Adam wrote:Thanks Marc0, that clarified things for me.
So, my main angle for looking again at Alea, is that the presently accepted proposed set up for the game leads to a dull game where white is hopelessly surrounded from the start.
given the limited information we have about this game, it makes perfect sense to evaluate reconstructions on the basis of the quality of the resulting game. Being very ignorant of these aspects, I am very happy to have the opportunity to discuss Alea Evangelii with you!
Perkis (I attach his paper) considers the reconstructed game to be unbalanced in favor of the defenders:
Andrew Perkis wrote:
We found that 19x19 Hnefatafl, when played according to the general interpretation of the rules as handed down since Murray, can easily be won by the royal player, even, as it turns out, if the more difficult objective of reaching a corner point is adopted.
The opening position for the biggest Hnefatafl, as reconstructed by Murray, and generally accepted since, has one serious flaw. As Alain Dekker has pointed out, Black can easily construct a fortress around his King during the first few moves of the game, and there is nothing White can do about it.
Perkis' proposed solution of the playing problems seems to me rather arbitrary (from the historical point of view). In my opinion, analogy with other tafl games suggests that attackers and defenders are not mixed in the initial layout:
Adam wrote:My idea is that the variagated men can be thought of as squares with special properties, like a throne square in hnefatafl, and not as 'pieces' at all. This could fit in quite nicely with the variagation idea, as a throne square can be used in a capture by either side.
In the manuscript, pieces are called “men” (“viri”). I think the “variegated men” (“varii viri”) are pieces (since they are “men”), likely special pieces, since they are “different” (“varii”
Adam wrote:This could also fit with the reference to city and citadel, which implies to me board zones, or physical structures. The citadel might be the central part of the board, the city the board as a whole with the corners as its exits.
I agree with your analysis: “Civitas” (city) and “Civitatula” (“citadel” or “small city”) seem to point to two distinct areas on the board. I also agree that the two locations likely include each other, with the Citadel inside the City. A problem is that there are at least four concentric layers in the diagram:
A. the central spot occupied by the single Unary Man
B. Canon I (defined by the position of the 16 central men)
C. the “circle” of Canons 2,3,4
D. the whole board.
I think the Citadel is the “throne” A (or, less likely, B). Also Limneus calls the “throne” “citadel” (although using a different Latin word: “arx”
The City can be any one of B, C or D.
If (as you suggest) one interprets the Citadel as A and the City as D we are back to standard Hnefatafl, without the need to create new special rules for the two areas. I think this is the most reasonable interpretation.
By the way, an element that we can safely conclude from the City and Citadel mentioned in the manuscript is that the game represents a siege, not a naval battle (as stated, for instance, on boardgamegeek
). It is amazing that the text of the manuscript has been so often ignored or misinterpreted.
Adam wrote:I have a theory that the hnefatafl board is inspired by the layout of viking trelleborg earthworks. The Alea board set up actually mirrors this layout even more accurately. A fact that I find rather compelling. I will post some pictures showing the boards and a trelleborg superimposed.
I knew nothing of trelleborg. From the pictures I have found with a google search, your idea seems very promising to me. I am looking forward to see your pictures and to read more on the subject.
Adam wrote:I am also looking at ways of incorporating other types of playing piece with reference to the dukes and counts. My main source of inspiration for this is Aage Nielsen's Berserk Hnefatafl, which in turn was inspired by some enigmatic glass hnefatafl pieces from Bergen Museum in Norway. They seem to show special pieces, which Aage has used to create the commander and knight pieces in Berserk, whose special moves are based on both tafl reconstructions and roman latrunculi type games. Take a look at the post in 'strategy and rules' called 'Berserk Hnefatafl' where Aage has explained his careful logic, with a picture of the glass pieces.
Thank you for pointing out Aage's Berserk Hnefatafl! It is relevant both as an example of a reconstruction from fragmentary evidence and as a parallel for the Alea Evangelii game: both games include special pieces and one could argue that the four evangelists assigned to the board sides are analogue to the four viking boats in Berserk Hnefatafl: ”Four Viking long boats, each with a commander and his crew of warriors, has landed on the coast of a foreign country, near a castle where a king has barricaded himself with his warriors.”
I definitely agree that presence of different kinds of pieces in the original Alea Evangelii game is likely:
* the manuscript mentions “duces”
(“dukes”, or “leaders”) and “comites”
(“counts”, or “soldiers”);
* four of the pieces are referred to as “different men”.
While MS CCC 122 testifies the presence of special pieces other than the King, their nature can only be conjectured by analogy. Expert gamers like you and Aage are the most qualified to formulate sensible hypotheses.
An economic assumption would be to identify the “dukes” with the “different men” and the “counts” with the ordinary pieces. In this way, only a special kind of pieces is needed.
One could also take inspiration from other games. For instance (according to this paper
) chess “bishops” are named “acclini comites” (“inclined counts”) in the “Versus de Scachis” poem (X Century). Girolamo Vida (Scacchia Ludus, 1527) uses “duces” for chess kings and “comites” for chess pawns. And of course there are the “duces” from “ludus latrunculorum”...
Adam wrote:I am also assuming that the Alea manuscript shows a game which is underway, so 7 pieces have been removed from the board.
Your idea provides an alternative to the assumption that the diagram contains quite a few errors. Still, given that I think that the “variegated men” were “men”, i.e. pieces, I find it difficult to image a sequence of play that would produce the configuration we see in the diagram: the defenders (i.e. the pieces in the central area) are all at their place. It would also be interesting to know if there are analogues for this hypothesis, i.e. ancient manuscripts representing a game situation different from the initial layout. Since the diagram likely is an illustration of the text, and the text describes the initial layout, in my opinion it is acceptable to assume that the diagram also represents the initial layout.
Adam wrote:I also take account of the pieces that are given special labeling, using this as the starting point for the special pieces on both sides.
This seems to me a sound approach, but there is an excess of options, so I guess it will be necessary to choose a subset of the labeled pieces. 22 of the 73 pieces (70, in the diagram) have special labels:
- the Unary Man at the center (marked with a big I);
- the Primary Man, in a weird asymmetrical position (marked with an unreadable label);
- the four “different men” (drawn in red, labeled with Mark / John and associated with the passion of Christ);
- the men at the beginning of each Canon (one for each of Canons 1..9 and 4 for Canon X); all these (but Canon IX, certainly a copyist's error) are also marked by a cross; another error is the placement of the number and cross of Canon IIII;
– the other men at the corners of the central diamond corresponding to Canon 1 (the top corner is also marked with the cross of Canon 1; the other three are only numbered II, III, IIII).
In general, an assignment of the pieces to attackers and defenders that were consistent with the structure of the Canons would seem to me an improvement with respect to Perkis' proposal.
Adam wrote:I feel its important to say that while what I am working on could be called a reconstruction, and while all my choices have their starting points in the historical sources, that this would be a modern interpretation of the game, with the primary goal of making a game that is entertaining to play, and robust enough for tournament play, just like Copenhagen rules or Berserk rules, and not claiming to be historically accurate. At some point one has to take a leap and fill in some blanks, using hnefatafl play experience (23 years in my case), and the many excellent and keen players on this site, to fill those blanks in.
Yes, this is a very important point. In order to have a playable game it is necessary to fill the gaps, and in Alea Evangelii there are a number of gaps! It is also important to create a reconstruction that is as faithful as possible to the available evidence. A clear idea of what is based on evidence and what is “gap filling” is not something to give for granted. We already discussed how the “Primary Man” has been confounded with the “king”. This remark in the paper that Damian linked here
is another example of the issues that can arise when studying the subject:
Lewis wrote:a comparison of the text with the diagram reveals that the alea evangelii required a board containing 18X18 squares... The “king” stood on the central point, and was defended by twenty-four men placed at various points in the middle of the board. Around the edges, forty-eight attacking pieces were disposed. The proportion of the sides is thus the same as in tawlbwrdd and tablut, and there can be little doubt that the Game of the Gospel belonged to the same group.
Lewis makes the error of taking Murray's reconstruction hypothesis as documentary evidence: the proportion of the sides is not specified in the manuscript (neither in the text nor in the diagram). The result is a circular argument:
* by analogy with tawlbwrdd and tablut, Murray assumes that the proportion of the sides must be 2:1.
* according to Lewis, since Alea Evangelii has the same proportion of the sides as tawlbwrdd and tablut, it is proven that the three games belong to the same group.
So, I clearly understand your worries about drawing a clear distinction between evidence and reconstruction. I think that, as long as one does not lose sight of what is evidence and what is not, it is possible to create a reconstruction that is both historically accurate (i.e. consistent with the available documents) and enjoyable when playing.
Adam wrote:I will post some pictures presenting these ideas for discussion.
I am looking forward to read more of your ideas! Thank you again for sharing your thoughts!