Tables (board game)

Tables (board game)

Tables is a general name given to a class of board games similar to backgammon, played on a board with two rows of 12 vertical markings called "points". Players roll dice to determine the movement of pieces. Tables games are among the oldest known board games, and many variants are played throughout the world.


The ancient Egyptians played a game called Senet, which was similar to modern tables games, with moves controlled by the roll of dice. The Royal Game of Ur, played in ancient Mesopotamia, is a more likely ancestor. Recent excavations at the "Burnt City" in Iran showed that a similar game existed there around 3000 BC. The artifacts include two dice and 60 pieces. The set is believed to be 100 to 200 years older than the sets found in Ur.

The ancient Romans played a number of games in this family. Ludus duodecim scriptorum ("game of twelve lines") used a board with three rows of 12 points each, and the pieces were moved across all three rows according to the roll of dice. Not much specific text about the gameplay has survived. Tabula, meaning "table" or "board", was similar to modern backgammon in that a board with 24 points was used, and the object of the game was to be the first to bear off all of one's checkers. Three dice were used instead of two, and opposing checkers moved in opposite directions.

In the 11th century Shahnameh, the Persian poet Ferdowsi credits Burzoe with the invention of nard in the 6th century. He describes an encounter between Burzoe and a Raja visiting from India. The Raja introduces the game of chess, and Burzoe demonstrates nard, played with dice made from ivory and teak.

The jeux de tables first appeared in France during the 11th century and became a frequent pastime for gamblers. In 1254, Louis IX issued a decree prohibiting his court officials and subjects from playing the games. While it is mostly known for its extensive discussion of chess, the Alfonso X manuscript Libro de los juegos, completed in 1283, describes rules for a number of dice and tables games.

In English, the word "tables" is derived from Latin tabula. Its first use referring to board games documented by the Oxford English Dictionary was circa AD 700. During the 16th century, the name tables was sometimes also used to describe chess. Tables should not be confused with Tafl, an unrelated class of board games (albeit linguistically related) played in medieval Scandinavia.

In the Middle East and Central Asia

The game known in the West as backgammon is played widely in the Middle East and Central Asia. It is known as ifranjiah in Arabic (meaning "Frankish"), and is referred to as takhte nard in Iran. In Israel and the Middle East as well, it is known as shesh besh (meaning "six and five").

The name nardshir comes from the Persian nard (Wooden block) and shir (lion) referring to the two type of pieces used in play. A common legend associates the game with the founder of the Sassanian dynasty, Ardashir I. The oldest known reference to the game is thought to be a passage in the Talmud, although some claim it refers to the Greek game Kubeia.

Many of the early Arabic texts which refer to the game comment on the debate regarding the legality and morality of playing the game. This debate was settled by the eighth century when all four Muslim schools of jurispudence declared the game to be Haraam (forbidden), however this did nothing to stop the growth in popularity of the game in the Muslim world and the game is still played today in many Arab countries.


Mahbusa means "imprisoned". Each player begins with 15 checkers on his opponent's 24-point. If a checker is hit, it is not placed on the bar, but instead, the hitting piece is placed on top, and the point is then controlled by the hitting player. The checker which has been hit is imprisoned and cannot be moved until the opponent removes his piece. Sometimes, a rule is used that requires a player to bring his first checker around to his home board before moving any others. In any case, a rapid advance to one's own home board is desirable, as imprisoning the opponent's checkers there is highly advantageous. Mahbusa is similar to tapa.

An interesting feature of tables play in some Arab countries is that Persian or Kurdish numbers, rather than Arabic ones, are called out by a player announcing his dice rolls.


People in the Iranian plateau and Caucasus region, especially in Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, are very fond of playing narde. All 15 of a player's checkers are initially positioned on his own 24-point, but there is a major difference. One is forbidden to put his checker at a point occupied by one's opponent's checker, so there is no hitting or imprisonment in the long narde game. The main strategy is to secure playing "big pairs" by one's own checkers and prevent as much as possible doing the same by the opponent.

The game is known as 'Fevga' in Greece, 'Moultezim' in Turkey, Mahbusa in the Middle East and 'Ifranjiah' or Frankish in Arabia. It can also be spelt as 'Nard' or 'Nardi'.

A version known as short narde is a simplified form of Ifranjiah. In Georgia, ifranjiah is played as elsewhere, but called "nardi". In Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, many experienced players also play long narde, which some see as requiring deeper strategy.

Gul bara

Gul bara, sometimes referred to as "rosespring backgammon" or "crazy narde", is a variant popular in some Arab countries. An unusual feature is that there is no hitting.

In Greece

In Greece, tables games are called tavli (related to the word tavla, meaning "board" or "table", and cognate to the Latin tabula). There are three major variants, portes, plakoto, and fevga. Portes resembles backgammon, with minor variations: there is no doubling cube, and a backgammon counts only as a gammon (called diplo, Greek for double). Plakoto is very similar to mahbusa or tapa, while fevga is similar to narde or the Turkish variant moultezim. The three are normally played consecutively, in three-, five- or seven-point matches.

In Japan

There are two games known as sugoroku (双六) in Japan. One more closely resembles snakes and ladders, while the other is played on a 24-point tables board, using standard tables equipment. The starting position is identical to that of backgammon. It differs from most other tables variants in that the pieces are never borne off. Additionally, the use of primes is not permitted.

In Romania

In Romania, one popular tables game is called tablă (meaning "board", cognate of the Latin tabula). The game is very popular among Romanians and is similar to backgammon, with two variations: there is no doubling cube and a backgammon counts only as a gammon (called marţ). Matches are usually played to three points.

In Sweden

Svensk brädspel ("Swedish tables") is a variant played in Sweden. Players starts with all 15 of their checkers on opposite corners of the board, and play around clockwise. Besides bearing off, there are several other ways to win, such as arranging all of one's checkers in certain pre-determined patterns, or by hitting so many checkers that one's opponent can not bring them in again. Additional points are awarded for a victory while one's opponent has checkers on the bar. Brädspel is played without the doubling cube. Interest in brädspel experienced a resurgence following the recovery of a 17th century board from the wreck of the Vasa.

In Turkey

Tavla is a very popular tables game in Turkey. It is very similar to backgammon. The major difference is in tavla the doubling cube is not used. Also in tavla both gammons and backgammons are counted as two points called mars. Matches are usually played to five points.

Hapis (Turkish: prison) is another tables game played in Turkey. It is less popular than tavla. It is very similar to Mahbusa played in the Middle East.

Backgammon and variants

Backgammon is the most popular tables variant played in the West. Two players move their pieces in opposing directions, according to the rolls of dice. The use of a doubling cube allows players to increase the stakes of the game. The basis of the modern game can be traced to Medieval and Renaissance sources, and social and competitive play remain popular in many parts of the world. Backgammon has been studied considerably by computer scientists, who have developed software that plays at the level of top human players.

Historic tables variants

Many of the ancestors of modern tables games are no longer widely played.


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