Alquerque, also known as Qirkat, by its Arabic name, is an ancient game with unclear origin. Most surviving examples are from the medieval period. The oldest building that has Alquerque carved into its stone floor is the Church of the Condemnation in Jerusalem, Israel. The stones on which it is carved are from the 2nd century CE and were originally used by the Romans as street pavement, and then later incorporated into the church’s floor. However, the date of the carving itself is not clear. According to the sign in the Church of the Condemnation itself the carving dates to the Roman period, the same as the stones. However, most historians think that the carving was really made during the medieval period by a crusader from Europe, more specifically from Spain or France, where most believe the game originated.
Alquerque in the Church of the Condemnation, Jerusalem, Israel. Carved pavement stones are from the Roman period, 2nd century CE, incorporated into the building of the church, built in 1903-1904, on the ruins of an older 13th century church. Photo: Katelyn Doran, July 6, 2012.
The rules for Alquerque were preserved for us in a medieval book commissioned by the king of Castile, Galicia and León, Alfonso X, in Toledo, Spain, in 1283, called Libro De Los Juegos, the Book of Games. Due to its similarity with checkers or draughts and Fanorona from Madagaskar, it is considered to be a parent of all of those games.
Posted sign near the Alquerque game in the Church of the Condemnation, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo: Katelyn Doran, July 6, 2012
- The game is for two players.
- The board consists of a grid of 5×5 cells connected to each other with vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines.
- The game begins with each player having 12 pieces, one side black and the other white.
- Each player places their 12 pieces in the two rows closest to them and in the two rightmost spaces in the center row. The center cell is left empty.
Alquerque board at starting position
- The players decide who goes first by a toss of a coin. It is not an advantage to go first, since the first piece to move automatically gets captured.
- A piece can move from its point to any empty adjacent point that is connected by a line.
- A piece can jump over an opposing piece and remove it from the game, if that opposing piece is adjacent and the point beyond it is empty.
- Multiple capturing jumps are permitted, and also obligatory if such a sequence of moves is possible. If a few different capturing jumps are possible, then the player must chose the sequence of jumps that would eliminate the most pieces of the opponent.
- Changing direction after every capture in a series of captures is permitted.
- If a capture is possible it must be made. If the player forgets to capture the opponent’s piece and the opponent notices that they forgot, then the opponent gets to remove the first player’s piece that did not make the capture. Such a rule is called huffing. If a player could have captured multiple pieces of the opponent, but only noticed some of them, and not all, then the opponent gets to huff the player’s piece, as well.
- The goal of the game is to eliminate all of the opponent’s pieces. The game is won when the opponent has lost all of their pieces.
- If the player blocked some of the opponent’s pieces in such a way that they cannot move and cannot be eliminated, the game ends in a tie.
- Alquerque is a game of pure strategy without any luck component, since there is no dice of any kind.
- The player must try to capture the opponent’s pieces, while protecting their own pieces from capture at the same time, by filling the space behind them with another piece.
- Towards the end of the game, the player must try to prevent the opponent from cornering their last pieces.
- The player should always try to setup their pieces in a such a way that they can capture as many of opponent’s pieces as possible in a single move.
Alquerque carved on a stone in Ermita de la Purísima Concepción (Hermitage of the Immaculate Conception), a 12th century church, in San Vicentejo, Burgos, Spain – Photo: Pedro Novella, July 10, 2011
- Bell, R. C. Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations. Courier Corporation, 2012.
- Botermans, Jack. The book of games: strategy, tactics & history. Sterling Publishing Company, 2008.
- Van Der Stoep, Arie. “Early Spanish Board Games.” Board Game Studies 5, no. 2002 (2002): 111-118.
- Westerveld, Govert. The History of Alquerque-12. Spain and France. Volume I. Lulu. com, 2013.
- Westerveld, Govert. The History of Alquerque-12. Remaining countries. Volume II. Lulu. com, 2015.