Qirkat History

Obscure origins

Like the origin of most games – and indeed most things of value before the modern age – the origin of qirkat is obscure. Some game historians point to engravings on the ceiling of the Mortuary Temple of Seti I near Qurna, Egypt, dating back to the 13th century BC, where a striking resemblance to a qirkat board can be seen. Others believe the game, like so many other precursors of today's board games, originated in the Roman Empire – or at least was appropriated by the Romans during their conquests of the Mediterranean and Middle East.

Book of Songs

What's clear is that qirkat was mentioned in the Kitab al-Aghani, the Book of Songs written in Arabic by Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani, whose long career as a man of music and letters spanned from Isfahan to Baghdad, from the end of the 9th century AD to the middle of the 10th, and who was in close contact with the Caliphate of Cordoba, Spain, where the game became popular at court and in towns and villages alike around the turn of the first to second millennium.

Book of Games

In 13th century Toledo, King Alfonso X of Castile and León – Alfonso the Wise – was wise enough to commission a Libro de los Juegos, a Book of Games, that discussed chess, other games of skill and chance, and indeed qirkat, laying down at least some of the rules by which the game was played. At some point, Spanish replaced Arabic as the lingua franca of Spain, and qirkat became alquerque. Also at some point, perhaps in Spain itself, or across the border in France, or a bit farther away in England, the game gave birth to modern checkers, and alquerque itself was brought by Spanish conquistadors to the Americas, where some believe it evolved into Awithlaknannai Mosona, a strategy game played by the Zuni of New Mexico.

Board And Table Games From Many Civilizations

Whatever the origins of qirkat, it died a miserable death, crushed by the juggernaut of chess, checkers, and backgammon, and everything from Othello/Reversi and Sternhalma to Clue and Go. In the mid-20th century, Robert Charles Bell rediscovered and partially reinvented qirkat as a minor chapter in his life's work, Board And Table Games From Many Civilizations, but other than in academic and board game aficionado circles, no one remembered the game that had once dominated salons and courtyards and playgrounds from Persia to... well, Albuquerque.

Qirkat app

Until now. The Qirkat app you have just installed on your Mac, iPad, or iPhone lets you play a version of qirkat that – while updated for the 21st century – Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani and Alfonso the Wise would have recognized. But instead of playing the Caliph of Cordoba, you can play a friend, an unsuspecting family member, or the built-in AI that is probably as strong as any qirkat player in history.