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Alquerque (also known as Qirkat) is said to be the precursor to Draughts (Checkers) and is an ancient game from the Middle East. A multitude of Alquerque boards have been found indicating the existence of a whole family of Alquerque games and variations. The game does not appear in literature until late in the 10th century when the muslim author Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani mentioned Qirkat in his 24 volume work Kitab al-Aghani (“Book of Songs”). This work, however, made no mention of the rules of the game.
In Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations, R. C. Bell writes that “when the Moors invaded Spain they took El-quirkat with them”. Rules are included in Libro de los juegos (“Book of games”) commissioned by Alfonso X of Castile in the 13th century. Spanish settlers in New Mexico introduced a four-player variant of Alquerque to the Zuni Indians.
Alquerque is a war game in which two sides of twelve pieces face each other on a board of 25 points. These are joined by horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines, though not every point has diagonal connections. The aim of the game is to capture all of the opponent’s pieces. Movement is to adjacent points along a marked line, and one piece can capture another by leaping over it to land on the empty point beyond.
Alquerque was a very influential game. Draughts marries aspects of Alquerque with chess. But there were others. It is probable that Alquerque indirectly influenced the northern European game fox & geese, through its immediate descendant catch-the-hare. Eventually Alquerque faded from memory, being outlived both by draughts and by fox & geese. It is thanks to Alfonso’s book that we can still play it today.