Ancient Games: Alquerque

Last time I told you some basics about how ancient people played. Now it’s time to get a bit more concrete!

 One of the oldest board games we know of is Alquerque, which is also known as el Qirkat. Like lots of things it was brought to Europe by the Moors, via Spain, but it’s history goes back to Egyptian times. It’s a bit like modern draughts, played on a board with a grid, where the two players move their 12 pieces (stones, disks, Alqueeple) across the board.

 The first written sources are from the 10th century in the Kitab al-Aghani (“Book of Songs”) and the 13th century in the Libro de los juegos (“Book of Games”). Both sources tell us a lot about the game, but there are still some open questions.

Alquerque Setup
Alquerque Setup

What we know is how the Alqueeple were moved:

At the start of the game the two players place their pieces in the two rows closest to them and on the two rightmost spaces in the centre row. Now the players take turns moving their pieces. A piece can move along the lines to the next free crossing, or if there’s an opposing piece with a free point next to it, the piece can „jump“ over the other piece to the next adjacent point and remove the opposing piece from the game. If there are more opposing pieces that can be captured by the same piece, it’s compulsory to keep „jumping“ – should the player miss a change to remove an opposing piece, his own piece is removed (that is if he just moved a piece to a free space, but could have caught an opposing piece with this or another of his pieces). The move ends when there’s no possibility to jump any more for this piece.

The goal is to eliminate as many of the opponent’s pieces as possible.

According to „Sports and Games of Medieval Cultures“ by Sally E. D. Wilkins the pieces could move in every direction, but scholar Robert Charles Bell developed his own rules. In „Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations, volume 1“ he stated that the game wasn’t playable with the rules from the Libro de los juegos and added that the pieces should only move away from the player or along the horizontal lines.

Maybe we should test playing both variants and decide which variant is more fun!

Boardgamegeeks has quite a few pictures of playing boards and the endless Internet has a C# version of the game.

 Do you know more about this game or would you like to see some other really old game featured here? Drop me a line!

The banner image is from Libro de los juegos originally, come to us by way of Wikipedia. The Alquerque setup picture was created by our very own resident artist Sizinha.

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