Ludus Latrunculorum (Latrones)
The board game Ludus Latrunculorum also known as Latrones is a two-player strategy game that was popular in Ancient Rome. The game most closely resembles Draughts or Checkers due to the use of a checker grid board, identical pieces which move one square at a time and the ability to hop over enemy pieces. Many historians believe the game was used for training military tactics and was widely played by the legions while on campaign.
None of the surviving sources are explicit about the exact rules for latrones and it is likely that multiple variations of the game were played. Historians use clues from ancient sources to reconstruct likely rulesets for the game, but nothing is certain, and many of the specifics are still debated or unknown.
It is thought that multiple different board sizes were used to play the game and that the number of pieces each player had varied. I've chosen to use an 8x8 square board which is familiar to us moderns (both chess and American checkers use this size) but also confirmed by archeological evidence to have been used in Ancient Rome.
Archeologist and game scholar Ulrich Schädler provides one of the more recent attempts at reconstructing the rules for Latrones. This is the reconstruction my online game is based on. The rules are as follows:
1. The game board is 8 by 8 squares in size and begins empty.
2. Players each have 8 pieces they take turns placing on any free square on the board.
3. Once all the pieces are on the board, players take turns moving a single piece. Players can only move their own pieces and only one square in any orthogonal direction unless a jump move. Pieces cannot move to occupied squares but can jump over a square occupied by the opposing player if the square behind it is free. Like checkers/draughts, multiple hops can be made in a single turn if possible.
4. A piece is surrounded if an enemy controls two opposite orthogonal, bordering squares in either the horizontal or vertical direction. Our online game marks surrounded pieces by coloring the square red. Surrounded pieces cannot be moved and can be "killed," i.e., permanently eliminated from the board by the opposing player instead of moving one of his or her own pieces.
5. A piece is only surrounded if the surrounding enemies are not surrounded. A common tactic is to rescue a surrounded piece by surrounding one of the enemies, thus freeing your piece.
History of Latrones
Despite its popularity, few Roman sources describing the game survive. The earliest known reference to the game is from the work "De Lingua Latina" written by the scholar Marcus Terentius Varro who lived from 116–27 BC, thus confirming that the game was played in Republican Rome. Later sources from the Roman Empire era, like Ovid and Martial, give insight into the game's mechanics.
Saleius Bassus describes latrunculi without mentioning its name in a poem in the 1st century A.D.:
Cunningly the pieces are disposed on the open board and battles are fought with soldiery of glass, so that now White blocks Black, now Black blocks White. But every foe yields to thee, Piso; marshalled by thee, what piece ever gave way? What piece on the brink of death dealt not death to his enemy? Thousand-fold are thy battle tactics: one man in fleeing from an attack himself overpowers him, another, who has been standing on the look-out, comes up from a distant corner; another stoutly rushes into the mêlée and cheats his foe now creeping on his prey; another courts blockade on either flank and under feint of being blocked, himself blocks two men; another's objective is more ambitious, that he may quickly break through the massed phalanx, swoop into the lines and, razing the enemy's rampart, do havoc in the walled stronghold. Meantime, although the fight rages fiercely, the hostile ranks are split, yet thou thyself are victorious with serried lines unbroken or despoiled maybe of one or two men and both thy hands rattle with the prisoned throng.
From this first sentence, we can infer that the game begins with the pieces off the board as our implementation does. This is the view that Ulrich Schädler takes also.