Keltfacts: Fidchell

We would love to get you acquainted with the Celtic culture in our series Keltfacts. This blog is for all our board game fanatics. We introduce you to Fidchell, an Irish board game.

What is Fidchell?

Fidchell, or gwyddbwyll in Welsh, is a very old Celtic board game originating from around the fifth century. It has strong strategic tendencies in how it’s played and used in old stories. According to legends and lore, the game was played by royalty and the gods and was invented by the god Lugh. He taught it to his son who then introduced it to the mortal people. 

The game plays a role in many stories from that time. One of them is the ‘Tochmarc Étaíne’; a text about Irish Mythology. Here Fidchell is played when one King, Midir, challenges the other, Eochaid, with the intention of winning back his wife.  The playboard has even been mentioned in tales of King Arthur, where Owain and Arthur play Fidchell with golden figures on a silver board.

Many important decisions would be made based on a game of Fidchell. The battles on the field would be inspired by the tides of the board game, and just as in the stories, bets would be placed on the outcome of a game.

How do you play Fidchell?

Fidchell is played with two people. The board is round and divided into parts. Each player has an equal amount of stones or pieces to play with, black and white for example. You start with 27 pieces, eight on the board and nineteen on the side. 

First of all the ‘king’ piece is placed in the centre of the board. This is a stone larger than the others and doesn’t have a big role until later in the game.

Either white or the loser from the earlier round starts the game. At first, each player places a stone on the board. When you’re out of stones to place, you can move your pieces along a line on the board, until there’s another piece in the way. Once the moving starts, the king stone can be used by each player to trap the other.

You can also try to capture stones of the other player. If you’re successful, you get another turn. You do this by trapping them between two of your own stones. A useful way to keep them from their ultimate goal! 

How to win the game is different for each player. White has to try to get one straight line from the centre to the edge of the board, and black has to try to stop that from happening. 

Fidchell often gets confused with tafl games. However, in those games, each player has unequal stones, where the ‘attacker’ has a different amount of pieces compared to the ‘defender’. Tafl-games and similar ones are also found among dice. These have not been found around the Fidchell boards. 

How has Fidchell inspired other board games?

Eventually, the name Fidchell grew into ficheall, which is the Irish word for chess. It is said to have inspired the game of chess we know now, but that rumour might not be more than that. Tafl games are more likely to have inspired the chess game we know today. The similarity between tafl games and Fidchell has probably lead to the thought that Fidchell has inspired chess instead!

How about a game of Fidchell on the next game night?

Article by Dewi van Zeggelaar

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