Fidchell – “jouer avec un Goiedhel” – medieval board game from Westmeath recreated by Les 7 Cailloux, St Etienne

On a recent trip to France I came across the games of Les Sept Cailloux, a St Etienne based company who make beautiful and practical versions of Ancient Roman and medieval board games.

All too often over the years I have bought “travel editions” of various boards games, whose main feature seems to be tiny plastic pieces that instantly disappear. I bought a couple of Sept Cailloux games both of which came in leather pouches and were brilliantly designed for genuine portability.

One of the games was Fidchell. Interesting on their website this is advertised as a chance to “jouer avec un Viking” but on the game itself one is invited to “jouer avec un Goeidhel” (Gael):

 

The board is based on the Ballinderry Gaming Board found in 1932 in the excavation of a Crannóg in Westmeath and now in the National Museum in Dublin.  Looking around the internet there is evidently much debate and discussion as to what the rules of Fidchell could have really been. On the board game website BoardGameGeektwo other available fidchell products are listed –  one of which is quite different from this game.

The Sept Cailloux game opens out to reveal the board, and the pieces are in a pouch which fits neatly into a pocket:

This brand of fidchell has straightforward rules. Essentially, it is an asymmetrical game with one side having more pieces, the other have fewer but a more powerful piece. Black’s aim is to capture the king piece by surrounding it on four sides (or three at the corners) although the king is invulnerable in its central stronghold. White is aiming to occupy all four corners. Pieces are captured by being surrounded on either side (either laterally or vertically, or if at the corners the immediate lateral and vertical piece) My children understood the rules immediately (though naturally enough wanted to bend them)

Here is the board unfurled:

“Ficheall” is the contemporary Irish word for chess and online fidchell is sometimes referred to as “Celtic Chess” or “Ancient Irish Chess” However the games are clearly not directly related… and the Ballinderry board is, as its listing on the National Museum of Ireland website indicates, a Viking artefact. However all that aside the Fidchell game produced by Les 7 Cailloux is a fun game to play and a beautiful – and genuinely portable – object to boot.

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