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Roman Board Games
by Wally J. Kowalski


This game is the familiar game of "Five in a Row," which was played on the same boards as Latrunculi. This game has been named Calculi, which means "stones" (or "pebbles" or "counters") in Latin. The Romans referred to this game as ludus calculorum, "the game of stones," but the references are general and unclear. Some experts believe the Romans used the term ludus calculorum to refer to any game played with stones including ludus latrunculorum. This view can lead to confusion between the games, and therefore the name Calculi has been coined to distinguish this game from Latrunculi.

Stones were used for counting before the abacus was introduced, hence the word 'calculate.' Some historians and archeologists have referred to this game as Roman Draughts or Checkers because of the similarity of the board and pieces. However, few boards were checkered in black and white -- many were just made of lines.


    This game requires a bit larger board, and a lot more stones, than Latrunculi, but can be played on 8 x 8 boards. Some large bags of stones have been found, which include roundels (gambling chips) as well as glass latro (glass soldier-stones).

The traditional rules of Calculi, or "Five in a Row," are as follows:

  1. Black plays first.
  2. First person to line up five stones in a row orthogonally or diagonally wins.
  3. It is illegal to make a "double open-ended three" unless one is forced to do so.
  4. If the board becomes filled, the game is a draw.

A double open-ended three, or three in a row simultaneously in two directions, is banned because it is too easy to win, and occurs frequently. This rule makes for a much more interesting game, and leads to the strategy in which one tries to make a double "three and a four," which is like a double open-ended three, except that one line is made of four in a row.


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