When I first started making game-related posts, Chris mentioned an old Celtic game called Fidchell. Looking for information on it, I found that it was mentioned in a lot of old stories, but how the game is played and what the board looked like are still largely matters of speculation. Some suspect that it was a variation on the Norse Tafl games, which were known to have spread to the British Isles.
These games bore a similarity to chess, but unlike in chess, the players were not on equal playing fields. Instead, one controlled the king and his defenders, who started in the center of the board. The other player controlled the attacking pieces, and has the goal of capturing the king. There are twice as many attackers as there are defenders, but since it takes two pieces to capture another, the defending player still has the advantage. The reason why it’s often thought Fidchell isn’t quite like this is that writings on the game suggest the two sides each had the same number of pieces.
However Fidchell might have been played, it is known that it was popular among the upper classes, including kings and queens. In the Tain Bo Cuailnge, a character mentions that King Conchobar of Ulster spends a third of his time playing Fidchell. The Mabinogion mentions a game between King Arthur and his nephew Owain mab Urien, son of the King of Rheged, played on a silver board with golden pieces. Even the gods themselves were sometimes said to play Fidchell, and the game was thought to have magic powers, with its moves affecting those of actual armies. There are tales of Fidchell games that could play themselves, and the legendary Thirteen Treasures of the Island of Britain included a gold and silver set with that power. In Irish mythology, the game is regarded as an invention of the god Lugh.