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Rules of the Royal Game of Ur

The Royal Game of Ur is a race board game for two players. It requires both skill and luck to win! The board game has been dated back to the city of Ur in ancient Mesopotamia, over 4600 years ago!

  • Goal: Score all your pieces before your opponent!
  • Roll Dice: Players take turns rolling the game's unique dice.
  • Move: Select a piece to move by the number of tiles you rolled.
  • Rosettes: The rosette tiles grant safety and an additional roll!

You can read the rules with more detail below! Additional rule variants have also been proposed by historians, which can significantly change the skill involved in the game. These rule variants, along with the origins of the common rules, are described later in the page.

Players2
Game Length10 - 20 Minutes
Age~4600 years
The unique board used in the Royal Game of Ur
The unique board used in the Royal Game of Ur.

Table of Contents

Common Rules

The most commonly played rules for the Royal Game of Ur were created by Irving Finkel, a curator at the British Museum. These are the same rules from the famous video, Tom Scott vs. Irving Finkel on YouTube. You can read more about the origins of these rules here.

Equipment needed for the Royal Game of Ur:

  • A game board.
  • 7 pieces for one player (light circular pieces are commonly used).
  • 7 pieces for the other player (dark circular pieces are commonly used).
  • 4 tetrahedral dice. You can also substitute in other types of dice.

Rule 1 - Game Setup

The Royal Game of Ur requires no special setup of pieces, so the setup for games is quick.

  • Clear the game board.
  • Players start with seven pieces each.
  • Roll the dice to decide the starting player. Higher roll wins!
An empty game board from the Royal Game of Ur
An empty game board from the Royal Game of Ur.

Rule 2 - Roll the Dice

The unique tetrahedral dice used for the Royal Game of Ur are read by counting the number of die with a marked corner facing upwards after rolling.

Click or tap on your dice to roll them. The value shown represents the number of tiles that you can move one of your pieces! You can read more about these unique dice by visiting our dice page.

Roll
Click to roll!

Rule 3 - Move your Pieces

After rolling, select one of your pieces to move by the number of tiles that you rolled. One player moves their pieces along the path shown below, and the other player follows a vertically mirrored path. Your turn can only be skipped if you have no available moves. Otherwise, you must move a piece!

Click, double-tap, or drag one of your pieces in-game to move it on the board.

The path that pieces take around the board under the common Finkel rules.
The path that one player's pieces take around the board under the common Finkel rules. The other player's pieces will travel along a vertically mirrored path.

Rule 4 - Capture Pieces

You can capture your opponent's pieces by moving your pieces on top of their pieces! Capturing your opponent's pieces is a great way to slow the progress of your opponent. Beware though, under the common Finkel rules, the rosette tiles are safe tiles! This means that you cannot capture pieces on rosettes.

An example board showing the capture of a piece.
An example board showing the capture of a piece.

Rule 5 - Rosette Tiles

The rosette tiles are the most important tiles on the board of the Royal Game of Ur! As a symbol of the goddess Ishtar, they provide benefits to players who land upon them. Under the rules proposed by Irving Finkel, landing on a rosette tile gives you the following benefits:

  1. Landing on a rosette grants an extra roll of the dice.
  2. Pieces on rosette tiles are safe from capture.
A photo of a game board with the rosette tiles highlighted.
A photo of a game board with the rosette tiles highlighted.

Rule 6 - Score your Pieces!

Winning requires you to score all your pieces! You can score pieces by moving them off the board at the end of your path. You need an exact roll to take a piece off the board. For example, to score a piece from the final rosette tile, you would need to roll exactly a one.

The path that pieces take around the board under the common Finkel rules.
The path that one player's pieces take around the board under the common Finkel rules. The other player's pieces will travel along a vertically mirrored path.

Play the Game!

Now that you've got the rules sorted, you can give the game a go! The best way to understand the rules is to play them yourself. Alternatively, you can continue reading to learn more about different ways that people play the Royal Game of Ur, and the origins of these rules.

Alternative Rule-Sets of Ur

The most commonly played rules for playing the Royal Game of Ur are the rules proposed by Irving Finkel, a curator at the British Museum. However, there are also many other sets of rules that are commonly played! Below, we describe the most popular rule-sets for playing Ur, and their origins.

A photo of a Royal Game of Ur board that was made using resin.
A recreation of the Royal Game of Ur board using resin, by Victor from our Discord

Common Rules by Irving FinkelFinkel Rules

The Finkel rules are the most popular set of rules for the Royal Game of Ur. These are the same rules that we described above! These rules became particularly popular after the video "Tom Scott vs. Irving Finkel" that was filmed by the British Museum. You can watch that video here!

These rules were created by Irving Finkel with the goal of making a fun game to play on the Royal Game of Ur boards excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley in the 1920s. It is a common misconception that these rules originate from Finkel's deciphering of an old cuneiform tablet from 177 BC. In fact, the old cuneiform tablet deciphered by Finkel describes a more complex set of rules, with links to gambling and astronomy.

The primary influences for Irving's common rules seem to be inferences from the shape of the board, and the recurring symbol of the rosette. The shape of the board lends itself well to a two-player race game. Additionally, the rosette is a symbol of the goddess Ishtar, so it follows that landing on a rosette tile would give benefits to the player. These two inferences allowed Irving to experiment and come up with the rules that we all know and love today!

British Museum curator Irving Finkel.
British Museum curator Irving Finkel.

Masters RulesMasters Rules

The Masters rules are also quite popular for playing the Royal Game of Ur. These rules were developed by James Masters based on similar historical evidence that was used by Irving Finkel in the development of his rules. However, Masters came to a different conclusion than Finkel on a couple of points:

  1. The path around the board should be longer, so that the rosette tiles occur consistently every 4th tile.
  2. The rosette tiles should not be safe, as if they are, the rosette tiles in the safe zones of each player have a useless effect.

These changes cause a dramatic shift to the strategy of the game, as there is no longer any safe zones for pieces after they leave the start of the board. Additionally, Masters path causes interesting dynamics at the end of the board, as the paths of each player cross from different directions. If you'd like to learn more about James Masters' development of his set of rules, you can read more from James Masters here.

The path that pieces take around the board under the Masters rules.
The path that one player's pieces take around the board under the Masters rules. The other player's pieces will travel along a vertically mirrored path.

Blitz RulesBlitz Rules

The Blitz rules were developed for RoyalUr.net, to provide an alternative rule-set that leads to shorter and more exciting games. The primary difference in the Blitz rules is that capturing pieces also grants extra rolls! This can lead to decisive turns where the whole pace of the game can change at once with multiple captures in a single turn. Here are all the differences from the common Finkel rules:

  • Players start with 5 pieces.
  • Rosettes are not safe from capture.
  • Pieces follow the Masters path.
  • Captures grant an extra roll!
An example board showing the capture of a piece.
An example board showing the capture of a piece.

Tournament EngineTournament Engine Icon

The tournament engine rule-set was developed by the société internationale d'UR to provide a competitive set of rules that lead to decisive tournaments. It is the most complex and difficult to master set of rules that is commonly played for the Royal Game of Ur. Tournament engine introduces two important new mechanics: the ability to move backwards, and the ability to stack pieces. These changes drastically alter strategy in the game. The full set of differences to the common Finkel rules are:

  • Players start with 5 pieces.
  • Rosettes do not grant an extra roll, but do remain safe.
  • Pieces follow the same path as Masters path.
  • Pieces may be stacked on rosette tiles. Once stacked, the stack of pieces moves as one. The only time that stacked pieces are split up is when the stack is captured by your opponent!
  • You may move your pieces backwards. However, unlike forwards moves, backwards moves are not forced. If you have no other moves but to move backwards, you may choose to skip your turn.
A photo of two people playing the Royal Game of Ur
A photo of two people playing the Royal Game of Ur, courtesy of the société internationale d'UR.

Buy Physical Boards

We are obviously big fans of playing board games online here at RoyalUr.net, but even we have to admit that there is something special about playing on a real, physical board. If you are looking to buy a physical board, we recommend that you check out Masters Traditional Games! I have personally met their founder, James Masters, and visited their warehouse in St Albans. James Masters' work as a games historian even led to the Masters rule set here on RoyalUr.net! Purchases made by clicking a link from RoyalUr.net will also help to support our work. Click here to visit Masters Traditional Games.

Photos of Royal Game of Ur boards sold by Masters Traditional Games
Photos of Royal Game of Ur boards sold by Masters Traditional Games.
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