The Survival of Games - War Games

The chances are that every board game that has ever existed through the centuries still exists, though possibly in a more complicated form. There are many different types of board games but the main types of games that have developed are war games, hunt or chase games and race games. These classifications are based on the idea that games are typical of the early activities and survival tactics of man; the battle, the siege or hunt and race.

However many of the games that developed for these reasons still survive today and have hardly changed as games are great for developing life skills such as hand-eye coordination, mental agility and not to mention social skills.
Medieval Bishop gaming piece.


War Games - Draughts, Tabula and Tafl


One modern game that was played throughout ancient times was Draughts. The game Alquerque which is its ancestor has been found in Egypt dating at least as early as 600 BC. Alquerque is primarily a war game, one of movement and capture and was brought to Europe by the Moors during the invasion of Spain.

At around 1100 it started to be played on a chess board and the compulsory rule of forcing a player to take a counter whenever possible was introduced in France around 1535. This new game was called Jeu Force and was very popular in medieval times and has been played under the name of Draughts for centuries.

Medieval brick gaming board excavated from Beverley.
Backgammon-type games have also been played for thousands of years. 'Tabula' was the ancestor of Backgammon and was another war game where the aim was to get all of your pieces around the board and defeat the opponent's army by taking all of his pieces and moving yours to your 'home ground'.

Tafl or Hnefatafl which translates into 'Kings Table' was another popular game in the Middle Ages in Europe and it was imported by the Vikings to Iceland and Great Britain. The Vikings took the game with them on their forages and therefore helped to spread it across different countries. There is a lead game piece, which was probably used as a king for Tafl in the medieval collections.

The game involved a single king 'Hnefi' and his defenders in the centre of the board surrounded by an army of attackers twice their number, the attackers must prevent the king's escape but also capture him. It was the primary war strategy game in Europe until chess became popular at the end of the 15th Century and was a much valued skill as you can see in the prose below from Medieval times;

Medieval lead gaming piece (perhaps a King for Tafl) from Sancton, East Yorkshire.
I can play at Tafl,
Nine skills I know,
Rarely forget I the runes,
I know of books and smithing,
I know how to slide on skis,
Shoot and row, well enough;
Each of two arts I know,
Harp-playing and speaking poetry

Backgammon originated from ancient India and Egypt, it spread to Greece and Rome and travelled into Anglo-Saxon culture in the 1st Century AD. For centuries it was very popular, innkeepers provided game boards and knights carried it on their journeys. During the Middle Ages the church tried to put an end to board games. Cardinal Wolsey tried to outlaw Backgammon in the 16th Century; he ordered all boards to be burnt and declared the game 'the devil's folly'. However Englishmen crafted a clever idea of folding the boards in half like a book so they could be easily hidden. This design is still used today.

War games still carried on to be popular throughout the centuries, War games such as Chess, Halma and Ludo are played in the present day.