Q and A

If you have questions regarding any aspect of Medieval games or gaming, please contact the Guild webminister, and we'll do our best to answer your query.

Question: I want to know what is the difference between Fitchneal and Ard-Ri. I know both games are played on 7 x 7 board but I didn't find any information about Fitchneal except the size of the board and the fact that it is probably a variant of a roman game.

Answer: Well, we don't really know how Fitchneal was played...because boards have been found measuring seven by seven squares, with the corners often marked, it was believed that fitchneal was played like tafl (in this case, Ard Ri)...however, according to Hnefatafl - the Strategic Board Game of the Vikings: An overview of rules and variations of the game by Sten Helmfrid, fitchneal could not have been played like Ard-Ri...in all tafl games, the attackers have twice as many men as the defender (not including the king)...not so in this quote regarding fitchneal:

    "References to board games in early Irish literature are frequent, but unfortunately often ambiguous and even contradictory. It seems quite likely that some sort of tafl game must have reached Ireland, considering the intense contacts between the island and the maritime Viking community. Bell believed that fithcheall, also spelled as fidchell, probably belonged to the tafl group [18]. Fidchell literally means "wood-sense", and is etymologically identical to the Welsh gwyddbwyll, also a game of disputed origin and character. EĆ³win MacWhite has written an excellent article on early Irish board games where he shows that, although the pieces probably were captured in the same way as in hnefatafl, fidchell cannot have been an asymmetrical game [19]. He quotes an old document describing fidchell that says: half of its men were of yellow gold, the other half of tinned bronze. This implies opposing forces of equal sizes, i..e. a so-called battle game [20]. Probably, fidchell is a descendant of the popular Roman board game ludus latrunculorum."

A lot of other people actually call the Finnish version of tafl (tablut) fitchneal at times, which we know is not right (tablut is played on a 9 x 9 board, fitchneal on a 7 x 7)...so, to be precise, we don't really know what differences or similarities the game had, other than the board... (Answer supplied by Colyne Stewart.)

 Question: My mother brought back a Ger game (Mongolian) from her trip there - and although my stepfather spent an hour trying to understand how to play (by playing with the ger children - he didn't understand the rules, but it is like dominos.. I have a beautifully carved wooden box, inside are ornate tiles - similar to dominos in shape. The big difference is that there are ornate carvings of animals - and only one to each tile. There are several monkeys, a few dragons, lions - etc... I am trying to get instructions on how to play. Unfortunately my mom is in Russia now - so I can't get the phonetic name for the game, she wasn't sure she had the phonetics down right. Can you help?

Answer: It is 'khorol' (also 'khorlo', and 'gorlo'), a kind of domino game. Source: Iwona Kabzinska-Stawarz, "Games of Mongolian shepherds". Warsaw : Institute of the History of Material Culture, Polish Academy of Sciences, 1991 (Library of Polish Ethnography, 45), pp.44-52 and Anthony G. Smith, Khorol: The wooden playing cards of the Mongols, "The Playing-Card", Vol. XXV, No. 5, March-April 1997, pp.199-202. (Answer supplied by Thierry Depaulis via the hist-games list.)