Roman Board Games. I. Lusoria

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1 Roman Board Games I. Lusoria This is an incredibly simple game dating back to ancient Rome. The name is a minor Anglicization of the Latin tabula lusoria, "tablet for (playing) games," a name by which it is sometimes still known. It s a great concept, but it suffers from a fatal flaw: like Tic-Tac-Toe, the game is so simple that, once mastered, offers no real challenge. Games can basically continue forever if neither player makes a mistake. But you aren't that good, and neither is your friend, so play it anyway. It really is a fun game. PIECES The board is a little weird, but very simple. You can just draw it on a piece of paper -- it s just a circle and four lines. Each player needs three tokens, so use pawns or coins or checkers or whatever. SETUP The game starts with all the tokens on the board arranged as shown: There s nothing I can really add to that to make it any clearer. RULES The game play couldn t be simpler: players take turns moving their tiles along a line to an adjacent space, trying to get all three of their tokens in a row. This can be along the center lines or around the edges. The first player to do so wins. There s no jumping or anything fancy, just moving to adjacent spaces.

2 Victory for white II. Micatio Micatio (or micatio digitorum) was common and popular, probably because it required so little equipment. Players stand in a circle and prepare to cast out a hand displaying one to five fingers; meanwhile, players shout out whether they believe the sum of displayed fingers will be odd or even. Another variation allows players to hold a number of rocks in their hand instead of showing fingers. Micatio was often used as a gambling game, with the amount won based on the sum of fingers or rocks. III. Petteia/Latrunculi This is the original version of Latrunculi, and is identical to Petteia, the Greek precursor. The simplicity of the rules and the potential complexity that develops in play suggests that this proposed set of rules may be close to those that kept the Greeks and Romans fascinated for so many centuries. In this basic version, an 8 by 8 board was used. They were lined up in the eight squares on each player's side. Similar complete or nearly complete sets of glass stones and boards also suggest that the number of stones matched the number of squares on each player's side, regardless of the board size. We can be very certain, therefore, of this as the starting arrangement in Latrunculi. We can assume, from the Essex find, that Black plays first. The objective is to either capture or immobilize all the enemies stones. The principle of play is to surround an enemy on two sides, in a horizontal or vertical line. Multiple stone captures are probably permissible if we take Piso's words literally when he said, "You win and both your hands rattle with the captured group." From all the above, a simple set of rules for this version of Latrunculi can be extracted or inferred, and are summarized as follows:

3 Proposed Rules for Petteia 1. Use either an 8 x 8 board or a 12 x 8 board. 2. Stones are lined up on the first line as shown on the board diagram, and Black plays first. 3. Stones move as rooks in chess; orthogonally (horizontal or vertical, but not diagonal). 4. A single stone is captured when it is surrounded on two orthogonal sides. 5. Multiple stones can be captured when surrounded on two orthogonal sides. 6. A stone can be played inside two enemy stones without being captured. 7. The outside walls cannot be used to capture men. 8. First player to kill all his opponents stones wins, or A player can win by blocking up the enemy stones such that they cannot move. The above rules seem to work, yet something is still lacking. Unless mistakes are made, neither player seems to be able to make progress. Perhaps only the strategy of the game remains to be discovered, but there is a problem in explaining how an opponent can be "immobilized." Whether the outside wall can be used for capture or not is unclear but if it is, there is no "immobilization" possible. Also, the placement of a stone inside two others can lead to the "ko" of Japanese Go, in a single line. Perhaps the ko is what makes the game, although the ancients made no mention of any such factor. We welcome feedback and opinions from anyone who cares to experiment with these rules or any variations thereof. Principles and Strategy -- Petteia (Single Stone Latrunculi) In the image shown at the left, the stone at 'a' must be removed -- it has just been captured by the blue stone below it. IV. Tali/Tropa Tali, commonly known today as Knucklebones, was perhaps the most popular game played among the Romans. It resembled the game of dice except that sets of marked bones were used, called tali. Tali was inherited from the ancient Greeks, who had originally made the pieces from astragaloi, or the knucklebones of sheep or goats. Notice the tali on the bottom, which is made

4 of brass. The Romans would also make them from silver, gold, ivory, marble, wood, bone, bronze, glass, terracotta, and precious gems. The original shape of the tali, however, was preserved. These shapes would sit on one of four sides when dropped. The four sides of the tali were inscribed with symbols, perhaps sometimes Roman numerals, and each had a different value of 1, 3, 4, or 6. Four tali were dropped from a moderate height over a gaming table or the ground. There were variations on scoring. Numerical values did not have precedence over a Venus, Vultures, or a Senio. Numerical values for the other possibilities would represent a simple variation. In place of numerical values, the concept of pairs of numbers could take precedence, as it does in modern cards. Other rules could be agreed upon at the start of the game, in much the same way as is done at the beginning of a poker hand. The scoring presented below is based on simple numerical superiority, except for Venus, Senio, Vultures, and Dogs (lowest of the Vultures). In the case of tying values, poker-like rules prevail, that is, a triple beats a pair, but two pair beat a triple. More advanced players could adapt other poker-like rules as they please. Surprisingly, only one ambiguity occurs with the above numerical precedents, at the value 14. In this case the highest pair (the sixes) is assumed to have numerical precedence over the other highest pair (of fours). In a variation played by the Emperor Augustus, anyone throwing the Dogs put 4 coins in the pot, and the first player to throw a Venus would take all. One could create a simple set of tali playing pieces by blanking the 2's and the 5's on four dice, but then the ones that came up blank would have to be re-dropped. Tetrahedral might be a good modern alternative, but one could also cut up a pair of chopsticks and mark the sides. Tropa One variation on Tali involved throwing the dice into the narrow neck of a glass jar. Players would compete in this game and it clearly involved skill as well as chance. Three dice were tossed, or perhaps four astragaloi, and only the score of those that entered the jar would count. The scoring may have followed that of Tali, as detailed below:

5 SCORING RULES FOR TALI : (1,3,4,6) :Venus -- all four tali with different sides. (6,6,6,4) : Total = 22 (6,6,6,3) : Total = 21 (6,6,4,4) : Total = 20 (6,6,6,1) : Total = 19 (high) (6,6,4,3) : Total = 19 (6,6,3,3) : Total = 18 (6,6,4,1) : Total = 17 (6,6,3,1) : Total = 16 (4,4,4,3) : Total = 15 (6,6,1,1) : Total = 14 (high) (4,4,3,3) : Total = 14 (4,4,4,1) : Total = 13 (4,4,3,1) : Total = 12 (4,3,3,1) : Total = 11 (4,4,1,1) : Total = 10 (high) (3,3,3,1) : Total = 10 (4,3,1,1) : Total = 9 (3,3,1,1) : Total = 8 (4,1,1,1) : Total = 7 (3,1,1,1) : Total = 6 (6,x,x,x) : Senio -- a single six and anything (6,6,6,6) : Vultures -- all four tali the same (4,4,4,4) : Vultures -- all four tali the same (3,3,3,3) : Vultures -- all four tali the same (1,1,1,1) : Dogs -- lowest of the Vultures

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