages the way they should have been.’ We’ve taken the idea of the Middle Ages and made our own sub-culture. So if a game is developed within our culture, should we not play it? It is something unique to us, and part of who we are. As long as we don’t teach it as a true period game, but rather as an SCA game, I see nothing wrong with letting it prosper (not that anyone could stop it if they wanted to). I would rather see someone playing an SCA game than not playing a game at all.


Baron Steffano, Cardinal da Gucci and al Khabeelah McGurn of Ravensfuri, Baron Steffano’s Guide to Tablero de Gucci, Fourth edition

Dagonell the Juggler, Tablero de Jesus.

The Game Cabinet, Tablero.

Gerhard Kendal of Westmoreland, “El Tablero de Jesus”, The Compleat Anachronist #4: Indoor Games, or How to While Away a Seige, January 1983. 41-42.

--. post to hist-games (forwarded by Teceangel), Aug 8 2001.

Justin de Coeur (Mark Waks), post to hist-games, Feb 1 2000.

Lilith Runesdattir (Jeanne Salt), Tablero, 1998.

Melissa Kendal of Westmoreland (Heather Stecher), post to hist-games, February 3 2001.

Salaamallah the Corpulent (Jeffrey A. DeLuca), Medieval Games, Third Edition, 1995. 135-136.

Senhora Ester Mendes (Kirsti Thomas), post to hist-games (forwarded by Teceangel), Aug 8 2001.

Thierry Depaulis, posts to hist-games, Jan 29 2000,  and Feb 2 2000.

Rules of Glic

By THL Colyne Stewart

Glic was a game in 15th and 16th C. France with English and German variants. This is the variant that has sprung up in Ealdormere.

Set– Up

For three to six players works best. The board is laid out as on the previous two pages. On the top row is an Ace, a King, a Queen and a Jack or Valet. On the bottom row is a Ten, a King/Queen combination, a Nine/Eight/Seven combination and the Poker, Poch or Glic space. Each player starts with a number of counters. We usually play with 20—25 pennies, and 10 groats (worth four pennies each).

Phase One: Ante and Deal

Each player puts one penny on any of the compartments on the board, except for the Poker space. The dealer then deals each player four cards.

Phase Two: Sweepstakes

The deck is then cut and whatever suit is revealed is Trump. If anyone has a card in Trump that matches one of the compartments on the board, they win any coins/counters on that compartment. For instance, if a six of hearts is turned up, and I have the Queen of Hearts, I show that card and take all coins on the Queen compartment. If you have the King and Queen, you get the King, Queen, and the King-Queen combination (or marriage). Because the chances of getting a Nine-Eight-Seven combination is unlikely, Ardchreag also allows a flush to take the coins on this compartment.

Phase Three: Poker

Starting with the player to the left of the Dealer, players place bets on the Poker compartment. Winning hands are in the following order: Four of a Kind, Three of a Kind, Two Pairs, One Pair, high Card. In case of a tie, the hand with the highest card in the Trump suit wins. The winner takes all the coins from the Poker compartment.

Phase Four: Countdown

The player who wins the Poker round begins the Countdown by placing a card on the table. Each subsequent player, if they are able, place a card on top trying not to exceed 31. Face/Court cards count as 10 and an Ace is 1. If a player cannot play without going over 31 play proceeds to the next player. The last player to be able to play is given a penny by all the other players, and then begins a new Countdown. When a player runs out of cards all other players must pay them a penny for every card still in their hand. If they player goes out on a 31, every other player pays him an extra penny.

Ten Thousand

By THLaird Colyne Stewart

To date this has been the most popular game when I’ve held dicing classes. I know personally it has helped me pass the time on many occasions, and I carry dice in my pouch at all times should the need arise.

The oldest references to this game seem to be to a French version, Dix Mille. Called Auf die 5000 in Germany.

This game has dozens of names and variations (including Sixes, named for the number of dice used to play), including several commercial versions. Farkle is the best known modern version.

The game is played to 10000 points. A player must roll 1000 points on one turn before they can start counting points. Each turn after they have scored 1000 points they need to score at least 400 to count points for that turn. You want to roll as many 1's or 5's as possible, or at least three of a kind. A 1 is worth 100 points, a 5 is worth fifty, three of a kind is worth 100 x the number (so three sixes is 600), getting three or more 1's is worth 1000.

So player one rolls the dice. S/he then sets aside any triples or better. If they don't have any they can set aside as many 1's or 5's as they want. Any dice left over are re-rolled. If you manage to set aside all your dice you can re-roll all six and keep adding the points. If you ever make a roll where you cannot set aside a 1, 5 or triple or better, your turn is over and you score no points that turn. Play then proceeds to the next player. You can stop rolling at any time, but must have either 1,000 or 400 (depending) to score your points for that turn.


hist-games, various posts

Rules for Playing Garwolf*

By THL Colyne Stewart (MKA Todd Fischer)

(*Garwolf is a medieval term for a werewolf.)

To play Garwolf you must first insert the optional Court cards, the Garwolf. You should use three Garwolves for three-handed play, four for four-handed play. The two of Wilds should be removed for three-handed play.

The object of the game is for the Wolves of Ealdormere to hunt down the royalty (other Court/Face cards). The cards are all dealt out, then each player hands two cards to the player on his left. On the second deal, they pass to the right. On the third, each player must keep what he has. (In four-handed play, the third deal would pass across, and the fourth would be keep what’s dealt.)

The player with the three of Wilds plays first. Each player must then play a card, following suit if possible. The person who played the highest card following suit wins the trick and now has the lead.

The Garwolf is the highest card, and the Ace is low. The only instance where an Ace is high, is when it is played on a Garwolf. (This represents a hunter killing the wolf.)

You can lead with a Garwolf, but since they have no suit/are all suits any Ace could be played on them to win the trick. This said, they can be played on any trick, no matter what suit was dealt, and be the highest card. (If you want to use them as a suit, use the one in the top left corner.)

All Court cards are worth 1 point, while the Garwolf is worth 3. The first player to reach 100 points wins.

Alternate Rules

Instead of passing cards as normal, in the first hand pass no cards. In the second, the person(s) who won the most points in the preceding hand is the King, and the person(s) with the lowest points won is the Knave. The King gives two cards of choice to the Knave, while the Knave gives the King his two highest cards (in this instance, Ace is low). This repeats at the beginning of each hand, with the Knave(s) and King(s) changing depending on who gets the least and most points each hand.

Mitigati (a 3-player card game)

By Master Rufus

Mitigati is one of a series of card games which developed in Europe based on the Tarot deck (the fortune telling aspects of the deck came later).  It combines the best parts of bridge and poker, and is a lot of fun once you remember the scoring system.

The Deck

The tarot deck consists of four suits (hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades  or sometimes cups, coins, wands, and swords) of 14 cards each (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, page, knight, queen, king), plus a fifth trump suit of 21 cards and the fool.  The trump suit is commonly illustrated, with some decks also giving a name to each card (eg the lovers).


Mitigati is a trick taking game.  At the end of play, each player will add up the value of the cards taken. However, knowing the value of the hand you were dealt is essential in the bidding process.

Kings, 1 of trump, 21 of trump - 5
Queens , Fool - 4
Knights - 3
Pages - 2
Every other card - 1

This provides a total of 129 points available in the deck.

There are also some additional honours points which are displayed and scored with the first card played by each player.

All four kings - 20 points from each player 
1 of trump, 21 of trump and Fool - 15 points from each player
Any four of the above 7 cards - 10 points from each player
(Any extra honours card scores an extra five points from each player)
10 or more trump (the Fool counts as a trump only if it is the 10th card) - 1 point each

For exmaple:  If a player holds 4 kings, the 1 and 21 of trump, they would score a total of 30 points from each player (20+5+5 for the two extra honours). This means they would go up 60 and each of the other players would go down 30.

The Bidding

The dealer deals out 10 cards to each player and the person to the left of the dealer will start the bidding with the bidding going clockwise. As mentioned above there are a total of 129 points available.  This means an average of 43 points per person.  As such, the bidding is done relative to 43.  For example, if I were to bid +20, that means that I believe I will capture cards worth 63 points.

Each player can bid positive, negative, zero or ask for more cards.  The bidding continues around the circle until someone asks for more cards or the total of the bids equals zero.  You may not bid higher if the bidding comes full circle, but you may lower your bid. If the total of the bids equals zero, it means that you have agreed on the value of your hands.  At this point, the score would be written down and a brand new hand would be dealt - the hand is not played out. If someone asks for more cards, five more cards are dealt and the bidding is repeated. Again, you may ask for more cards.  Another five cards are dealt and there is a final round of bidding. If there is no agreement on the score, the remaining cards are dealt out - five to each player with the dealer getting the extra three cards, and the hand is then played out. The bidding has no influence on the actual play, so feel free to bid "creatively" - bluffing is a big part of this game.

The Play

The play starts to the left of the dealer, after the dealer has picked three cards to discard (remember they had extra cards at the end of the deal). Those three cards are scored by the dealer at the end of the game.  You may not discard any kings or trump. Remember that any honours need to be declared with the first card played. Each player must follow the suit led.  The highest card takes the trick, and that player would then lead the next card. You may not play trump unless you are void in the suit led. If you do not have the suit led, you must play trump.  If you do not have any trump either, then you may play any card remaining. The exception to this is the fool, it may be played at any time, but is always scored by the person who played it, even though it can never take a trick.  If the Fool is led at the beginning of a round, the next person to the left is considered to have the "lead card".

When all the cards are played, each player scores the cards in their tricks, and the deal proceeds to the next player.

Give it a Hurl: The Sport of Hurling

By THL Colyne Stewart (May AS XXXVII)


Hurling is an ancient Irish-Gaelic game whose history is lost to myth. Some legends relate how the Celtic peoples who settled Ireland brought the game with them from Egypt. (The argument for this theory is in the article by Lady Elisabetta Maldestro, see sources.) Others assert that the game was played by the fey (faerie) folk of Ireland at least as far back as 1272 BCE. Legends tell of the Battle of Moytura, where the Tuatha de Danaan played the Fir Bolg. The Fir Bolg won, slaying the Tuatha in the process. (Indeed, fights and battles often broke out during or after hurling matches.

The great Irish hero Cuchulainn was a renowned hurler. As a boy, then called Setanta, he was a prodigy on the field, scoring many goals and allowing none. At the age of five he traveled to his uncle’s, King Conor Mac Neasa of Ulster, to join the Boy’s Corp. To pass the time he would through his ball and stick ahead of him, running and catching them before they hit the ground. Once at his uncle’s court he astounded all with his prowess and skill at the game.

During one game his uncle invited him to dine with him at the home of Culainn. Setanta agreed to come, but not until the game was done.

King Conor went on without him and as night drew near, forgot about him. When Culainn asked if all the guests had arrived, Conor said they had. Culainn then released his great hound to guard his house.

When Setanta arrived at Culainn’s he was attacked by the dog. Quickly, he shot his ball down the dog’s throat. As it choked he grabbed it by the legs and cracked its head open on the ground.

Culainn and his guests ran outside to find Setanta standing over the corpse of the dog. Culainn was grieved to have lost his dog, and to make amends Setanta said he would guard the house until a new dog could be found. He then received the name of Cuchulainn—Hound of Culainn.

(Cuchulainn is sometimes said to be the son of the Irish god, Lugh. This is interesting as Lugh is also associated with games. Amongst other things, he is credited with creating the game Fitchneal.)


The first written account of hurling is in the Brehon Laws of either the 5th, 7th or 8th Centuries (sources differ). The Laws set out hurling as a manner of warfare by which to settle disputes. These games could have hundreds of players and were often violent. The Laws actually set out the compensation owed to the family of a man killed at hurling.

Eventually the game became a bit more civil (a bit) and became a sport instead of ‘warfare’. Proper matches were known as fianchluiche, while casual games were ruidilse cluche.

Many, many times events and circumstances have attempted to kill hurling, but it has proven to be a very tenacious sport.

In 1366 the Statutes of Kilkenny were passed to prevent the Anglo-Normans from picking up Irish habits and culture. That meant no hurling (or ‘hokie’ as it was there called). The Irish instead turned to Gaelic Football.

Hurling was revived in the 18th Century where it was popular up to the time of the Great Famine.

Standing on the brink of oblivion, hurling was finally rescued for good in 1884 with the forming of the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA). The GAA established leagues and tournaments and is still in operation today.

Over the years, hurling is credited as being the parent-sport of shinty (Scotland), gold (Scotland), ice bandy (Scandinavia and some former Russian states), field and ice hockey (Canada) and bandy (Wales).


You do not need a lot of equipment to play hurling. Each player must have a hurley (or camn), which is a curved stick not unlike a field hockey stick. The blade is usually bigger than a hockey stick, and the handle length is up to the individual player.

You also need a ball, or sliothar. Medieval sliothars were either bronze, leather wrapped wood or hair covered with rope or wood. (Setanta’s sliothar was bronze, and his hurley was silver.) Sliothar were about the size of a ball for street hockey.

Playing Field

Since in Period games could have hundreds of players, there was no standard size of playing field. In modern hurling pitches are 137 m by 82 m. In the 1887 rules they were 200 yards by 150 yards.


In modern hurling there are fifteen players per team on the field at a time. They are positioned thusly:

Right Cornerback                Full-back                               Left Cornerback
Right Half-back                    Center Half-back                  Left Half-back
Midfielder                              Midfielder
Right Half-forward               Center Half-forward            Left Half-Forward
Right Corner-Forward         Full-forward                          Left Corner-Forward

Since it is often hard to get thirty SCAdians to stop and play a game, you can easily play with less, as long as both teams are equal in size.

Rules of Play

These rules are not the modern GAA rules, but are based on what we know of the Medieval rules, and on the rules of Clan na Bheithir (an SCA clan who know a great deal about hurling).

Equal sized teams of up to 15 players per side. Each side should be easily recognizable from each other (shirts vs. no-shirts, woaded vs. unwoaded, etc.).

At least one referee is a good idea. Modern games have a referee, two linemen and four umpires.

I’d recommend having a chirurgeon or other first aid provider on hand in case of injury. Hurling is a physical game and players can get hurt. Bumps and bruises are unavoidable.

Clan na Bheithir plays a 60 minute game with a 10 minute break between halves.
A goal is scored by hitting the sliothar through the goal. The goals seem to vary in size from the width of a standard hockey net to 10 feet wide.

The ball can be hit with the hurley and any part of your body except your hands.

The goalie can pick up the sliothar if within 10 feet of his goal. Play then stops and the goalie has 15 seconds to put the ball back into play with his hurley.

A sliothar hit out of bounds is hit back into play by a member of the team that didn’t knock it out. It is played from the point where it went out of bounds. If the sliothar goes out over the end-line (on either side of a goal) it is hit back in from the closest corner.

Protective gear is left up to the individual player, but can be nothing that might harm another player.

Physical contact is permitted, but only on a player in possession of the sliothar. You can never hit a player with your hurley, nor trip, grab onto or push a player from behind.

Players can bounce the ball off their hurley or foot and into their hand. They can then carry the ball for four steps but must then drop it or hit it into play. You can carry the sliothar on your hurley for as long as you are able.


Picking up or throwing the sliothar with hands. Most rules say that you can hit the sliothar with your hand if it is in the air, but you can never throw it.
Intentional tripping; grabbing players or their hurleys.
Wrestling, jostling and body checking is allowed, as long as the target player has possession of the sliothar, and the attacker keeps one foot on the ground.

Resolution of a Foul

The referee halts play, then declares the foul. If the foul was on the ball (like carrying it incorrectly or throwing it), the sliothar is put back into play by a member of the grieved team where the foul occurred.

If it was a personal foul (grabbing a hurley, hitting someone not in possession, etc.) a member of the grieved team gets a penalty shot on goal from 14 yards (40 feet) away. The offending team may place two defenders before their goalie but all other players from both teams must stay at least 14 yards away until the sliothar is played.

Once the sliothar is in play (in either type of foul) play resumes as normal.


Lady Elisabetta Maldestro, “A Brief History of Hurling”, The Mudpuppy, 1998.