Game Report: Ticktack

Class: Board Game

Type: Tables

Number of Players: 2

Reconstructed from primary sources

Date reconstructed: March 30th, 1996

Reconstructor: Alessandro

Other players: Justin

Written up by: Justin

Sources: The game was first reconstructed in January from Charles Cotton's The Complete Gamester, 1674, London. This was a near-total disaster; the resulting game was almost unplayable. In March, we tried again with a newly-acquired prepublication copy of the transcription of Francis Willughby's Volume of Plaies, a mid-17th century manuscript, obtained from the editor, Jeff Singman. This account made far more sense, and the following reconstruction is primarily based upon Willughby. It was later checked against Cotton, and we believe that Cotton's account is describing essentially the same game, just much more cryptically. Singman provides references dating back to the mid-16th century, so the game is probably late SCA period.


This game is yet another variant of Tables (that is, Backgammon). I assume that the reader has some familiarity with the basic rules of Tables or Backgammon, and some of the terminology, but here are a few crucial elements reviewed:

The name of the game purportedly refers to a standard rule: if you touch a piece, you must then play it. So think before you reach down to the board.


One standard Tables or Backgammon set, with two dice and 15 pieces or men each.


Start with all 15 pieces on your ace point. Play is like standard 2-dice tables (with nothing special about rolling doubles); however, the win conditions are very different from usual. There is usually no bearing off of pieces. Instead, there are five ways to win:

Willughby specifically says that there is a real advantage in going first in Ticktack, and says that it is fairest to roll for first move every game.

There are two very interesting twists in Willoughby's account of Ticktack. The first is an extreme form of huffing. If you could win on a turn, and you do not (either by oversight or deliberation), and your opponent catches you, he can say, "Why not?", point out the move that could have won, and win himself instead. If the move would have won a double stake, then he wins double. So, in general, you must win if you have the opportunity. (This leads to situations where, if you are in danger of losing a double stake, the best strategy may be to force the opponent to win a single one instead.)

The second twist is a version of doubling. If you think that you are going to win, you can say, "I vie the game". Your opponent may at this point either concede the game (and lose the single stake), or say, "I see it". If he sees it, then you increase the stake by one. This may be repeated, once per turn. So the first vie-and-see will double the stake, the second will bring it up to triple the original stake, and so on. (Incrementing each time, rather than doubling each time as in modern backgammon.) If the stake is multiplied, and you win double, then you win twice the entire current stake.

Willughby goes on to say a fair amount about the numerology of the game, and gives various slang terms for dice combinations, but those do not affect the rules.


A fun, fast gambling game. This is probably the best betting man's version of backgammon I've seen, but is almost pointless in a non-gambling environment. I would recommend choosing fairly small stakes, and playing a number of games in succession, since the game runs only a couple of minutes. It's really much closer in dynamic to a card game than to most Tables games, since it is so quick.

Pay very close attention at all times, and don't get too caught up in your strategies. In their round of games, Alessandro won the majority of games by "Why Not?"ing Justin, who wasn't paying enough attention to ways he could win single stakes quickly. In general, most games will win single stakes, rather than doubles.

This game is something of a curiosity, in that it is a Tables variant with a strictly finite lifespan. Not only is the average game quick, but you can't have endless rounds of blotting as in Backgammon -- there is a strict limit to the number of turns a Ticktack game can take.