Rules to Period Games
There are many period games for which we have rules, or at least are
capable of guessing at the rules. The following are the ones I know of,
on the Net. Note that these descriptions come from a wide variety of
places and people, so the quality of reconstruction and description may
vary a bit. I'm pretty comprehensive here, so take these articles with
a little caution.
- All Fours: a trick-taking game with some complexity.
- Alouette: a basic trick-taking game.
- As Nas: a historically important card game from Persia.
- Bassett: a rather interesting gambling game. It purports to
be from the 15th century, but I haven't yet taken the time to figure
out whether that's well-supported or not.
- La Bete: a 17th century trick-taking game for anywhere
from 2 to 10 players.
- Bone-Ace: an early 17th century
relative of blackjack (and a variant of One-and-Thirty).
- Bryncir: a 16th century Welsh game
for five people and a whole lot of cards. (This game is based on
relatively scant evidence, but is interesting...)
- Cacho: A Spanish game, attested to 1691. A bit like Poker,
although much simpler.
- Cent: see Picket.
- Cribbage: See Noddy.
- Flor: A Spanish game, attested to 1610.
- Gleek: a three-player trick-taking game of
- Glic: a French gambling game with a distinctive board for
dividing the loot. Known as Pochspiel in Germany.
- Karnoeffel: one of the earliest card games known.
- Landsknecht: a 16th century German game.
- Laugh and Lie Down: a fishing game
from the 16th century; fun, lightweight and different.
- Losing Loadum: a 16th century trick-avoidance game.
- Maw: a 16th-century trick-taking game for up to 10
players. (Does anyone have primary documentation? Where do the
rules come from?)
- Noddy and Early Cribbage: the 16th and
of modern Cribbage. Noddy was Elizabethan, and didn't yet have a
crib. Early Cribbage was much like the modern game, but smaller.
- One-and-Thirty: a 16th century
ancestor of Blackjack.
- Pechigonga: A Spanish game, similar to Primero, apparently
from the late 17th century.
- Picket: one of the older documented
card games, which was popular for centuries. It has survived to
the modern day, with some tweaks.
- Primero: a fun card game, somewhat like Poker, known in
several Renaissance cultures.
- Rentoy: A late 16th-century Spanish trick-taking game.
- Ruff and Trump/Honours: a couple of apparently-related
- Tarot: a family of trick-taking games played with the
- Trionfi is a substantial
website dedicated entirely to the history of Tarot. Their page on
of Tarot is enormous and quite detailed.
- Justin's reconstruction of
17th century French Tarot, based on the work of Michael
Dummett, and a period-style description
from The Ace's Boke.
- Modar's reconstruction
of Tarok, an Eastern European variant.
decent brief history of Tarot.
Another history of Tarot.
- Hildegarde Stickerin has a page on
SCA-appropriate tarot decks. Note that this focuses more on
pretty "art" decks, rather than the more typical everyday decks.
Accademia del Tarocchino Bolognese (in Italian) has a number
of interesting-looking articles on the game, some of them relating
to its history.
- Hans-Joachim Alscher has a very nice page that is primarily
Austrian Tarock, but has a number of early sources relating
to card games in general, including a transcription of the
earliest known rules for Tarot (which desperately needs to
be translated into English).
- James Wickson has produced a new
reconstruction of early Tarot,
based on the 1637 French rules.
- The members of TarotL have put together a
page debunking some of the common myths about the deck.
Michel Wolffauer's writeup, which is substantially based on Justin's
- Slightly off-topic, but potentially interesting to many SCAdians, is
this blog on "The Moral Allegory
of Tarot". It is a refreshing middle ground: explicitly skeptical about
the occult side (much of which was an 18th century invention) but looking
seriously at Tarot imagery as allegory. Highly opinionated and intriguing,
and contains many images of less-known period decks.
- Truc: A Spanish game of the 17th (and maybe 16th) centuries,
apparently related to the English game of Put.
- Trump: Apparently an ancestor of Ruff and Trump, above.
Rough descriptions of various
classes of card
games, some of them period, may be found at the Card Games home
- Alquerques: a classic period strategy game, and
primordial ancestor of Checkers.
- Backgammon: See Tables Games.
- Chequers: Also known as quek,
apparently not related
to the modern game checkers. This was apparently a simple game of
luck, tossing pieces onto a checkerboard and betting on whether
they land on white or black.
- Chess: perhaps the most enduring strategy game of all
time. It originated in the east prior to the 7th century, and
spread gradually through Europe during the Middle Ages. In
period, this was actually a family of games, with many
fascinating variations. Modern chess arose at the very end of
- The most important site: the
Pages. This site covers an enormous spectrum of chess
variations, both period and modern. Note particularly the
Chess Variants page, which collects all historical
versions. Many of the below links go into there.
- Specific variations:
Chaturanga, generally assumed to be the earliest version
of chess, from 7th century India.
Four Player Chaturanga, a 4-handed variant from around
the tenth century. See also
page on the game.
Shatranj, the basic medieval game which spread through
the Arabic world to Europe. This is the nearest thing to
"generic medieval chess".
Byzantine Chess, a 10th century variant of Shatranj
played on a round board.
Citadel Chess, a variant played on a 10 x 10 board, with
Shatranj Kamil, a 10 x 10 variant that adds camels.
An alternate Shatranj Kamil.
Gala, aka Farmer's Chess, a German variant that may be
Indian/Turkish Great Chess, a good 10 x 10 variant.
Oblong Chess, a 4 x 16 variant.
Mats Winther's discussion, specifically of the dicing variant
and Zillions implementation.
Tamerlane's Chess, a particularly complex 14th century
Grande Acedrex, a 12 x 12 13th century variant. See also
reconstruction, which goes back to the Alfonso MS and
re-examines it carefully.
Courier Chess, a popular German variant played on a 12 x
8 board. See also
this article from the
British Chess Variants Society.
Four Seasons Chess, a 13th century 4-player variant. See also
page on the game, including a Zillions implementation.
Michel Wolffauer's cheat sheet of the moves from Shogi,
one of the main oriental variations of Chess.
- Jean-Louis Cazaux has
page on the history of chess, including many articles and
further links on the subject.
- James Masters has a nice
overview of the history of Chess, covering a broader scope
than I'm describing here.
- The homepage and bibliography of the
INITIATIVE GROUP KÖNIGSTEIN,
who are studying the origins of chess.
- Chesmayne (Raymond Reid) has a
large collection of interesting little articles on the history
of chess. Unfortunately, the site is very hard to navigate; I still
can't figure out how to get to his examination of
the queen from the top page.
- H.E. Bird's
Chess History and Reminicences, a 19th (?) century book
on the history of chess, available in various formats from
- The John G.
White Chess and Checkers Collection, at the Cleveland Public
Library, has a number of relevant books, including important
manuscripts. (Okay, it's not really an online resource, but
it's worth folks knowing it exists.)
- There has been a recent claim of a very early Albanian origin
of Chess, due to the finding of what is supposed to be an early
King there. Imran Ghory has an
of the piece online; I leave it to the reader to draw their
- Imran Ghory has
on the history of chess.
- Dice: not a game in and of themselves, but there are a few
pages on dice in general. See also Knucklebones.
- Dreidel: a traditional Hebrew game, sort of like dice.
- Dublets: See Tables Games.
- Fidchell: See Tafl Games.
- Fierges: an ancestor of modern Checkers/Draughts.
- Fox & Geese: a classic hunt game, still played today.
- Gala: a "traditional" Danish/German game that supposedly
goes back to medieval times.
- Gluckhaus: a popular and simple German dicing game.
- Go: one of the most ancient and popular board games. Certainly
dates back to period (and then some) in the orient; was starting to
be discovered by the west late in period or a bit afterwards. I am
not even going to try to list all the sites that give the rules to
Go (there are, in all likelihood, tens of thousands of them), but
here are one or two from an SCA viewpoint.
- The Game of the Goose: a fun, simple race game. (I often
describe this as the forebear of the modern Game of Life,
although I don't know if there's a direct influence.) It was
popular for many centuries.
- Halatafl: a less-known Viking game. We know the game existed,
but concrete information is spotty.
- Mats Winther's
reconstruction; as usual, he states his case strongly and includes
a software implementation. Not clear to me whether he's correct, but
he does include a previous reconstruction as well.
- Hazard: one of the best-known period dice games,
generally regarded as the forerunner of modern Craps.
- Hnefatafl: See Tafl.
- Imperator: See Tables Games.
- Inn and Inn: A very late-period (possibly post-period)
- Irish: See Tables Games.
- Knucklebones: The original, primitive form of dice.
- Mancala: an old African game family that is basically a
thing unto itself. Probably not known much in Europe during
period, but likely that old in Africa.
- Merels/Morris Games: one of the most common games in
history; not written down as much as one might wish, but boards
appear in a wide variety of cultures. Most commonly known as
Nine Men's Morris, but that's actually just one of a family.
- El Mundo: See Tables Games.
- Pachisi: an Indian race game, the immediate ancestor of
American Parcheesi. Generally reputed to be period, although I
don't know the detailed history.
- Rhythmomachy aka The Philosopher's Game: perhaps the most
intellectually demanding game of period, and indeed one of the most
ever. We have a number of links relevant to it; my thanks to Peter
Mebben, a true Rythmomachy scholar, for providing many of them.
- Senet: an ancient Egyptian race game. Probably died out
before this period, but popular enough to be worth mentioning.
- Six, Deuce, and Ace: See Tables Games.
- Tablero de Jesus: a fun, quick gambling game originally
believed to be from 15th century
Andalusia. Note: at this point, the consensus of the games
community is that this game is a hoax, accidentally
imported into the SCA via a ren fair several decades ago and
spread from there. If you find *any* information that actually
supports the existence of the game in period, please bring it to
- Tables Games: the family of games that eventually
turned into modern Backgammon. This was actually a very large
group of games in period, covering many different games in many
different countries. In period, they were generically referred
to as "games within the Tables".
- Justin's reconstruction of
Irish, the most popular variant of the Tables, and the
immediate precursor to Backgammon; also, a
period-style description from
The Ace's Boke.
- Justin's reconstruction of
Early Backgammon, which originated in the early 17th
- Justin's reconstruction
of Astronomical Tables, a seven-sided tables game from the
13th century. Also, Roselyne l'Estrangere's
translation of the original, which this reconstruction is based
A picture of a particularly nice board for this game.
- Justin's reconstruction of
Dublets, a trivially easy gambling game played on a
Michel Wolffauer's full reconstruction of El Mundo -- I've
learned this from him, and it's a fun game.
- Justin's reconstruction
of Ticktack, a fast, gambling Tables game.
David Levy is
gradually gathering a page of information on
the most common French tables game. He also runs a
for discussion of Trictrac.
- Philippe Lalanne runs
de Trictrac, a long page in French about that game.
- The Trictrac Dictionary
collects a lot of information about the game. Note that English
support is spotty (the page is primarily French) and it doesn't
render well in some browsers.
- James Masters has a brief
overview of race games, with a few pictures.
- Imran Ghory has
several very useful articles on the
History of Backgammon.
- Tabula was the Roman ancestor of Tables.
1on1 Backgammon has a page on the subject.
- Edward of Effindham (MKA Anthony J. Bryant) maintains a
Online Japanese Miscellany, focusing on roughly SCA period.
Part of that is
a nice page on Sugoroku, the Japanese version of Tables.
- The Asia Society's
Asian Games page has a
brief but interesting summary of sugoroku. (See also the page
on Backgammon in Persia and China.)
the common generic name for the classic Norse board game;
there were many
variants, such as hnefatafl, tablut, tawl-brwdd, and
alea evangelii. All of the versions are believed to share pretty
much the same rules and style, but are played on boards of
wildly varying size.
- Earl P. Jones wrote a description of
Gwyddbwyll, published in
- Lady Gunnora Hallakarva wrote
a very nice article on the family.
- Sten Helmfrid has written an
extremely impressive article on hnefatafl, with a broad
historical view of the game.
- The Game Cabinet includes an
article, with lots of documentation.
- Venshavn has put together a
good page on
the games, including pointers to other pages. They also
have a very good reconstruction
of the game by Ragnarr Thorbergsson, with careful
documentation, which comes to some novel opinions about
- Susan Granquist has a good, somewhat more concise
description and history.
- Rose & Pentagram has a nice picture of
Ballinderry Game Board, which was probably used for
Fitchneal or Brandubh.
- Modar has a
concise description of the game.
- James Masters has a good (if brief)
overview of the game, with very pretty pictures of some
reproduction game boards.
- A period-style description from
The Ace's Boke.
- Justin's description of
the game, summarizing all the major interpretations.
- The Smithsonian Learning Center has a
brief page on hnefatafl.
- A nice-looking
Gild is apparently using the game as essentially a
spiritual metaphor. (Which, as a Mason myself, I find kinda
neat.) They also have some interesting tweaks to the rules,
based on extensive playing and observations of the primary
sources, to try to make the game work better.
- Michel Wolffauer has a
brief but clear introduction to the game.
- Mats Winther's
- Tafl: An Obsession
is Damian Walker's page on the game, with lots of good illustrations,
and an exceptionally flexible Java applet for playing against the
computer with whatever ruleset you want.
- Ticktack: See Tables Games.
- Trictrac: See Tables Games.
- Wari: See Mancala.
- Zodiac: A pair of games, vaguely related to chess and
tables, from the Alfonso MS.
- See "Astronomical Tables" under Tables Games for the
- Ball games: a fairly substantial category of games unto
- Aelflaed of the Weald has
quick overview of types of balls, their construction, and period
games played with them.
- Battledore and Shuttlecock: the ancestors of modern
- Billiards: the ancestor of modern Pool. Originally, this
was more or less Table Croquet.
- Blind Man's Buff: a children's game still played today.
- The Museum of Games has a
brief page on the subject, based on the Brueghel painting.
- Boules, or Bocce: the early version of lawn bowling,
known in many cultures.
- Colf: the early ancestor of Golf.
- Croquet: see Pall Mall.
- Curling: sort of like Boules, but on ice, popular in
Scotland and related lands.
- Dwyle Flonking No, really. If the sources are to be believed,
it's apparently an English pub game -- sort of like Tag as a drinking
game. The terminology makes Quidditch sounds sensible by comparison.
- Gameball: an early, simple football game.
- Hopscotch: period variants of the common children's game.
- Hurling: a simple, rather vigorous ancestor of field hockey,
increasingly popular in the SCA.
- Kubb: A fun Swedish game in the throwing-things-at-things genre.
Note: While I have seen it asserted that this game probably goes
back to period, I've seen no evidence of that. Anyone with clear
information either way should please
write to Justin.
- Marbles: again, a common children's game that goes way
- Pall Mall: an early ancestor of Croquet. (Croquet itself
is significantly post-period.)
- Quoits: the generic game of Throwing Things at Things.
Best known today in the form of Horseshoes.
- Ringing the Bull: a traditional tavern game that
purports to be period.
- Rounders: a 16th century bat-and-ball game.
- Running Games: a broad category of games, generally
relegated to children's games today.
- Shinty: see Hurling.
- Shove Groat/Ha'penny: an old skill game, still played
in England today.
- Shovelboard: the ancestor of modern shuffleboard,
originally played on long tables in the Renaissance.
- Skittles: an ancestor of modern ten-pin
bowling. Versions of this game are period, I believe.
- Stoolball: an early ancestor of Cricket, at least close
- Tennis: the popular game of hitting balls with rackets;
the game was known well back in period, although the rules have
Return to the Medieval and Renaissance Games