Among the more popular games throughout history are the varying tables games. The main one we know today is backgammon, and I already wrote about El Mundo. In King Alfonso’s day, quite a few more were known, and most were played on the same board we recognize today for backgammon. Today, I’m going to detail the first of these, called Quinze Tablas, or 15 Tables. Interestingly, this is the French spelling for fifteen, rather than quince, in Spanish. This implies that this game came to him via the French courts, he liked it, and decided to add it to his book of games.
This was a fun one to figure out the rules for, as the King was in the middle of describing how to make a tables set in general, and just sort of rambled about the rules for quinze tablas in the process. Here is an example paragraph, per the translation:
The prime of tables is when one player captures so many of the other’s pieces that he then does not have points upon which to enter them and he therefore loses the game. And tying is that even if he has very few pieces and he enters them that neither one can play even if he wishes. Whence also for the prime because without these three pieces which are in addition to the first twelve, it could not be done.
Here, he’s talking about the goal of the game, which is either to block your opponent from reentering the board, or ideally (prime) to move all your pieces to the opponent’s starting spaces, with your three extras arranged on your outer table, basically as a mirror to your starting setup. Because of how convoluted the rules are in Libro de los Juegos, I’m going to skip the quoting and just explain the game for this post.
As you can see, you start with six pairs of pieces in your home quadrant, with your extra three placed immediately next to them in your outer table. The game uses three dice for movement. Each die may move a single piece the number of pips shown, and there are no bonuses for doubles or triples. Above, blue will be moving counter-clockwise, while red will be moving clockwise, in an attempt to mirror their starting positions on the other side of the board. As is common to most tables games, a single piece is vulnerable to capture, but two on a space blocks movement.
The most important thing to remember in this game, compared to most other tables games, is that you can never have a stack of more than two pieces. This means that it is possible to be blocked by your own pieces.
If one or more of your pieces is captured, you may bring them back into play at the beginning of your turn by placing them in an empty (or single-piece) space in your home quadrant. You may not place onto any space that has two pieces, no matter who owns them. Originally, we thought you had to roll for which space to return to, like in backgammon, but found this shortened the game considerably, as an unlucky roll near the beginning, while still trying to move your pieces out, could require a space that still had its starting pieces in the way. Being able to return to any available space prolongs the game, and makes it more about strategic movement than unlucky rolls.
If you get all of your pieces all the way around the board, you win! If you capture an opponent’s piece and they can’t bring it back on, you win! If neither player can move any pieces no matter what the dice roll, the last one to make a successful move is the winner.
I find this game to be an interesting challenge, and a nice change of pace from normal backgammon. You are not trying to bear off pieces, and the limited movement, including being blocked by your own defenses, gives the game a very different feel. If you have a backgammon board, give it a try and let me know what you think!