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Minotaur board game serpent board

Here are some games I've devised, beginning with a couple - 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.

Thanks especially to the wonderful Rowena from Australia, because of whom you can play these games plus Faery Chess here live on your screen. Her versions work just like the hard-copy ones in the books, which means that other players need to be in the same room, and one of you still has to get your head around the rules. You'll need Windows Internet Explorer to do this though because other browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox seem unable to read the Javascript.

Thanks also to Damian Walker because of whom you can now play Magpie against the computer on his website HERE. On the Variant line choose "Magpie" from the drop-down menu. You can also choose from three opening layouts in the Layout line - Ballinderry I, II or III.

SNAIL RACING

Click for playable board

This is a gnome board game Wayne Anderson and I came across during our research into that cheerful race. Click on the illustration if you'd like to give it a try. The button in the bottom left of the board shows the rules. The die is top left, pick it up and roll it for a throw. Or just click it if you're in a hurry. Choose a colour from the marbles in the top right.

Go to Gnomes and Gardens

The game was first 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. Alternatively, click HERE to see one of Rowena's own board games inspired by Spike Milligan.

MAGPIE

Click for playable board Go to the Leprechaun Companion

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. Click on the board left for a playable version of the game. Click the 'Instructions' button there for a pop-up frame explaining the rules. It works just like an ordinary, unelectronic game board, except you use your mouse to move the pieces.

Magpie is a slightly original version of the ancient Irish game of Brandub 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.

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.

FAERY CHESS

Click for playable board Go to Granny's Grimoire

Here's a game we were thinking of including at the back of a third book in the vein of Leprechauns and Gnomes that Wayne Anderson and I collaborated on. Called Granny's Grimoire, it's a collection of Wise Women's lore and it's still in search of a publisher, should any interested ones happen to be reading this. Click on the cover to learn more. The game is Faery Chess and a very strange one it is indeed. Seemingly quite simple to begin with, you can play it endlessly without finding its limitations.

Thanks again to the sublime Rowena and her javascript talent you can try the game out here online. Just click on the board. If all the marbles don't show at first, hit your Refresh (F5) button. For game instructions click on the solitary marble on the right. For a new game click the similar one on the left. For a variation of the game click the marble at the bottom centre.

Click for details

This game was an on-off obsession of mine for many years. In the mid to late 70s 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. Faery Chess 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.

Homemade Fidchell set

Plus it really is quite different to other board games but fascinating to play if you enjoy abstract, chess-like games. 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 above right that I wrote to go with it . . .

Click for details

Faery Chess probably would be the safest name to give to it but because it arose from speculation about the lost 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 with the instructions but you can also now buy luxury versions from a company called Altaro in Quebec, as in the illustration on the right. Click on it if you are interested. It helps if you can speak French but that's not essential.

You can also get it from the Czech Republic HERE . There's an English translation lower down the page.

THE DRAGON TAROT

CLICK FOR MORE

With Dragon Tarot I dithered a bit over whether it belonged in the Library or Games Room, which I've solved by putting it in both, because it kind of belongs equally in both. The cover links to the Tarot package's own website which I set up as a little bonus for those who have one. It goes into the origins and background of both this particular pack and Tarot in general in greater detail than there was room for in the accompanying book, most of which is necessarily taken up with interpretations of the cards. There is also a non fortune-telling game that goes with Tarot but I haven't quite worked out the rules yet.

It was a real pleasure working with Roger and Linda Garland again, as we've been trying to arrange for a while, and their cards were bliss on the eyes as they came in. See for yourself on the website. It will open in a new window that you close to return here.


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