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Gwyddbwyll and Tallfwrdd, Ancient Welsh Board Games
Long before chess came to Europe from India, the British Celts were playing a board game where the object was to capture a central ‘king’ piece. Two forms of this game exist, Gwyddbwyll and Tallførd.
Gwyddbwyll, literally means ‘wooden wisdom’ (and is therefore related to the Irish game Fiddle) and known mainly from mythological sources. Indeed, the game features in three Welsh epics known by this name Mabinogion: Dream of Magnus Maximus, Peredur son of Efrog, and Ronabvi.
According to popular belief, gwyddbwyll is played on a 7×7 board and is related to the Ballindery game board found during the excavation of a “crannog” or pond in Ballinderry, West Meath, Ireland in 1932. It appears that the game was played with one king and four princes (or defenders) against eight opponents (or raiders).
The king is flanked by four princes in the center of the board. The object of the game is to move the king to the safety of one of the corner squares. Eight attackers are equally spaced along the edges of the board. A king wins by moving from the central square to a corner of the board, and only the king is allowed to enter the central space at any time. If the attackers surround him or all the princes are lost, the king loses. Princes or raiders are captured by blocking an opponent’s piece between two of your own. However, a piece can pass between two opposing pieces without being captured. Each piece can move only one orthogonal space at a time (ie only forward or backward). If not occupied by a king, the central square counts as an extra ‘man’, i.e. any piece (except the king) sandwiched between it and captured by another piece. The king can only be captured on the edge of the board by three opposing pieces. This means that if the attackers are down to just two men, the king’s side wins by default.
In contrast, Tallførd (lit. peg-board [though the name can also be derived from tafl ‘to throw’, referring to the die with which the board is played]) known from historical sources. It is described in Cyfrath Hywel DDA (Rules of Hywel DDA) which specifies its value to various members of the king’s court (and who cannot sell or give it away). possession of the king; The latter is “worth six score pence, and is divided thus: sixty pence for the white army, and … thirty pence for the king, and … three pence and three farthings for every man”. Which means that the game was played with a king and eight ‘princes’ or ‘defenders’ against sixteen ‘attackers’.
More details are given in a 1587 manuscript by Robert ap Ifan in Elizabethan Wales, which provides us with a sketch of a ‘towelbward’ board as an 11×11 square. And the setup and description of the game is, unfortunately, inconsistent with earlier information as it places one king and twelve pawns against twenty-four pawns (at least it is consistent with balancing the king against half the opposing pawns. ) The setup places the king in the nearest squares with his own pawns in the center of the board and each The center of the side needs to be placed with opposing men, a vague description at best.
This current interpretation is an 11×11 board with a central king surrounded by twelve princes or defenders. Each side of the board starts with six blue attackers, giving a total of 24. The central square is important because only the king can occupy it, although other pieces can cross it, as long as it is empty. The game proceeds in alternating turns, and although the current document does not specify who must move first, it is natural for the attacker to do so (even if the king is defending against the attack). The king also has an inherent advantage in the game and giving the attacker the first move helps somewhat towards reducing it.
All pieces move orthogonally (ie forward or backward like a chess rook). They can move any number of squares but cannot jump to another piece and the square moved must also be empty.
Any man (except the king) may be captured by being sandwiched between two opponents (ie when two of the opponent’s men occupy adjacent squares in a straight line with him). Some forms of the game allow pieces to move into squares between opposing men without capturing them, but others do not. It is also unclear whether the king could participate in the capture; Even if this type of capture is not allowed, the game is more. Also, since no piece other than the king can occupy the central square, it is possible to use it as an extra man and capture pieces sandwiched against it.
The king’s side wins if the king reaches any edge, and the king also wins by default if the attackers have three or fewer men. Attackers can only capture the king and win; His men surrounded him on all sides. However, a variant based on gwyddbwyll would allow the attackers to win if all the princes (king’s guards) were removed from the board.
There should be enough information here to recreate the game for you, but if you want more info and pictures use the links below:
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