hist-games: Gala - suggestions for further research

Peter Michaelsen PMI at KM.DK
Mon Aug 7 14:31:17 PDT 2006

Dear fellows,

I have followed your discussion about Gala with great interest, and I should like to propose some suggestions for further research concerning the origin and history of this highly unusual game.
In his book The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants,  Games & Puzzle Publications -1994, David B. Pritchard did mention several books with information about Gala:

R.C. Bell: Discovering old Board Games, Shire - 1973
R.C. Bell: The Board Game Book, Cavendish House - 1979
T.Muller-Alfeld: Brettspiele, Ullstein - 1963
Bruno Faidutti: En marge du Jeu d'Echecs, University of Lille - 1990
Karl Koch: Spiele für zwei, Hugendubel - 1986

It seems that R.C. Bell was not in fact the first who published about this game (contrary to the information given at the Chess Variants Pages). The first to do that was probably Theodor Müller-Alfeld of Hamburg, who published several books about games, including Brettspiele which was published by Ullstein in 1963.

I think it must be possible to borrow this book from libraries, but it is also possible to buy it via E-bay, I have seen.

It would be nice, if there was a more detailed description in this book, optionally with references to earlier articles (unfortunately a very rare phenomenon in game books!).
David Pritchard mentions that this curious game was "confined until recently to the area of Dithmarschen in Schleswig-Holstein, but now extinct". He adds that according to R.C. Bell "a few sets still exist in remote farmhouses".

It thus seems that the game was played in a relatively small area in the western part of Holstein, south of the river Ejderen.
To name it "a Danish game" is not quite adequate. Holstein was a part of the Danish Kingdom for centuries, but people there did never speak Danish, and I do not think that people in e.g. Dithmarschen did ever regard themselves as Danes - not more than the original population on the Faroe Isles, Greenland, and the Danish colonies in West India and elsewhere did.

It could be interesting to look for words like "gala", "korna", "horsa" and "kampa" in dictionaries of North German dialects,
and it is very likely that the archives of the department of folklore and dialect studies at the University of Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein, might contain further valuable pieces of information.

I am quite busy at the moment, and therefore not able to make any deeper investigation at present, but I hope that someone else might want to dig up some more information. 

Another German chess variant which was very likely played already in the Middle Ages ("probably 12th century", according to Pritchard) was "Courier Chess". In his "Schach oder Königspiel" from 1616 Selenus mentioned it as being played in neighbouring countries, but it survived until the start of the 19th c. in a very small area, the chess-playing village of Ströbeck, near Halberstadt.

Another board game which was only played in a very small area, and which might have originated in the Middle Ages, is the Danish-Norwegian dice board game "daldøs(a)", played on a few Danish isles and peninsulas, Thy, Mors, Fanø, and Bornholm, and along a 30-40 km long coast line of the region Jæren in South Western Norway. It is possible that it was originally played in a larger area, but we have no evidence about it.

Best wishes,
Peter Michaelsen.

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