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The Game of Kerboge

[Kerboke Players Image 14K] Drawing by Chris Beaumont


A. The board is a flat circle of wood between one and two feet in diameter. Ten circular hollows around the edges are called 'moorings' and a single larger hollow in the centre the 'harbour'. The moorings are numbered 1-10 clockwise: moves 'forward' are made in a clockwise direction and vice-versa.
The playing pieces are small coloured counters called 'stones', each player having ten. The players are given names as follows:
Sailor (blue stones), Merchant (red), Soldier (black), Ruler (grey).
An extra playing piece, the 'Serpent', is represented by a metal ring or in good sets by the carven image of a sea-serpent. In addition a coin and for inexperienced players some means of keeping score are required.

B. All stones start in the harbour. The Serpent starts at mooring 1. The players draw lots for positions: the Sailor sits next to the Serpent, the others forward of him in the order above, which is also the order of play, starting with the Sailor. The Serpent moves after the Ruler (see below).
Players may only move their own stones.

C. During his move a player may
(i) Transfer one or two stones from the harbour to a mooring which is either empty or contains one or more of his own stones.
(ii) Move any number of stones from one mooring either up to three moorings forward or one mooring backwards. All stones must move in the same direction but need not arrive in the same mooring. Any number of stones may be left behind and not moved.
EXAMPLE: The Merchant has six stones in mooring 5. He picks up four, puts one in 6, two in 7 and one in 8. Alternatively he could have placed all four in 4.
(iii) It is possible for a player to have all his stones in the harbour on his turn and be unable to move them out as all moorings are occupied. He is then said to have 'run aground' and forfeits his turn.

D. Stones moving forward into a mooring containing hostile stones may 'board'. For every TWO stones that enter, ONE hostile stone may be boarded. Boarded stones are immediately placed in the harbour, from where they may subsequently reenter the game. Only moving stones may board. Odd numbers are discounted. Stones that move backwards may NOT board. Boarding is always voluntary. A player may not board his own stones.
EXAMPLE: The Sailor moves five stones to mooring 4. Here are two of his own stones, three of the Soldier's and one of the Ruler's, The Sailor may board up to two stones: he chooses to board one of the Soldier's and the single one of the Ruler's.

E. In moving forward stones may only jump a maximum of ONE hostile mooring.
EXAMPLE: The Merchant has six stones in mooring 6. There is one Sailor's stone in 7, one in 8, and four in 9. Normally the Merchant could move three to 9, but in this case he can only jump 7 and reach 8.

F. The Serpent is moved in rotation by the players. The player concerned tosses a coin: heads means the Serpent moves TWO moorings forward, tails ONE mooring backwards.
The Serpent always boards stones it meets with a force of four stones, ie up to two stones are boarded. Unlike moving stones it may board when moving backwards. If more than one player has stones in the mooring the Serpent boards from the largest group, if two equal groups one from each, if three or four equal groups the Serpent is 'confused' and does not board at all.
The Serpent may not itself be boarded, and thus never enters the harbour.

G. For each stone boarded the boarding player or Serpent receives a point. As soon as the total score of all four players and Serpent reaches 40 points the game ends, the winner being the player with the most points.
If the game is played for money the players agree beforehand on what sum a point represents, and each places 10 points on the table, taking out the points gained at the end. The Serpent's winnings go to the player who scored the most points.
Should players tie the Serpent's winnings are divided equally between them, odd points left over going towards the next round of drinks. If the Serpent 'wins' its winnings all go towards the next round.

H. Jai Kerboge is a variant for two players. Sailor and Merchant only participate, and normally only 20 points are in contention. The Serpent moves forwards only and is not tossed for. This is a game of skill, unlike normal kerboge which should be played at a fast and furious pace.

A Short History

The oldest version of this game, kerl-bagta ('stone-holing') is still played in Bardastan, where it may have originated. It seems to have reached Armesh in about 4000FC. There it aquired its circular board, and this is the version played in Armesh. During the post-Imperial Period sailors probably brought it to the Peninsula (4200-4600), adding the naval terminology. The Serpent is almost certainly a Caranjan addition, Caran kerboge being the best-known nowadays.
The present rules were first printed in Chainbyzan's classic work 'Games of Many Lands' (Caranja, 4564). Chainbyzan is generally credited with the popularisation of Jai-Kerboge.
Most taverns in ports have one or more tables with kerboge boards carved directly on them. It is the custom in Caranja for the tavern-keeper to be offered a drink should the Serpent win.


The colours of the stones refer to the Caran convention of wearing clothes in colours indicating profession or status. Thus a commercial ship-owner might wear a blue cap and red tunic. This code is by no means obligatory, indeed certain young persons delight in devising bizarre and inappropriate combinations.
It may be wondered why the stones are not called 'ships' or 'boats' to fit in with the other sea-going terms. Probably this is because when kerboge is played on a sea voyage having one's ships boarded or assailed by serpents might be considered a bad omen, particularly if the player were captain of the ship.

Fleet: five or more stones in one mooring.
Fishing: deliberately moving two moorings in front of the Serpent.
Hunting: moving directly behind the Serpent.
Throwing in boys: avoiding heavy losses by dropping single stones behind a larger moving number. The example in rule E could illustrate this if the distribution of the Sailor's stones was the result of a move by him: he has limited the Merchant to boarding one stone instead of three. The phrase is well-known in Midgard and means the giving up of something valuable to avoid further losses. Three famous historical incidents gave rise to this usage, which would take too long to explain here!


Number of stones moving followed by diagonal stroke. Then one number indicates a move from the harbour to that number mooring, two numbers a move around the board.
'b'=boarding, followed by number of stones boarded and name of player by initial.

Opening Example

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