Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

Imperial Contest: Jaques' Original Rules

Imperial Contest diagram
Imperial Contest diagram


The Game of IMPERIAL CONTEST or THE ALLIED ARMIES is founded on a scientific basis of operations, and illustrates the power of armies in combination acting against a central point.

The game possesses the advantage of being easily learnt; whilst there is scarcely any limit to the skill that may be exercised in playing it.

The game is played by two persons; one player taking the Allies and the other the Russians, with their Emperor.

The object of the Allied Armies is to prevent the Emperor (who is stationed on the central square of the board, surrounded by his army,) from moving to one of the outer squares, marked with a crescent, symbolizing the Turkish territories. If the Emperor is able to accomplish this, he wins the game. The Allies win the game by encompassing the Emperor, on any one square, so that he cannot move.

In playing this game, it would at first appear that the Emperor can have but little difficulty in reaching the Turkish territories and thus winning the game; but a small amount of practice will suffice to show that such is not the case, and that, with cautious, and steady play on the part of the Allies, the Emperor can only win by the exercise of vigilance and skill.


1st.- The Russians and the Allies take it by turns to move; the first player to be determined by lot.

2nd.- Any piece may move from one square to another, in a right line, as from a to c, or e to m; but not cornerwise, as from a to e.

3rd.- Any piece, (the Emperor excepted,) may move ever so far at once, if the squares in the way by vacant.

4th.- A piece cannot pass over the head of any other piece.

5th.- The Emperor moves in the same direction as the men, but he cannot move more than FOUR squares at once.

6th.- If a man, belonging either to the Russians or the Allies, gets placed between two of his adversaries, by a move of the opposite party, he may be made prisoner and taken off the board.

Thus: if a man stand in e, whilst his adversary is in b, he may be taken by another moving into i.

But this law does not apply to the Emperor, who can only be taken prisoner in the manner described by law 9th, and who can not take, or assist in taking, an adversary under any circumstances whatever, nor can more than one piece be taken off the board by a single move.

7th.- If the Emperor can reach any one of the outer squares of the board, denoted by a crescent, he wins the game.

Thus: should he stand in b, and no other piece in e, i or m, he can move into the Turkish territory at m, unless one of the Allies gets previous possession of one of the squares in question so as to intercept him; or if he happens to be in a square, as at e, and none of his own people or his enemies either in f or g, i or m, having then the two roads open to him, his object cannot be defeated and he wins the game.

8th.- Whenever the player who moves the Emperor perceives that a passage is free, so must call out GOING! and if there be two ways open, GONE!

9th.- If four of the Allies gain undisputed possession of the four squares marked 2, thus enclosing the Emperor, he becomes their prisoner.

10th.- If the Emperor is encompassed in a like manner, on any other square of the board, he is also taken and the contest ends.

11th.- If the Emperor, being encompassed on three sides by his enemies, as at 2, 2, 2, happens to have his only remaining man upon the fourth square, 2, and one of the allies on 3, next to it, the Russian man thus enclosed is killed and removed from the board.

12th.- A player is not compelled to take his adversary unless he choose.


From the Illustrated Lundon News: "The Imperial Contest.- Under this title a new game has just been issued, having at least the attraction of novelty to recommend it. The antagonism of the game, which is played upon a board marked at right angles as in chess, is indicated by the designation. The Emperor and his soldiers occupy the centre square; the Allies lining the four sides, which are uniformly stamped with a crescent, symbolical of the Ottoman empire. The 'contest' is carried on by mutual aggression, and not by a mere defence, as in other games of an analogous kind. The Emperor endeavours to reach the remoter squares by moving in straight lines; which the Allies strive to prevent by a general system of circumvention. The game is obviously based upon mathematical principles, and its balance of strength is pretty evenly maintained. Although simple in its laws, and of easy and immediate acquirement, it is in the power of neither party to win, without considerable strategy; and hence, as a preliminary study to the more recondite game of chess, the 'Imperial Contest' merits the attention of young people, besides being useful as a mental exercise."

From the Spectator: "Whenever a topic is really popular there is no end to the variety of its exponents. The war has inspired inventive genius with the idea of a new game in which the pieces are named with reference to actualities. The Emperor of Russia, surrounded by a body-guard of eight men, stands in the centre of a board divided in to eighty-one squares; and if he moves into any one of the squares that form the border, he has won the game. The four Allies, whose aggregate force amounts to sixteen men, are so placed on four sides of the board as to offer a stout resistance, if managed by a skilful player; and victory is on their side if they surround the Emperor so as to deprive him of the power of motion. The game offers room for a legitimate trial of skill, and will therefore be acceptable to those serious grown-up individuals who can take delight in the intellectual contests but at risk from the intricacies of the chess-board. It should be added, that the game is entirely new, both in mode of attaining final victory and in the method of capture, and is therefore to be honourably distinguished from the mass of old notions with new-fangled names, that are put forth every season. The title of the game is the 'Imperial Contest.'"

From the Sunday Times: "The Imperial Contest.- This is a game of the kind termed intellectual, which has recently been issued. In the centre of a board, containing 81 spaces, of which those on the border are marked with a crescent, to show that they represent the Turkish territory, stands the 'Emperor of Russia,' with eight of his soldiers placed about him in the form of a cross. The 'Allies' whose aggregate number is sixteen, are ranged on each side in triangles of four. If the Emperor can move into any of the outside squares, he has won the game; the Allies on the other hand, are victorious if they occupy the four squares contiguous to the Emperor's place. When the players are both unskilled, the advantage appears somewhat in favour of the Russians; the merits of the game however must not be judged by mere beginners; for as experience increases on both sides, the parties become well balanced, and the Emperor can be easily harassed by skill in the player of the Allies. Every one of the pieces moves like the rook at chess; the Emperor has some limits to his great power, being curtailed to four squares at a time, but the principle of the game is entirely distinct from that of chess or draughts."

Published and sold wholesale by J. Jaques & Son, 102 Hatton Gardens, London, to be had at all the principal Fancy Repositories throughout the Kingtom. Entered at Stationers' Hall.


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