One of the very first game books in Western Europe appeared in 1283, under
`editorship' of the Spanish King Alphonso the Tenth. This Libro del
Acedrex contains many rules of old games. This large historic chess
variant is one of the games described in this book.
The game is mentioned in the books of Murray,
Gollon, and Pritchard.
Pieces and opening setup
The game is played on a board of twelve by twelve squares. The background
of chess as a wargame is somewhat forgotten here, and pieces are now often
mythological animals. (The crocodile was probably for West-Europeans in
that time as mythological as the griffion.) Players have twelve pawns,
a king, a griffion, two crocodiles, two giraffes, two unicorns, two lions,
and two rooks. (A griffion has the body of a lion and the head of a large
The opening setup is as follows.
King f1; Rook a1, l1; Lion b1, k1; Unicorn c1, j1; Giraffe d1, i1;
Crocodile e1, h1; Griffion g1; Pawn a4, b4, c4, d4, e4, f4, g4, h4, i4,
j4, k4, l4.
King f12; Rook a12, l12; Lion b12, k12; Unicorn c12, j12; Giraffe d12,
i12; Crocodile e12, h12; Griffion g12; Pawn a9, b9, c9, d9, e9, f9, g9,
h9, i9, j9, k9, l9.
(From left to right on bottom and top ranks: rook, lion, unicorn, giraffe,
crocodile, king, griffion, crocodile, giraffe, unicorn, lion, rook.)
The king moves as modern king (one square to an arbitrary direction),
but may on its first move make a jump. The white king can jump to d1, d3,
f3, h3 or h1; the black king can jump to d12, d10, f10, h10, or h12; in
other words the jump is two squares in horizontal, vertical or diagonal
The griffion moves one square diagonal, followed by an arbitrary
number of squares horizontal or vertical. The griffion may also only go
one square diagonal. Note that the griffion may not jump over other pieces,
and the unobstructed path must start with the diagonal movement.
The first move in the game of a unicorn in the game is as a knight.
In this first move, the unicorn may not capture a piece. After this first
move, the unicorn moves as a modern bishop.
The lion jumps three squares horizontally or vertically; so for
example, the lion on b1 may jump to b4 or e1. The lions move is not obstructed
by pieces standing on the passed squares.
The giraffe has a kind of stretched knight-move: it goes one
diagonal and then three squares horizontal or vertical on. So, for instance,
when on a1, the giraffe can go to b5 or e2. The giraffe jumps, i.e., its
move is like a knight not obstructed by any piece standing on a passed
square; e.g., from the opening setup, the giraffe on d1 can jump to e.g.
The crocodile moves as a modern bishop.
The rook moves as a normal rook.
The pawn moves as a usual pawn, but does not have a double first
There is no castling.
A pawn that is moved to the last rank promotes to the type of piece that
was standing on that rank in the opening setup; except when moving to f12
or f1, in which case the pawn promotes to a griffion. So, a white pawn
moved to a12 promotes to a (white) rook; a white pawn moved to b12 promotes
to a lion, etc.
The object of the game is to mate the opponent. Exact rules for stalemate
and bare king are not known, but a most likely guess is that they are as
in Shatranj, i.e.: a player that stalemates
his opponent wins the game. A player that `bares his opponents king', i.e.,
takes the last non-king piece (including pawns) of the opponent, wins the
game, with one exception: when the opponent can bare the other king too
in one move, the game is a draw. (Example: White: king a1, griffion a11,
Black: king a12, griffion a2. When White takes the black griffion on a2,
black can make a draw by taking on a11.)
Jean-Louis Cazaux sent a scan of a nice stamp on Grande Acedrex:
You can also look at a larger
image of the stamp and five more stamps with historic chess pictures.
The painting on which this stamp is based comes from the Libro del Acedrex
from the 13th century, a book on chess and games, composed by King Alfonso
X. Below, you see the painting; if you select the image, you can see the
picture in larger size.
A facsimile of the book has been brought out at the beginning of the 20th
'Das Spanische Schachzabelbuch des Konigs. Alfons des Weisen vom Jahre
1283, Illustrierte handschrift im Besitze der Königl Bibliotek des
Eskorial' (j.T.6.fol.). Introduction by John G. White. Leipzig, 1913.
A facsimile of King Alfonso's book is available at
Written by Hans Bodlaender.
Thanks to Modest Solans
and David Howe for additional information and help.
WWW page created: December 11, 1995. Last Modified: March 11, 2000.