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X-Ur The advanced game derived from the original Royal Game of Ur (aka Twenty Squares)
I have chosen to name the advanced game X-Ur to help distinguish between the two game boards of antiquity. The main body of the text below is taken from the printed rules that came with the replica that I purchased from the British Museum. This pdf is for free use and must not be used for sales purpose.
Graphics by JP Smith.
The board used over four and a half thousand years ago.
The board used two and a half thousand years ago. (X-Ur)
I have chosen to incorporate the patterns from the older board into the board for the advanced game. The rosettes are in the positions as described by Dr Irving Finkle.
Rules for the Advanced Game have been worked out by Dr Irving Finkel [Curator for the Middle East Department in the British Museum] in discussion with David Parlett based on the text of the ancient cuneiform rulebook.
©The Trustees of the British Museum.
The board is now a block of 3 x 4 squares joined to a central row of eight. Each player now has only four squares of safe territory and there are only three rosette squares. Again, a piece on such a square is safe from capture and a second throw is given. Only one piece can occupy a square at a time.
The aim of the game is to manoeuvre all five pieces from their starting positions on their own side up the central row to exit the board first.
Each player has five distinct pieces representing a different bird, each associated with a specific number. This number affects both its entry onto the central row of the board and its value in terms of counters:
In ancient Babylon the Advanced Game was played with one small, sheep knucklebone and one large ox knucklebone. From the cuneiform rulebook we can see that the four sides of the smaller knucklebone generate scores of 1, 2, 3 or 4, and the larger ox knucklebone the equivalent of a YES or a NO, two sides for each. Choosing to throw the ox knucklebone alters or cancels a sheep knucklebone throw. This unusual device means that a player has the chance to increase or forfeit any given throw throughout the game. In this replica set throwing the four old-style tetrahedrons together simulates the Babylonian sheep knucklebone and produces 1, 2, 3 or 4. As in the Basic Game four unmarked corners loses the throw. If 1, 2, 3 or 4 is unhelpful, unwanted or impossible, the player can (or must) throw the fifth distinct tetrahedron. Here an upturned marked corner signifies YES and unmarked NO, which also loses the throw.
1 marked corner 1 with YES = 5
2 marked corners 2 with YES = 6
3 marked corners 3 with YES = 7
4 marked corners 4 with YES = 10
Scores have two functions. One is to ‘activate’ the individual pieces, the other to advance them on the central row of the board. The player uses both dicing systems together to make the best of his position, holding the four in the right hand and the one in the left. A throw of 1, 2, 3 or 4 thus moves any piece the same number of squares forward, while a YES throw produces a larger score, as well as allowing a knocked-off piece to re-enter with its special throw.
[In this pdf there are 4 printable dice coins with a rosette on one side representing the pip of the die. There is also a printable Yes/No dice coin. Alternatively, find your you objects to use as pieces and dice. One could use the five major pieces from chess: King, Queen, Bishop, Knight and Rook and use coins for the dice: four with heads as the pips and a fifth larger coin with heads as the Yes side and tails as the No side.]
Playing the game
In the Advanced Game each player’s Storm-bird, Raven, Rooster and Eagle begin on the first four squares of their side, as shown in the diagram [above]. There they stay until the Swallow is activated. This requires throwing a 2 with the four tetrahedrons. This earns a second throw of the four dice with the YES/NO tetrahedron. A positive result can be used either to advance the Swallow or activate another piece. The Swallow can be entered or re-entered on the board at any point with any throw.
The Storm-bird, Raven, Rooster and Eagle can only be activated by throwing their special number, that is 5, 6, 7 or 10. Each of these throws requires the five tetrahedrons together, converting 1, 2, 3 or 4 into 5, 6, 7 or 10. Once activated each piece requires the same score again for its starting move, so that throwing 5 moves the Storm-bird onto Square 5, 6 the Raven to Square 6, 7 the Rooster to Square 10. Pieces can overtake their own or their opponent’s pieces to a free square beyond. As with the Basic Game, pieces are vulnerable to being knocked off from any square on the central row apart from the rosette squares. If Storm-bird, Raven, Rooster or Eagle is knocked off throwing the special number allows it to re-enter on its starting position, from which it can advance with any throw.
The rules suggest that the Swallow piece captures by hopping over an opponent’s piece to the vacant square beyond. An ancient cuneiform letter suggests that sometimes a lucky player could take off several pieces caught on alternating squares with one throw.
Pieces need exact throws to exit the board, each then winning its value in counters from the central pool. The winner’s five pieces thus bring in 30 points. In addition the loser must pay the winner the total value of any pieces left on the board or not yet entered. (It is likely that this feature originated in ancient Babylonian taverns where players bought rounds of food or drink.) Players decide on the number of rounds.
Total counters in this set are 36 blue, 36 red, and 60 white.
[In this pdf there are printable counters of the same colour but numbered. 36 x 10 points, 36 x 5 points and 60 x 1 points plus spares.]
Each player starts with six blue counters, each worth 10 points; six red counters, each worth 5 and ten white counters, each worth 1. The remainder constitute the pool.
The remarkable, two-part function of the dice allows the player flexibility, a certain level of control and the element of risk. Players can still be cautious or aggressive, while possession of the rosette squares is important. Blocking the dangerous Swallow is important. The final rosette square means safety, but managing to throw a 1 under pressure can be an elusive matter.
It is possible that landing a piece on a rosette in play could also earn tokens. Experiment by players with this replica set may result in alternative suggestions or improvements.