Looking for the best medieval board games? You don’t have to look any further. Find all the best Medieval games and more.
When I refer to Medieval board games, I’m not talking about games with Medieval themes. While knights and castles are quite fun, that’s not what we’re discussing. That’s a topic for another day. I’m talking about games that were actually played during the middle ages.
These games had a simple setup and were often abstract. This allowed people to play with accessible supplies that could represent different objects.
Whether you’re learning about the middle ages, or you just want to have some old-fashioned fun, there are plenty of medieval games that you can play with friends and family. These games have a long history, and they’ve withstood the test of time. In this article, you’ll find the best medieval games and their basic rules.
Ready to learn more? Let’s get started.
Best Medieval Board Games
Nine Men’s Morris
Nine Men’s Morris, also known as Merrills, Mill and Merels, is believed to be one of the oldest known games. There has been evidence of the game in ancient Egypt and the Western Roman Empire, but it was also played widely in Britain during Medieval times.
The game was most popular in England during the 14th and 15th centuries. In fact, the name Merrills actually comes from the Old English word, “mere,” which means boundaries. There are also references to the game in Shakespeare.
Like other Medieval board games, Merrills could be played with simple resources. In the fourteenth century, games were played on boxes that could double as a chess board or backgammon board. The game could be played on engraved boards or even boards drawn in the ground.
Nine Men’s Morris is a strategy game designed for two players. The board consists of 3 concentric squares of increasing size and 24 intersections. Each player has nine pieces, or men, usually colored black or white.
Players try to form ‘mills’—three of their own men lined horizontally or vertically. A mill allows a player to remove an opponent’s man from the board. The object is to reduce opponents to two men or leave them without a legal move.
Fox and Geese
The original uploader was Wiglaf at English Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons
Fox and Geese was a popular game in Medieval times. It’s an asymmetric board game for two players, where one player is the fox and tries to eat the geese, which are directed by the opposing player. This is one of several variations in the Fox games that are derived from Tafl (see below).
King Edward IV of England is believed to have played Fox and Hounds, an earlier version of the game. Even centuries later, Queen Victoria was a big fan of the medieval board game.
The game mechanics are fairly simple, but it falls into that category of strategy games that are easy to learn but tough to master. Here’s how it works:
The fox is placed in the middle of the board, and 13 geese are placed on one side of the board. The fox and geese can move to any empty space around them, including diagonally. The fox can jump over geese to capture them, much like in checkers. Repeated jumps are also possible.
Geese, however, cannot jump. The geese win if they surround the fox so that it cannot move. The fox wins if it captures enough geese so that they cannot surround it.
The traditional game includes 13 geese, but it’s somewhat unbalanced toward the fox. There are variations with 15 or more geese to help bring some balance to the game. Fox & Geese is considered a chase game, a popular genre that includes the next game on my list.
Matěj Baťha, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Tafl games, also known as Hnefatafl games, are a family of strategy games played on a checkerboard. The word Tafl means table, a reference to the tabletop format.
A complete set of rules doesn’t exist for the medieval game, but there are modern versions that are played in various regions of Europe.
Tafl games were played on a grid of either 9×9, 11×11, or in some cases 13×13. The number of pieces varies, but all games have a distinctive 2:1 ratio of pieces, with the king’s side having fewer pieces.
Tafl is asymmetrical, with the king starting in the center square. The knights are placed round the king in different configurations, depending on the version you’re playing. The opposing army is placed at the edges of the board.
The king’s objective is to escape to the edge of the board, while the other army attempts to capture him. This strategy game is an exciting abstract military game of move and capture.
One of the most well-known medieval games is Backgammon. This board game has been around since the 1600s, although it comes from a family of games that has ancient origins. Backgammon is a table strategy game designed for two people.
To achieve victory, a player must bear off all their disc pieces (called checkers) from the board before their opponent can do the same.
The playing time for each individual game is short, so it’s often played in matches. Victory is awarded to the first player to reach a predetermined number of points.
Players roll dice and move their pieces. However, there’s more strategy involved than just roll-and-move mechanics. Players choose from different paths for moving their pieces while trying to anticipate their opponents’ counter moves.
Backgammon has been a popular board game since the Medieval period. It’s a great game for those who enjoy abstract games that move more quickly than other board games, like Chess.
Game of the Goose
The Game of the Goose (a.k.a. Goose Game) is a board game where two or more players move pieces around a track in a stepwise manner, according to the roll of the dice.
The goal is to reach square number 63 before any of the other players, while avoiding obstacles such as the Inn, the Bridge, and Death.
The first player to cross the finish line is the winner. It’s basically a racing roll-and-move game, much like a modern day Chutes & Ladders.
Game of the Goose is distinct in being the first modern commercial board game. This board game goes all the way back to the fifteenth century, and it gained widespread popularity in the sixteenth century. It was invented in Italy and was given by Francesco de Medici as a present to King Philip of Spain. It was usually played for money.
In this board game, players start on the same square and throw one or two six-sided dice to move. Scattered throughout the board are spaces depicting a goose. When a player lands on a goose, that player can move again by the same distance. Other shortcuts are marked, allowing a player to move further along the course.
But watch out! Penalty spaces force the player to move backwards or lose a turn. The most fearsome space is the one marked with a skull, which represents death. If a player lands on the skull, they must go back to the start.
Goose Game involves plenty of luck, but it’s a great game for kids and those looking for a board game that’s lighthearted but fun.
Other Medieval Games
Some of the best Medieval games aren’t actually board games. When people in Medieval times were bored in their castles, they could move outside and play lawn games. Many of these are huge hits, even today.
Geoffrey Franklin, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Noddy is a medieval precursor of the modern card game Cribbage. It’s like “small Cribbage without the Crib.” It’s designed for two players, although in some variants four people can play. The game uses a standard deck of 52 cards.
The dealer deals three cards to each player at the beginning of each hand. The dealer then reveals the topmost card of the deck, which both players can use to score points.
The Knave Noddy is the Jack of the suit turned up. If the Jack is the card turned up, the Dealer scores two points immediately.
The rules are similar to modern Cribbage. The eldest leads the first card, followed by a card from the Dealer, and so on. Any time the top cards of the pile form some kind of scoring combination, the player of the last card scores it.
The game ends when a player reaches 31 points. If 31 is not reached, further hands are played until it is. A win is counted as soon as 31 is reached by either player. Switch dealers for the following hand.
Mattinbgn, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Bowls, also referred to as lawn bowling, is a lawn sport that has been played throughout history. It was popular in England during the Medieval period, going back to the thirteenth century.
The objective of this game is to roll biased (weighted) balls so that they stop close to a smaller ball called a jack or kitty.
Lawn bowls is usually played on a large, rectangular, surface known as a bowling green. Players take turns rolling the bowls from the mat toward the jack. If a ball is rolled out of bounds, it’s marked dead and removed from play. If it hits the jack or kitty, it’s still in play, even if it goes out of bounds.
After players have rolled all their bowls, the distance of the closest bowls to the jack is measured. Players receive points, called shots, for bowls that are closer to the jack than their opponent’s bowls.
Bowls is a fun game for all ages, but many play it competitively at a high level.
Russ Hamer, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Skittles is a lawn game from history that began in Europe. It’s an early precursor to the modern sport of nine-pin bowling. In parts of Europe, namely Ireland and some regions of the UK, Skittles remains a popular pub game.
Skittles is usually played indoors on a bowling alley with bowling balls and several skittles, which are small bowling pins. The goal is to use the balls to knock over the skittles. The exact rules can vary widely, depending on the region.
Some variations have players knock over the front pin first, while others require players to nominate the pin they will knock over before their turn. In London, players use a thick circular disc called a cheese.
Knocking down all the pins at once is known as a floorer, comparable to the strike in modern-day bowling. The player with the most points is the winner of the game.
Ringing the Bull
Ringing the bull is a popular pub game with a tradition that goes back to Medieval times. Players swing a string with an attached bull’s nose ring. The object is to hook the ring onto a bull’s horn or hook attached to the wall. The ring must stay on the hook to count as a successful throw.
With European overseas colonization, the hook and ring game spread in popularity. It is referred to as the Bimini Ring Game in the Caribbean islands.
The hook is attached to a post or pole, and the ring can be swung behind the hook. Players score two points if the ring is caught by the hook, and they score three points if the ring catches on the hook from behind.
Best Medieval Board Games: Final Thoughts
Now that you’ve learned about the best Medieval board games, you’ll be ready for an enjoyable evening of exciting, old-fashioned fun.
Looking for more interesting games from long ago? Visit my guide to board games of the ancient world.