The (Italian) Mother of Backgammon

Totae Tabulae (Tavole Reale)

Here is my research on a board (or tables) game from 1526 played on the Italian Peninsula. In the instructions written by Cardano* it is played with 15 pieces and 2 dice for each player.

 

St. Gallen in the Kantonsbibliothek, Vadianische Sammlung MS 43 circa 1529
St. Gallen in the Kantonsbibliothek, Vadianische Sammlung MS 43 circa 1529

 

Game: Totae Tabulae /Tavole Reale

Number of Players: 2

Materials Needed: Tables board (Tavola), 15 pieces called men (pezzi/uomo) for each player, 2 dice (dadi) for each player

Object:  Move your pieces clockwise or counter-clockwise around and then off the board.

Here is what Cardano* wrote:

“[In totis tabulis] five men are placed in the last point from your right, and two in the first from your left; three in the second from your right and five in the sixth from your left, and your adversary places the same number in the corresponding places directly opposite to these [five men on your 6 point; three on your 8; five on your 13; and two on your 24]. The most important consideration is to hinder the passage of your adversary’s men and to strike them off.”

So, basically, after you set the board (see photo below):

  • Roll a die to determine who starts. In your turn, roll two dice, and move two men, one the distance of each die, or move one man twice.
  • You cannot land on a space with two or more opposing men. If you land on a single opposing man, you “blot” it, taking it off the board. You must re-enter.
  • If you have a blotted man or men, you cannot move; you must roll the dice to try to re-enter from your opponent’s Home Table. If you have bound your Home Table, and your opponent has a man to enter, you must break your table — each roll two dice to determine who gets to choose which point to break. All but one man on that point are blotted.
  • You may bear off men when all your men are in your Home Table; bearing off might or might not be by exact roll. The winner is the player who first bears off all of his men.
backgammon totae tabulae tavole reale set
How to set the board according to Cardano

 

Willughby provides more information:

  • Your ace through six points (1 through 6) are called your “home”.
  • Begin with five men on your 6 point; three on your 8; five on your 13; and two on your 24.
  • Roll one die to determine who starts.
  • In your turn, roll two dice, and move two men, one the distance of each die, or move one man twice.
  • You cannot land on a space with two or more opposing men. If you land on a single opposing man, you “blot” it, taking it off the board.
  • If you have a blotted man or men, you cannot move; you must roll the dice to try to re-enter from your opponent’s Home Table.
  • If you have bound your Home Table, and your opponent has a man to enter, you must break your table — each roll two dice to determine who gets to choose which point to break. All but one man on that point are blotted.
  • You may bear off men when all your men are in your Home Table; bearing off might or might not be by exact roll.
  • The winner is the player who first bears off all of his men.

 

roman backgammon
Roman “Backgammon” called Tabulae

 

 

SOURCES (Pre-17th-Century)

*Gerolamo Cardano, Liber de Ludo Aleae, c. 1526

SOURCES (Post-17th-Century)

Cotton’s Complete Gamester, 1672

Randle Holme’s Academy of Armory, London, 1688

Willughby’s Volume of Plaies, c. 1665

 

 

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