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Wibold's Ludus Regularis, a 10th Century Board Game

Author(s): 
Richard Pulskamp (Xavier University) and Daniel Otero (Xavier University)

Overview

In the 21st century we are well-acquainted with the use of dice as randomizing devices for playing board games. We have been entertaining ourselves with such games for centuries. Indeed, in Monopoly, one of the most beloved board games of our era, players move around a board according to the rolls of dice and acquire, sell, and rent  properties as they proceed. The goal of the game is to become the "wealthiest" of the players by monopolizing the available properties and bankrupting one's opponents. In Dungeons and Dragons, another wildly popular role-playing game, participants use polyhedral dice to advance play.

Would you be surprised to learn that another game of dice, the Ludus Regularis, was created in medieval France more than a millennium ago by Wibold, the archdeacon of Noyon, for the diversion and moral instruction of Christian clergy? And while there is no evidence that Wibold had any influence on the 20th century American inventors of Monopoly or Dungeons and Dragons, the existence of such a modern-looking board game at such an early date attests to the appeal of this sort of diversionary activity, one that employs dice to introduce chance variation into a sequence of plays based on simple rules.

Although board games are known to have been played with dice during the Middle Ages in Europe, generally very little is known of the rules of play of many of these games. Some appear to have been games of capture, like chess or checkers, but with moves dictated by the roll of dice. Others may have been games of chase like backgammon in which the goal is to race the other players around the board toward a finish line. The game to be described here, Ludus Regularis, seems to be unique in its structure for its time.

Richard Pulskamp (Xavier University) and Daniel Otero (Xavier University), "Wibold's Ludus Regularis, a 10th Century Board Game," Loci (June 2014)

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