Games in Rômania
The essential references for this page are H. J. Murray's A History of Chess and A History of Boardgames other than Chess.
Stomakhion (στομαχίον) is an ancient mathematical puzzle. Its pieces may be all cut from a single square of material. The simplest use to re-assemble the square without reference to a guide to the finished arrangement. Otherwise, the pieces may be used to make stylised images representing animals, birds or whatever the players imagination can make of it.
The family of games known as merells or morris in recent English is one of the oldest known to us. The earliest examples are found in ancient Egypt. The game was called triôdion (τριωδίον) in Byzantine Greek.
Rules for triôdion are thus:
- Two players each have nine pieces.
- Each player alternately places one piece on the board, putting them as he pleases on the intersections of the lines, and on the corners of the square board. Captures may not be made during the entry phase.
- Once a player has all his pieces on the board he may move one piece one interval each round. An interval is between two adjacent intersections, or between a corner and an intersection on the square board.
- The aim is to make sequences of three pieces along the lines scribed on the board. The completion of a set of three allows a player to remove one of his opponents pieces. A set of three must be broken, and cannot be immediately reconstituted in the same form, before its pieces may comprise a new triplet.
- The game concludes when one player can no longer move a piece during his round, or has less than three pieces
Many variants are nowadays played under the umbrella of the term backgammon. In the past some variants, at least, were culturally specific. The rules which might be said to be standard modern backgammon were originally the Persian variety called nard. The Roman version was tabellus (Latin) or tavla (τάβλα, Greek).
Rules of tavla
- Two players each have fifteen pieces.
- The game commences with an empty board.
- the players throw three dice alternately, moving their pieces onto one and the same quadrant of the board, numbered 1 to 6 from edge to centre.
- Once a player has all his pieces on the starting quarter he can begin to move them around the board. Both players move in the same direction.
- Each player must accumulate all his pieces in the finishing quadrant before taking them off according to the fall of the dice as they came on.
- Single pieces may be taken from the board when an opposing counter comes to rest on its interval. Its player must return it to the board at the starting quadrant before he can move any piece.
- Multiple pieces are inviolable, and block the position as a settling place for the opposing pieces. There is no limit on the number of pieces that can be accumulated on an interval.
- Duplicated numbers on the dice gain no additional advantage.
- A player must use every number thrown if possible.
Rômania had a distinctive form of chess, played on an annular board with the same number of divisions as the square one. While scattered literary references and diagrams of the board and starting layout for Byzantine chess survive (as shown), there is no record of what rules it might have had that were distinct from other forms of chess, except the obvious observation that as the board has no end, no piece can be queened. Modern rules can be used.
No definitely identifiable zatrikon pieces have been found, but the picture in the Book of Games of Alphonso X of Spain indicates some similarities with these modern forms.