THIS GAME WAS AN ON-OFF OBSESSION of mine for many years. In the mid to late 1970s I first came across mention of a lost Celtic board game called Fidchell that appears in several ancient Irish epics and chronicles. Under the name of Gwyddbwyll it also appears in the Welsh Mabinogion and seems to have been held in peculiar reverence throughout the British Isles. This is what emerged from my investigations and speculations about the lost game.
There isn't really enough evidence to claim that this actually is the original Fidchell - someone would have to unearth an ancient game board bearing exactly this pattern for that to be so - but it fits most of the criteria that interested me in the first place.
Plus it really is quite different to other board games and fascinating to play if you enjoy abstract, chess-like games. It has elements in common with Nine Men's Morris and the Tafl games of Scandinavia but the board pattern throws up some real surprises. Its great advantage over chess is that your opponent will not have been able to swot up secretly on books of strategy. Apart from the hints that you can pick up from the booklet, right, that I wrote to go with it . . .
Faery Chess probably would be the safest name to give to it, but because it arose from speculation about the lost ancient Celtic game of Fidchell I have a lingering fondness for calling it that. From time to time I get emails from complete strangers all over the world who have somehow got hold of a copy and become hooked on it, which is very gratifying. Some have made their own boards from the design given in the ORIGINS part of the instructions. On either side and below is a selection of others I found browsing on the internet, often on fabric, which makes a kind of sense if you want the game to be portable or easily stored. Playing pieces on a flat board can most easily be borrowed from the Japanese Go game.
IT IS NOW POSSIBLE TO DOWNLOAD and play Fidchell either against the computer or another player but to do so you need an Android device (Tablet or mobile phone). On that you can either search the app store for Fidchell or click on the picture right to go directly to the download page.
THERE FOLLOW A COUPLE OF GAMES - Snail Racing and Magpie - that I've had the luck to introduce into books. Thanks to everyone who helped work out the rules and test to see that they really work. The board on the left is one I made for our daughter when she was little, but when the chance came to get it published my collaborator Wayne Anderson completely reversed both the spiral and tone of the image by replacing the fierce dragon with a homely snail. And it so happens that Lorna immediately preferred that.
The game was printed at the back of hard cover copies of Gnomes and Gardens. There are other spiral race games around but I think this is different enough to stand as an original. The rules vary slightly to allow for different numbers of players and it's a great game to play with young kids because,
being naturally luckier than adults, they usually win. There is an element of strategy though, more so than with Snakes and Ladders for example, but about the same as in Ludo.
Click on the snail left for more.
MAGPIE IS AN INTRIGUING LEPRECHAUN board game that we had the chance to publish on the end-papers of
The Leprechaun Companion,
which Wayne Anderson also illustrated.
Magpie is a slightly original version of the ancient Irish game of
whose rules are pretty well known thanks to Linnaeus, the great naturalist, who picked up those of a closely related game in Finland.
The trouble is that in their received form the rules simply don't work as a game that anyone would bother to spend their winter months playing. With Brandub (and the smaller Nordic Tafl games to which it is related) if you follow the generally accepted rules you soon find the King is invincible and the game becomes rather pointless.
What leprechauns do is limit their 'king' to moving just one space at a time. This evens the balance enough to provide a lasting conundrum. Click on the board for more.
Thanks to Damian Walker you can now play Magpie against the computer on his website HERE. You can also try out some of the many other known versions of Hnefatafl.
If you want to know more about the background of ancient Celtic and Scandinavian board games, click HERE for a fascinating and very influential old article by E.V. MacWhite. Or
HERE for a link to another one from the National Library of Wales.