Medieval Board Games
In medieval times a variety of board games were widely played with specific groups of people tending to only play certain games in particular.
In this period chess was a game played almost exclusively by the nobility as generally they were the only ones with the level of education required to handle this game's relative complexity. People of the the middle-class, such as merchants and artisans, would typically play backgammon. Finally, the peasants would play only the simplest games of all such as dice. The game Nine Men's Morris was also widely played throughout the medieval period and indeed much further back into ancient times.
Chess is a game that has been played for many hundreds of years and, while for most of that time it has been played in a way somewhat similar to how it is played today, it has evolved significantly over time. In medieval times the game was played on the same type of board with the same pieces and basic rules as today, however, there were several variations concerning the movement of certain pieces.
Medieval Chess Piece Movement:
- King - one square per turn in any direction, as today.
- Queen - one square per turn in any direction.
Note: Queen Isabella of Spain later altered this allowing the queen to move any number of squares, as today.
- Bishop - two squares per turn diagonally and may jump.
- Knight - Same movement as today.
- Pawn - Only ever forward by one square.
Nine Men's Morris:
Nine Men's Morris board with a game in play. A mill of light coloured pieces is shown (circled in dark blue).
Archeological evidence shows that this game has been widely played since ancient times with the remains of boards being found in as diverse locations including Bronze Age burial sites in Ireland, amongst the ruins of the first city of Troy and at Kurana, Egypt, at a site dated from around 1400 B.C. (though this includes simpler versions of this game such as Three Men's Morris which was also played by the Chinese as far back as 500 B.C.). Nine Men's Morris is also a game that enjoyed considerable popularity among the Vikings. Boards have also been found carved into the seats in English Cathedrals as used by bored monks and from the 14th Century onwards finely crafted boards as part of sets also including chess and backgammon have been found. Many variations of this game have existed, the most elaborate of which developed by courtiers in Italy, though the rules for many of these have been lost.
Each player begins with nine pieces off the board.
Playing alternately, players initially add pieces to any vacant position on the board one at a time. The aim is to make a row of three along any printed line on the board. Such a row is called a mill.
The simplest version of this game concludes with the first player to successfully form a mill being the winner.
For every mill formed the player may remove one of his opponent's pieces - provided that piece is not part of a mill.
When each player has committed their nine pieces to the board play continues by players moving their pieces along the lines to places adjacent to their pieces positions with the objective of forming additional mills and capturing more of the opponent's pieces.
Mills may be formed or broken any number of times in order to capture enemy pieces.
The ultimate objective is to either make it impossible for one's opponent to move their pieces or continue to capture their pieces until only two remain.
Note: If a player is reduced to a single mill and it is their move then they must move a piece (if possible) even if doing so will result in that piece being taken.
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