In the introduction to Sedentary Board Games of India, published in May 1999, Irving Finkel stated that the Anthropological Survey of India, in a joint venture with the British Museum, was going to carry out an ‘Anthropological Investigation of the Board Games of India’ (subsequently called the ‘Indian Board Game Survey‘).

The importance of India, and south Asia in general, in board gaming terms cannot be overstated – it is the probable origin of chess, and has a rich history of race, hunt, war and mancala games. But while Chess is comprehensively covered in H.J.R. Murray’s monumental History of Chess there is remarkably little research available in western languages on the other games. A number of articles were published in journals over the years, were referred to by Murray in his 1952 History of Board Games other than Chess, and were subsequently republished in Sedentary Board Games of India (1999).

At the 2001 Board Games Studies Colloquium Dr Finkel presented a preliminary report on the Indian Board Game Survey – though nothing subsequently appeared in the journal Board Games Studies.

Subsequent colloquia touched on the Indian contribution to gaming, but still nothing much appeared in print:

Board games from the city of Vijayanagara (Hampi) (1336-1565). A survey and study, by R.Vasantha
Folk board games of strategy in Tamilnadu, by V. Balambal
A contribution to the history of Backgammon from an indological point of view, by Micaela Soar and Irving Finkel

An inquiry into the earliest game boards, pieces, dice from India, by R.Vasantha
Special features of some traditional board games of Tamilnadu, by V. Balambal

The arrival and spread of pachisi from India, by Irving Finkel

Revival of traditional board games — prospects and retrospects, by V. Balambal

Bondage of Indians with Board Games from Ancient to Modern Times, by V.Balambal
The Game of Chaupad in India, by Ute Rettberg

A very early counting system in traditional Indian games and some implications, by Irving Finkel

Ancient Board Games in Perspective edited by Dr Finkel and published in 2007 added some extra information on India in the history of backgammon, and India and the Far East Game boards at Vijayanagara, but given its focus on games in the past it had nothing very much to say about the more recent gaming traditions of India.

Currently the web site of the British Museum, where Dr Finkel is Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian script, languages and cultures, and which will publish the Indian Board Game Survey, states that it is a ‘major report in preparation‘.

Game historians, enthusiasts and anthropologists are by nature probably very patient people, but this month marks the eleventh anniversary of the first mention of the Indian Board Game Survey in Sedentary Board Games of India, and the ninth anniversary of Dr Finkel’s preliminary report. Does anybody know whether the final report going to be published any time soon?

A recent visit to Rome yielded a fairly meagre harvest of games-related material. Admittedly, the trip was not a research outing and what I found was only accidental – perhaps a focussed search might find more, but that will have to be on another occasion.

In the Vatican Museum I came across a collection of medieval chess pieces, but the display case had no labels at all, so the date and origin are impossible to know. Comparing these with the images on Jean-Louis Cazeau’s excellent History of Chess website, it is at least possible to tentatively identify them.

In the Roman Forum, between the Honorary Columns opposite the Tabernae Veteres/Basilica Iulia, I found an example of a ‘circle and spoke’ game of the C.4 type according to the British Museum Working Typology (see Bell and Roueché in Ancient Board Games in Perspective, 2007). This was no doubt one of the diagrams described by George Dennis in his 1892 letter to Edward Falkener and contained in the latter’s Games Ancient and Oriental, and how to Play Them as Appendix III:


Another C.4 type ‘circle and spoke’ game is on display in the Colosseum, though it was not excavated there. It is a common type of game and has been found fairly widely in areas included in the Roman Empire.

The precise game (or games) played on this board are hard to identify. Murray and others consider that the diagram was a variant of the lesser Merels (3-Mens-Morris), but it has also been used in Denmark to play a Hare Game (which is one type of hunt game) (see Michaelsen Somme trak også tavl – om et gammelt tidsfordriv og dets navne, in Ord og Sag 18, 1998). Perhaps further research will throw some more light on this.

One of the talks I will be most disappointed to miss at the upcoming Board Games Studies Colloquium, in Paris from 14 – 17 April, will be that given by Peter Michaelsen entitled “Haretavl – hare and hounds as a board game

Michaelsen is one of the few writers who have had anything to say about the family of Hare games, including his paper ‘Somme trak også tavl – om et gammelt tidsfordriv og dets navne’ ([untranslatable Danish dialect that beat Google translator] – On an old pastime and its names) in Ord og Sag 18 (1998). The paper dealt with a number of games played in North Jutland (Denmark), including Morris games, Tik Tac Toe, Hare games, Fox and Geese, the unidentified ‘Springtavl’, and draughts.

The text (in Danish) of Michaelsen’s article is freely available on the internet, so I don’t think I would be breaking any copyright rules by posting here my own translation of the section on Hare Games:


Hare and Hounds or ‘dog after the hare’

Hare and Hounds, another games mentioned in Kvolsgaard[1] can rightly called “the forgotten game”. Neither Willard Fiske nor H.J.R. Murray mentions the game in their monumental works on board games. Murray mentions a variant of the game, played on a draughts board, but he was not aware of the same game on a small board.

The history of the Hare and Hounds game is virtually unknown. In one recent work on the games I’ve found a few details about the game, unfortunately without further sources acknowledged. The work is called Fun and Games in Old Europe[2] and is a translation of a Hungarian work. It mentioned (on p.72) – as a medieval variant of the Morris game – that one can play the so-called Fox Game on the  simple Morris board in figure 9 b.

The aim here was to flank the fox on two sides by two hares, and thereby block the sets. If this information is correct, the authors are correct in saying that the game is a transitional form between Morris/Tic Tac Toe games and Hunt games. A little later in the book two game boards for a Fox and Geese game are shown, apparently identical with a Fox and Hen game, which include three hares (elsewhere: three dogs) which chase a fox, and try to squeeze it into a corner.[3]

In a number of Danish sources I have found diagrams and rules which shed some more light on this game.

 The various boards in Fig. 10 more or less resemble boards for Tic Tac Toe (from Fig. 9), only extended with a triangle at each end (or possibly. in all four sides), which allows the pursuers to drive the hunted animals into a corner.

The rules are described in the Spillebog for Børn (Gamebook for Children, Copenhagen 1853): “It is played by two children …, one has a piece which depicts the hare, and the other has three pieces depicting dogs. It includes a board, as shown below and which everyone can draw. When the game starts, the hare chooses whatever point it wishes, and then the other player puts his dogs wherever he wants. Then they move alternately, except that of course only one dog can move at a time. When the dog has contained the hare so that it is immobilised, the game is won. When the person who has the hare, however, plays cautiously and cleverly it is very difficult or almost impossible for the dogs to catch the hare“.

Figure 10 a and b are depicted in Èndreis (p.82); b also in J.C.S. Espersen: Bornholmsk Ordbog (Bornholm Dictionary, Copenhagen 1908), s.126, in Fr. Knudsen and H. Lüttichau: Hjemmenes Legebog (Home Thought Playbook, Copenhagen 1921), s.114. Finally, it is known from Birkholm by Drejø. c is depicted in Spillebog for Børn, (Copenhagen 1853), p.35, and is also known from Funen. d is depicted in the Drengenes egen Bog (boys’ own book Copenhagen 1868), p.48, and in P. Waage Jensen: Brik- og brætspil (brick and board games Copenhagen 1977), p.169. e is from Arne Espe Overgaard: Vendsysselsk Ordbog V (Vendsyssel Dictionary V (Supplement) Aarhus 1986), p. 58. f and g are known from Vestfyn (West Funen) from about 1860, g is printed in Fynsk Hjemstavn (Funen Homeland 1937), p.30. The model was apparently the previous variant (f).

The variant from Vendsyssel (the extreme north of Jutland), recorded by Arne Espegaard, has a fixed starting position with the dogs positioned at one end of the figure and hare between two of the dogs; a similar position but with the hare on the centre point of the board, is shown by P. Waage Jensen. This latter also adds the rule that the pursuers must not go backwards, a rule which is also mentioned in the Drengenes egen Bog (Boys’ Own Book). Here the dogs can only go forward, while the hare may go both backwards and forwards. The hare wins if it escapes its pursuers and reaches the opposite end of the board.

The Drengenes egen Bog is a translation of the English ‘Boy’s Own Book’. Thus we have also evidence of the ‘Hare, Pursued by Dogs’ in England. P. Waage Jensen calls the game the Military Game, and says that it is called that “because it was very popular in military circles in France during and after the Franco-German War 1870-71“.

Hare and Hounds is mentioned as early as 1802 in the VSO[4], Vol. 2. The word denotes here “a sort of board game where one player has only one piece, the second player several, with which he must seek to block the single piece.

In Funen and Zealand the game was called hund efter hare (dog after hare), while the commonest Jutland name was haretavl (hare game). On Bornholm the board game was called: ad träkkja harataula (to play hare game), while the board itself was called haramölla (hare mill). Players usually wrote with chalk on a board or table and used nutshells instead of pieces.

One reference from the area of Horsens (central Jutland) calls the game rævetavl (fox game).

Here the game was played with three dogs and a fox. When the three dogs were in a row, the fox was caught. This example certainly explains why several informants pointed out the word rævetavl when they were asked about radtavl (Morris).

Hare and Hounds was sometimes transferred to the draughts board whereby the number of pursuers was increased from three to four (or five on 10×10 board). Murray refers to this possibility. In Germany the game was known as Wolf and Sheep (Wolf und Schafe), Hare and Hounds (Hase und Hunde) or Foxhunt (Fuchsjagd). Among the English names were Fox and Geese and the Devil among the Tailors.[5]

Anna Erslev described the variant Ulv og Faar (wolves and sheep), in her Illustreret Legebog (Illustrated Gamebook, Copenhagen 1904) p.135. The wolf is on one side edge of board, the sheep in the row on the other side of the board. The wolf may move both forward and back, while the sheep can only go forward. The wolf’s task is to break through the row of sheep, while they in turn seek to block it. Finally, she mentions a variant which I have not found in other sources: “Similarly played ‘Hund efter Hare’ (Dog after the Hare), but for this you would use a Morris diagram. There are 3 dogs, placed on the three lower points and one Hare, who may choose his own place.” Morris diagrams were marked with diagonals, as shown in Figure 2 b.

[1] Videnskabernes Selskabs Ordbog (Scientific Society Dictionary)

[2] Erwin Glonnegger Das Spiele-Buch, Ravensburg 1988, p.151 – see also Carl Brorson’s article “Checkers” in Salmonsens Leksikon: “The dog after the hare” or “The devil among the tailors”.

[3] Èndrei (note 50) p.72 and 81, respectively. p.82-83.

[4] In his book Scattered incidents of rural life (Spredte Træk af Landbolivet), recorded in the Jutland dialect, Copenhagen 1891, CMC Kvolsgaard, associate professor at Ranum College, describes life as it was in  the North Hanherred approximately 30 years earlier.

[5] Walter Èndrei, Fun and Games in Old Europe. edn. by Werner Dausien, Hanau 1988

Tendo, in northern Japan, is the most important production centre of Shogi pieces in Japan. The different types and  qualities of Shogi pieces deserves a serious blog article of its own, but in the meantime I would like to just shamelessly copy here a picture my daughter recently took in Tendo, where famous Shogi games are actually built into the pavements of some streets:

Unlike the game of draughts (checkers) played almost everywhere else in the world, the game in Québec is played on a 12 x 12 board with 30 pieces per player.

The game is played otherwise by the same rules as International Draughts.

The Association québécoise des joueurs de dames (Québec Draughts Players Association) has put on line the Traité Canadien du Jeu de Dames à la Polonaise from 1906, as well as the Manuel du jeu de dames canadien from 1922 (both in French) – both interesting from a historical point of view.

It seems that the game is popular in Québec and played there alongside 10 x 10 International Draughts. Only on the other side of the world is draughts also played on a 12 x 12 board. Wikipedia states that in Malaysia and Singapore the game is played on a 12 x 12 board without backwards capture, but provides no verification for this. In Sri Lanka the game is also played on a 12 x 12 board – here it is called Dam, hinting at a Dutch origin. The AQJD itself says that “Canadian checkers (144 squares) [is] played mostly by francophones from North-America (but also in Sri Lanka and Dominican Republic)“.

Where did the variant come from, and is its appearance on two opposite sides of the world merely coincidence?

The AQJD have their own version of their game’s origin:

Legend says that the Canadian game of checkers was introduced here by a voyager who, after having discovered the game in Europe, tried to reproduce it, adding a row of squares all around.

However, draughts on a 144-square board was not unknown in nineteenth century Europe either. A part of the introduction of the Traité du Jeu de Dames by Van Damme, published in Gent, Belgium, in 1871, says: “We again introduced the game of checkers on a 144 squares board, named the double checkers board. Each partner having 30 pieces. This game is unquestionably more complicated than the modern game and offers wider combinations, but the 100 squares game already offers so many resources that we’ll never be able to know all of its artifices.

Murray says that boards for 144-square draughts were on sale in London in 1805, though this is difficult to verify.

Sri Lanka/Ceylon

Sri Lanka was heavily influenced by the Dutch East India Company between 1640 and 1796 when it fell to the British. Malacca in Malaya was also ruled by the Dutch between 1641 and 1975.

In Ancient Ceylon, by H. Parker (1909) the game is described. Parker says that it is played also in India. His rules for the game – Dam, which he translates as ‘the net’ – differ from those of Canadian draughts. In Sri Lanka Parker says that the pieces (30, as in Canadian draughts) are placed on the white squares and may move backwards as well as forwards from the start of the game, but only to the next adjacent square if they have not been crowned. A piece, once crowned, may move as far as it wishes along a diagonal as long as its path is unoccupied by its own or opposing pieces. It may make long captures, but only if each opposing piece has a vacant square after it. A king can continue its move, if it reaches the end of a diagonal, by ‘bouncing’ along the corresponding diagonal at right angles to the first, on condition that it captures one or more opposing pieces on each diagonal. It may continue its move as long as it does so. If the king captures no pieces on the first or subsequent diagonal, it ends its move at the end of that diagonal.


W.H. Newell, writing in MAN (February 1959) says that the Portuguese at Malacca played draughts on a 12 x 12 board, calling it Damat. His accompanying diagram shows the long diagonal at the players’ right-hand side, though this may be an error:

 Damat diagram

He also provides a slightly confused description of the move of a crowned piece:

When a piece gets to the opposite end of the board it becomes a king and can travel any distance along the black squares in one move in one line provided that there is a vacant space at the end of its jump.

He states that this is a local rule, but as the same rule exists in International Draughts he may have been mistaken, being probably more familiar with English draughts where the King captures in the same way as an ordinary piece (” … from one square over a diagonally adjacent and forward square occupied by an opponent’s piece (man or king) and on to a vacant square immediately beyond it.”), but is allowed to do so either forwards or backwards.

Arie van der Stoep, in A History of Draughts (1984) notes that 12 x 12 boards were not unknown in India even before the arrival of the Europeans, where they were used for chess variants. It is not impossible that the game of draughts was transposed to an existing board size. The likelihood of the game evolving independently from Alquerque, brought by Arab traders, and having by and large the same rules as International Draughts, is implausible.

If the imported European game of draughts was transposed to a 12 x 12 board in Sri Lanka, southern India and Malacca, with almost exactly the same rules as the game in Québec, this would be a very unusual case of parallel development. As such, it is also quite implausible, and the conclusion must be drawn that a game on a 12 x 12 boards was indeed known and played in Europe in the 18th century, and that it was carried by colonists both east to south asia and west to Québec, before dying out in Europe.

The updated programme for the 13th Board Games Studies Colloquium has been circulated. The colloquium, which will take place this year in Paris from 14 – 17 April, brings together researchers, writers and experts on various aspects of board games.

The Programme includes:

Wednesday 14 April, morning session

Jean-Marie Lhôte (invited speaker), Opening Lecture: Mathematical Games in History
Jorge Nuno Silva, “George Berkeley’s Ludus Algebraicus”
Alda Carvalho, João P. Neto, Carlos Santos, Jorge Nuno Silva, “History of Nim Games”

Wednesday 14 April, afternoon session

Ancient and Medieval Archaeology

Anne-Elizabeth Vaturi, “Fragments of a game of 58 Holes among the Pratt ivories in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)”
Claudia-Maria Behling, “Games involving nuts as a topos for childhood in Late Antiquity and pre-Christian time”
Marko Jankovic, “Board game accessories in Roman graves of Moesia Superior (more or less present Serbia)”
Mark A. Hall & Katherine Forsyth, “On the compatibility of Gaelic ‘Fidcheall’ and its P–Celtic cognates with the Roman introduction of Tafl-like games to the British Isles”
Mark A. Hall, “Black to move: a look at some jet chess pieces from Britain”
Ulrich Schädler, “Le plateau de jeu d’Autun : romain ou Renaissance ?”

Thursday 15 April, morning session

Maths, Computers & Games

Tristan Cazenave, Abdallah Saffidine, “Monte-Carlo Hex”
Tristan Cazenave, Nicolas Jouandeau, “Towards deadlock free Sokoban”
Jean Mehat, Tristan Cazenave, “Ary, a general game playing program”
Olivier Teytaud, “The Game of Go: recent progress for an old game”
Fabien Teytaud, “The Game of Havannah: nice challenge for computers”

Thursday 15 April, afternoon session

20th-Century Archaeology

Michel Boutin, “Circulation des jeux de pions entre éditeurs français et étrangers autour de 1900 : brevets, marques, plagiats…”
Edward Copisarow, “Chronologies using British 19th-century Intellectual Property records: Ludo, Agon and Reversi”
Gadi Kfir, “Hunting for Board Games in Poland”
Fred Horn, “Lost treasures: hidden gems of abstract/strategic board games within the pages of Games & Puzzles nos 1-77 (1972-80)”
Tom Werneck, “The impact of the Award ‘Spiel des Jahres’ on the Development of the Market for Board Games in Germany”

Friday 16 April, morning session

Games in History

Arie van der Stoep, “Footsteps of the past” (On alquerque and draughts)
David H. Caldwell & Mark A. Hall, “What do we really know about the Lewis chessmen?”
Phil Winkelman, “A∂ elta stelpur: an Icelandic chimera”
Thierry Depaulis, “Three early 17th-century printed board games by the Veuve Petit in Paris”
Phillippa Plock & Adrian Seville, “The Rothschild Collection of printed board games at Waddesdon Manor”
Bruce Whitehill, “‘The Game of Life’, Milton Bradley’s first game, 1860”

Friday 16 April, afternoon session

Visits of the Louvre (Oriental and Egyptian Antiquities) and of the Cabinet des Médailles (BnF) (“Charlemagne” chesspieces, various unpublished small objects – dice, gamepieces, counters, tesserae – from the Froehner Collection)

Friday 16 April, evening

Official dinner at the “Au Moulin Vert” Restaurant, 34bis rue des Plantes, 75014 Paris

Saturday 17 April, morning session

Traditional Games

Dr. V. Balambal, “Kallankai, a traditional stone-catching game”
Alex de Voogt, “The archaeology and anthropology of Syrian mancala”
Peter Michaelsen, “Haretavl – hare and hounds as a board game”
Thorsten Traulsen, “Some historical issues of the Korean Yut game”
Irving Finkel, “A very early counting system in traditional Indian games and some implications”
Piotr Adamczyk, “Short history of board games in Poland (from around 1st cent. A.D. till 17th cent.)”

Saturday 17 April, afternoon session

Games in Theory and in Practice

Michel Quenault, Tristan Cazenave, “General gaming: une classification des jeux basée sur les mécanismes possibles de l’arbitre pour une généricité des jeux plus étendue”
David Parlett, “Abstraction and representation in games”
Manouk Borzakian, “Pistes pour une approche géographique des jeux de plateau”
Michele B. King, “From gangsta’ to gamester: an entertainment-education strategy for a school-based gang prevention program”
Michel Van Langendonckt, “Vers une typologie des interactions sociales dans les jeux de pions”
Dores Ferreira, Pedro Palhares, Jorge Nuno Silva, “The ability to play games and its connection with pattern recognition”
Carlota Dias, Jorge Nuno Silva, Pedro Palhares, “Mathematical Games for the Blind”

As usual, it is a full and fascinating agenda, and includes many presentations that I would love to see. It used to be the case that the Board Games Studies Journal published the more important of the papers presented at the related colloquia, but since the journal seems to be in hibernation (since 2004) it is by no means certain that the general public will be able to access the research. This is a great pity, because many of the papers presented at previous colloquia remain unpublished to this day. For those of us who do not attend the colloquia it is frustrating to know that there is so much good and interesting research out there, but to have no way to access it.

I have just received a copy of Sedentary Games of India, edited by Nirbed Ray and Amitabha Ghosh (The Asiatic Society, Calcutta, 1999). This is a book that I had despaired of ever reading – I had searched in all of the sources available to me, but had always been disappointed.

The book contains 28 chapters, each previously published in hard-to-find Journals, and many cited by Murray in his History of Board Games other than Chess. There are, for example, 8 articles by Professor Hem Chandra Das Gupta, and 8 by Jatindra Mohan Datta.

I look forward to reading the book attentively, and posting my thoughts here.

I should mention that my finding of this book owes nothing whatsoever to, who report that the book is ‘Currently unavailable’. They are wrong – it is available. My thanks to Abebooks, who listed the book, and to Manohar Book Service who were the actual sellers, and who got the book to Belgium from New Dehli in only 8 days from the date of ordering.

David Singmaster, best-known as a puzzle expert (particularly famous for his solution to the Rubik’s cube), but also retired professor of mathematics at London South Bank University, has collected a considerable amount of source material on mathematical games and puzzles.

In his commentary on the material he has collected concerning the simple game called Noughts and Crosses (or Tick-tack-toe’) he says:

“Popular belief is that the game is ancient and universal. However the game appears to have evolved from earlier three‑in‑a‑row games, e.g. Nine Holes or Three Men’s Morris, in the early 19C. The game is not mentioned in Strutt nor most other 19C books on games, not even in Kate Greenaway’s Book of Games (1889), nor in Halliwell’s section on slate games, but there may be an 1875 description in Strutt-Cox of 1903.

Babbage refers to it in his unpublished MSS of c1820 as a children’s game, but without giving it a name. In 1842, he calls it Tit Tat To and he uses slight variations on this name in his extended studies of the game.

The [Oxford English Dictionary]’s earliest references are: 1849 for Tip‑tap‑toe; 1855 for Tit‑tat‑toe; 1861 for Oughts and Crosses. However, the first two entries may be referring to some other game – e.g. the entries for Tick‑tack‑toe for 1884 & 1899 are clearly to the game that Gomme calls Tit‑tat‑toe. Von der Lasa cites a 1838-39 Swedish book for Tripp, Trapp, Trull. Van der Linde (1874, op. cit. in 5.F.1) gives Tik, Tak, Tol as the Dutch name.”

He has thus found no evidence for the game before 1820 at the earliest, and very little evidence of popularity until later in the 19th century. Yet many writers in the 19th century refer to it as a ‘children’s game’ or a ‘boys game’, and not as a novelty.

 It would be surprising if the game was a relatively modern version of the older smaller Merells (or Three Man’s Morris), as it appears to be simpler than it – and this runs counter to the general evolution of games. In addition, the fact that the game was known in the 19th century in regions which did not have much communication with each other (Sweden and England) tends to imply an older origin. There is no record of the game having originated in one of these countries and being exported to the other.

So the questions remain: is the game older than the 19th century, and if so are there any other records of it earlier than Babbage’s?

Every article in Board Games Studies 4 (2001) concerned the group of games known in Danish as daldøs, in Norwegian as daldøsa, and in Sámi (Lapp) as sáhkku. Although several researchers had been interested in these games separately for some years, BGS/4 was the first time they had been brought together and compared.

The games are a type known as ‘running fight’ games, where players move their pieces around a prescribed circuit of three or four rows on the throws of a dice, with the object of landing on one of the opponent’s pieces, and thus removing it from the board. The winner is the player who removes all of his opponent’s pieces. The rules are fully explained in BGS/4 and, in summary, in Wikipedia. The game is known only in Scandinavia and in North Africa, with one possible exception – a diagram in a 13th century English manuscript.

The boards vary somewhat in size: in Denmark the three rows contain 16+17+16 points;  in Norway 12+13+12 are used; while in the Sámi game the rows are all of equal length (generally 15 points). In the North African tâb and sîg games there are either three of four rows of points, with the numbers of points per row varying greatly – from 7 up to 25 or more.

The ‘northern’ board – Norwegian model (daldøsa) – appears like this:

Issue 4 of Board Games Studies is an important source of information on the games of this family. Thierry Depaulis who had been studying tâb and sîg games from the Arab-Muslim world contributed an article on Jeux de parcours du monde arabo-musulman (Afrique du Nord et Proche-Orient) to BGS/4.

Peter Michaelsen, who had been studying daldøs for many years, contributed a translated version of his first conclusions which had earlier been published in the Danish journal Ord & Sag (Michaelsen 1999) under the title Daldøs og Sakku – to gamle nordiske spil (Daldøs and Sakku – two old nordic games). Alf Næsheim contributed an article on the (southern) Norwegian game daldøsa, and Alan Borvo contributed an account of the Sámi (Lapp) game sáhkku.

Thierry Depaulis rounded off the set of articles with a speculation on whether there was any connection between the northern games and those of the Arab-Muslim world. He explored several possible transmission routes:

1.   Through the Varangians – or ‘eastern’ Vikings – who travelled through Russia as far as Byzantium. Depaulis concludes, however, that although the ‘Varangian’ hypothesis is attractive, it is difficult to prove.

2.   Through contacts between ‘western’ Vikings and the Arab world; though again Depaulis finds this unlikely. Contacts were largely through warfare (including the Crusades) or raiding (in both directions), and Depaulis finds the lack of any record of the games in other countries with greater contacts – France, Germany, England – as indicating that this route is unlikely.

3.   Through the Vandals – but Depaulis notes that this northern people, although they came into close contact with North African peoples, did not actually return to Scandinavia, and thus is unlikely to have provided a transmission route.

In his conclusion Depaulis come down in favour of the Varangian, or ‘eastern Viking’ route. He emphasises that “… one thing is striking: we have no trace whatsoever of any tâb-type game in Europe” – though he refers in a footnote to the apparent depiction of a similar board in the 13th century English manuscript MS 0.2.45 from Cerne Abbey, Dorset, kept in Trinity College Library, Cambridge (shown on p.27 of BGS/4). This depiction, though, is unlabelled and the game un-described, so no conclusions can be drawn. It is treated as a strange anomaly that does not seriously call his ‘eastern’ route into question.

However, the 13th century manuscript may not be the only evidence of a daldøs-type game in Western Europe.

The 16th century English warship, the Mary Rose, sank in 1545 in waters just south of England. Her wreck remained undiscovered until 1971, and in 1982 it was salvaged. Of enormous importance to archaeologists was the fact that much of the ship and its contents survived in relatively good condition.

One of the artefacts recovered is the top of an Oak barrel, (item no 81A1995) upon which is carved a clear Morris board, and also another diagram that attracts little attention, but in the light of the recent research on the daldøs/tâb group could be very significant:

The diagram, though difficult to see clearly, has a Morris board at the top, but in the centre is a diagram that is similar to a daldøs(a) board, albeit one with 13+14+13 points:

No other known game or religious or other symbol has the same shape. Although no other evidence exists to reinforce the possibility that the diagram was used as a board for a running-fight game, its discovery beside a known game design (the Morris board) suggests that its purpose may have been similar.

If the board was used for a running-fight game of the daldøs(a) type, it could partly bridge the gap between the games of North Africa and those of Scandinavia. The games of Scandinavia were all found in coastal regions, and in the case of daldøsa the boards are carved in the shape of a ship. These two facts may suggest a nautical origin for the game. If it was played in the 16th century by English sailors, then this could explain its spread eastward. But where might the game have come from?

The crew of the Mary Rose were mainly of English origin, but there were also a few individuals from continental Europe, and analysis of oxygen isotopes in teeth indicates that some were also of southern European ancestry. It is not impossible that some of these crew members brought with them the game that is now known in North Africa, played it on the Mary Rose (and other ships?) and passed it, through nautical contacts, to sailors from Scandinavia.

The problematic 13th century diagram in the Trinity College, Cambridge, manuscript remains, as before, an anomaly in this hypothesis, as it would imply a knowledge of a running-fight game in England several centuries earlier. However the origin of this manuscript is unknown, and it may have come from elsewhere – perhaps even from a country where the game was known. Until more research is done on the manuscript it must remain a mystery.

The journal Board Games Studiesis an academic journal for historical and systematic research on board games. Its object is to provide a forum for board games research from all academic disciplines in order to further our understanding of the development and distribution of board games within an interdisciplinary academic context“.

It has appeared (so far) seven times between 1998 and 2004, and has contained a wealth of well-researched and fascinating articles on a wide variety of subjects connected to board games.

It is, however, relatively expensive – €24 per issue, or €168 for the complete set of seven volumes. 

It is with some surprise, therefore, that I discovered that it is now possible to download issues 1, 2 and 3 directly from the BGS website:

What is not announced on the BGS website, though, is that issues 4, 5 and 6 can also be downloaded, simply by stepping back through the levels of the URL until you get to ‘’ and then following the /aux/ directory; thus giving:

Only issue 7 remains out of reach. But then it was never really the best issue anyway.