Trinchera de los Paraguayos

Libro de los juegos

The Libro de los Juegos, ("Book of games"), or Libro de acedrex, dados e tablas, ("Book of chess, dice and tables") was commissioned by Alfonso X, king of León, Galicia and Castile, during the 13th century and completed in 1283. It consists of 98 pages, many with color illustrations. The games covered include chess (including the earliest known European chess problems), dice, and tables (the family of games that includes backgammon). The book contains the earliest known description of some of these games, including many games imported from the Arab kingdoms.

It is one of the most important documents for researching the history of board games. The only known original is held in the library of the monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial near Madrid in Spain. The book is bound in sheepskin and is 40 cm high and 28 cm wide (16 in × 11 in). A 1334 copy is held in the library of the Historical Academy of Madrid.


Alfonso was likely influenced by his contact with scholars in the Arab world. Unlike many contemporary texts on the topic, he does not engage the games in the text with moralistic arguments; instead, he portrays them in an astrological context. He conceives of gaming as a dichotomy between the intellect and chance. The book is divided into three parts reflecting this: the first on chess (a game purely of abstract strategy), the second on dice (with outcomes controlled strictly by chance), and the last on tables (combining elements of both). The text may have been influenced by Frederick II's text on falconry.


The Libro de juegos contains an extensive collection of writings on chess, with over 100 chess problems and variants. Among its more notable entries is a depiction of what Alfonso calls the ajedrex de los quatro tiempos ("chess of the four seasons"). This game is a chess variant for four players, described as representing a conflict between the four elements and the four humors. The chessmen are marked correspondingly in green, red, black, and white, and pieces are moved according to the roll of dice. Alfonso also describes a game entitled "astronomical chess", played on a board of seven concentric circles, divided radially into twelve areas, each associated with a constellation of the Zodiac.


The book describes the rules for a number of games in the tables family. One notable entry is todas tablas, which has an identical starting position to modern backgammon and follows the same rules for movement and bearoff. Alfonso also describes a variant played on a board with seven points in each table. Players rolled seven-sided dice to determine the movement of pieces, an example of Alfonso's preference for the number seven.


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