Gambling in 1777

The Jas Townsend & Son company has been putting out a lot of videos of interest to historical reenactors. They recently did this short one on gaming/gambling in Colonial America. They mention Backgammon and here is one of the quotes they probably are referring to written by an Englishman wrote home to a friend in 1768:

They have a vile practice here, which is peculiar to the city (New York). I mean that of playing at back-gammon (a noise I detest) which is going forward at the public coffee-houses from morning till night, frequently a dozen tables at a time.


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16th Century Satirical German Playing Cards

A look at the symbolism of the illustrations on the deck of 16th century German cards.

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Tabula Ancient Roman Backgammon

We picked up a new event out side of Chicago this weekend, so I’m unexpectedly having to have re-stock some of our games earlier than normal, and a  little behind on the the blog/podcast. I’ll be back next week with a new audio episode, until then here is a look at version of Backgammon that dates to Ancient Rome.

Backgammon games traveled to the Near East from India, and may have been imported to Europe by the Romans. Emperor Claudius (A.D. 41-54) was fond of an early version of Backgammon called Tabula. Emperor Zeno (A.D. 475-81) once had such bad luck playing Tabula that the positions of his men on the board were described a century later by Agathias, a scholastic of Myrine, in Asia. This 6th century record has enabled scholars to recreate the game of Tabula with what is believed a fair degree of accuracy. We have included the rules for Tabula as well as 31 other national and historic variations on Backgammon, which can be played on a standard board.


Three dice are used in Tabula, and the roll can be used to move, 1, 2, or 3 pieces during the turn. For example, a roll of 2-4-5 can be used to move a single piece the total of 11 spaces, or two pieces could be moved: 1 moving two spaces, and the other nine spaces (4+5). Any similar combination could also be used. Or three men could be moved 2, 4, and 5 spaces each.

All the pieces start off of the board, and both players start in the same corner of the board, and unlike the modern game both travel counter clock-wise around the board to bear off. A player may not advance his men until all of them are on the board. Blots are hit as in modern Backgammon, and hit men must re-enter the board before any other men can move. A player must use all of his roll of the dice even if it endangers his men. Any part of a throw is lost if it is blocked by the other player’s pieces.

An optional rule is that no piece may be borne off of the board until all of the player’s pieces are in the home table. If a blot is hit, no more pieces may be borne off until that man has re-entered the home.

Remember, you can submit an audio question about the history of games to be used on an audio episode using the button in the upper left, or use the Submit a Question form if you’re bashful.

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I just put together a little video look at the rules of our Ringo game.

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So how old is Pente?

Since we use glass drops as game piece for some of our portable fabric games we often have people think a couple of our games have something to do with the game Pente which was sold with glass drops as game pieces.

The theme music is “Scully’s  Reel/Mrs.McCloud’s/Cooley’s Reel” by the band Slánte from their Album Cup of Tea and is used under a Creative Commons share-alike license.
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Peter Flötner Playing Cards

My next audio episode will be out in a couple days, until then here’s a little look at one of the decks of cards we reproduce: .

We went with blank backs on our decks both to keep the price down as well as avoid having them be “marked cards” which would happen with the different musical scores on the backs of one of the surviving examples.

See our version of the cards here
Peter Flotner playing cards

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Submit an Audio Question

Don’t forget, you can leave me an audio question to use on the podcast by clicking on the “Send Voicemail” button in the upper right.

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12-Man Morris

I’ve put together another short video about one of the games we sell. This one covers the basic rules for 12-Man Morris as we prefer to play it. Our board was designed to be used either for 9-Man Morris, or 12-Man.

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Who are the kings & queens on playing cards?

Do the kings, queens and jacks in a deck of cards represent specific people?
Well… Sometimes…


Examples above scanned from
Playing Cards The History and Secrets of the Pack, by W. Gurney Benham.


Submit an audio question by clicking on the “Send Voicemail” link at the upper right corner of the page so I can include it in an episode.

Or if you’re shy send me a question through the “Ask a Question” form.

The theme music is “Scully’s  Reel/Mrs.McCloud’s/Cooley’s Reel” by the band Slánte from their Album Cup of Tea and is used under a Creative Commons share-alike license.


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Fidchell an Ancient Irish Game

Until I finish my next question episode here’s the first of a series of short videos I’m working on covering the basic rules for Fidchell, one our more obscure games.

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