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About Celtic Board Games: The "Brandub" & the "Tafl" Games

 The "Brandub"  &  the "Tafl"Games

Played on a 7 x 7 square board, there were thirteen pieces used in the game, five on one side and eight on the other as evidenced in the Irish poem "Acallam na Senorach": "My famed "Brandub" is in the mountain above Leitir Bhroin, five voiceless men of white silver and eight of red gold. "

According to other Irish poem: "Abair riom a Eire ogh", the "Branán", or chief, had a  centre square, and four corners marked for him.

A scheme of the initial piece disposition of the ancient Irish game "Brandub''. Based on François Haffner's Ard-Ri's image, and placed in the public domain.

A board was found in 1932 during the excavation of a "crannog", or lake dwelling at Ballinderry, West Meath, Ireland. It probably is of Manx origin and to date c. 950-75 AD. Hereby the scheme featured by H.J.R. Murray in his monumental History of Chess (1913).

Several others at Downpatrick (12thC.), Waterford (12th C.), Ballinderry (10thC.) and in a peat bog near Knockanboy, County Antrim (similar to the Ballinderry board).

Similar boards have also been found in Scotland where 8 defenders and 16 attackers were used to play under the name of "Ard Ri"(High King).

"Ard Ri" Image by François Haffner and placed in the public domain

The "Tawlbwrdd" is a variant that was played in Wales. It is described as being played with 8 pieces on the king's side and 16 on the attacker's side according to the Laws, and 24 against 12 (plus the King) according to the Peniarth MS.

"Tawlbyund" or "Tawl Bwrdd " 11 x 11 squares - Image by François Haffner and placed in the public domain

The Welsh Robert ap Ifan documented it with a drawing in a manuscript dated 1587. His version was played on an 11×11 board with 12 pieces on the king's side and 24 on the opponent's side.

His passage states:

"... Tawlbwrdd should be played with a king in the centre and twelve men in the places next to him, and twenty-four men seek to capture him. These are placed, six in the centre of each side of the board and in the six central positions. And two move the men in the game, and if one [piece] belonging to the king comes between the attackers, he is dead and is thrown out of the game, and the same if one of the attackers comes between two of the king’s men in the same manner. And if the king himself comes between two of the attackers, and if you say ‘Watch your king’ before he moves to that space, and he is unable to escape, you capture him. If the other says ‘I am your liegeman’ and goes between two, there is no harm. If the king can go along the [illegible] line, that side wins the game."

The "Brandub" is a variant of the Scandinavian "Tafl" and the Icelandic "Hnefatafl", a compound of "Hnefi" (meaning fist) and "Tafl" (from the Old Norse: table or board).

"Hnefatafl" board Image by Wilhelm meis and placed in the public domain

The best description of the "Tafl" was given by Carolus Linnaeus in the 1732 diary of his travels, Lachesis Lapponica. On it he states it was played on a 9 x9 square board, though some other literary sources indicate Hnefa"Tafl" may have been played on a 13×13 or an 11×11 board.

Though "Brandub" means "Black Raven" in Gaelic, it also makes reference to the Irish king "Brandub mac Echach". According to the Book of Leinster, "Brandub" succeeded Áed Cerr mac Colmáin Már of the Uí Dúnlainge as king of Leinster, and died on 605 A.C..

As you have noticed, "Tafl" games involve a distinctive 2:1 ratio of pieces with the lesser side having a king-piece that started in the centre. The king's objective was to escape to the board's periphery or corners, while the greater force's objective was to capture him.


Related Sources: 
The featured information and artworks belong to the “Battle Of The Trees” ™ Celtic Board Game  , a creative and inventive chase and battle game that retains part of the spirit of the ancient Irish "Brandub" and "Fidchell" board games.

One of its main features is that you may not only play it as a battle game, but also as a way for divination... You play as Gwydion, the bard and magician. “Lord of Knowledge” and “Lord of Trees”, and you will be responsible for animating the trees of the forest on their final quest.

 For further information about this game, I wrote a whole eBook as an extended version of the companion handbook, comprising the complete information upon the context and basis of “Battle Of The Trees” ™ Celtic Board Game, and now available on Kindle format at Amazon

Place an Online Order at its Official Site

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