Rules of play: Labyrinth

No agreement exists among scholars as to the exact meanings of all the hieroglyphs on the board. Enough of them are known or definable to establish the game structure, and Peter Aleff has developed the most detailed interpretation of it. It's fun to try to decipher others on your own. There are exquisite connections, side passages, celestial references, and profound symbolisms to make the game play enjoyable on many levels. Here is a view of a replica of the disk, showing the hieroglyphs on both sides, where they had been pressed into wet clay:

One hieroglyph represents the Celestial Goose who carries the traveler on her wings. Much strategic figuring comes into play because the two dice count separately, allowing a player to move two different pieces on a turn. Each player has four pawns here, not just one, and the winner is the one who first bears off all four at the center. The game's similarities to backgammon, Senet (the pharaohs' favorite game) and parchisi are more than a coincidence.

Here are more detailed game rules:


This is a game for two, three or four players, each traveling with 4 game pieces. The gameboard is the Labyrinth of King Minos and his Minotaur, and your four game pieces are the youths and maidens the Athenians had to pay as tribute every nine years to King Minos, who then sent them into the Labyrinth for the Minotaur to devour. The Labyrinth has a floor mosaic that shows what happens on Earth and in the Sky; and the youths and maidens will trace the story on the floor as they travel towards the center, from field 1 to the inner chamber at 61. They all race to the center as fast as they can, all the while trying to avoid traps and pitfalls. In the center they enter the Ancient Greek paradise Elysium, the Land of the Blest, and are "borne" (carried off from the gameboard).

The first player to bear off all four travelers is the winner.

The handbook for the Labyrinth game goes into great detail on the symbolism and mythology behind the hieroglyphs. Below we list only the basic actions.

To play:

Each player selects a group of four playing pieces of one color. Place them outside the entrance of the Labyrinth to await entry.

At each turn, roll the two dice and move one or two of your pieces according to the numbers facing up, one field for each point for the full count of the die. Use each number separately: if you use both numbers for the same traveler, you must still land at the end of the first number and deal with its consequences before continuing with the second number. You may use the two numbers in any order.

Landing on a penalty field traps the player, who must then fulfill the penalty before continuing. Landing on a benefit field allows the player to take advantage of any advance or boon before continuing with any remaining number. See the detailed descriptions of the fields for what to do when landing on certain spaces.

Unless all your pieces are trapped, you must use both your numbers and move at least one of your travelers at each turn, be it only to return to the same field or to have two of your people switch places with each other.

If one of your pieces cannot move forward the full number on a die because an exact count is required to arrive on a field ahead, step forward into that field and then one step backwards for each excess point on that die. This is permitted even if one of your other people could use the whole die to move forward.

Except on sanctuary spaces, pieces do not share fields. If one arrives on an occupied field, that occupant goes to where the new arrival just came from, even if it is one of your own group.

The Special Fields

Sanctuary Spaces.  The following fields are the only ones that may be occupied by any number of pieces at the same time:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 31 and 58.
The helpful Celestial Goose.  When you land on a field with the "Flock of geese a-flying" arrows, you get to use again the number of the last die which brought you on that field, and again as long as you land on a field containing the arrow, until you land on one without the geese. If you land on the geese while going backwards, continue going backwards by again your last die, until you no longer land on a field with geese.

The Knight's Orbit.  This series of connected fields moves forward along the track of 7-46-49-52-55-34 (they link like knight's moves on a chessboard) and back again. When you land on any of these fields, except for the trap in 52, you may take a free skyride. You get one free roll of a single die, if you choose to take it. Count its points forward along the track from wherever you enter it, touching down only on those fields, like a knight's move, not counting the spaces between. Reverse direction at the end of the line if you have excess points remaining on your free roll. If you fall into the trap at 52, take the one-way tunnel back to 7 and lose 2 turns.

Field 1 — You need to roll a 1 to enter a piece onto the first space.

Fields 1 through 5 — Any number of pieces may share these spaces.

Field 6 — Free passage. When you land here, advance your piece to 12.

Field 7 — The first field of the Knight's Orbit. If you choose, roll one free die and follow the sequence of knight's moves. Do not enter the one-way tunnel to 52. If your die count lands you on 52, that tunnel drops you back to 7.

Field 13 — An unlucky number; lose 2 turns.

Field 18 — Advance to 26.

Field 21 — Advance to 26.

Field 31 — The Passage through Initiation. You must arrive on field 31 by an exact count. Any number of pieces may occupy this field at the same time. If your die count overshoots the exact number needed, you enter 31 and then move the surplus number of steps backward.

Field 34 — Another entrance to the optional Knight's Orbit along the track 34-55-52-49-46-7 and back again.

Field 42 — Instead of doubling your move with the Goose symbol, advance to field 56.

Fields 44-50 45-51 — The Millstone. When you land on one of these fields, you may, if you wish, cross the Millstone diagonally. You may go from 44 to 50 or from 45 to 51, or reversed. This is a free move. You may then continue with any remaining number.

Fields 46 and 49 — You may take the Knight's Orbit, starting towards 34.

Field 52 — Lose two turns and then take the tunnel to field 7. (Want to try the Knight's Orbit again from there?)

Field 58 — You must arrive on field 58 by an exact count on the die. Exception: when the die roll of a player on field 60 exceeds the exact count needed to arrive on 61 and that player's traveler must back up to before 58 and happens to land on your field, you change places, and so you advance directly to the field that player started from, and you don't need to enter field 58. If, however, on a future turn you, too, overshoot 61 and must land back before 58, you must then roll an exact count of the die to enter 58 all over again. Any number of pieces may occupy field 58 at the same time.

Field 59 — Go back through the tunnel to 47.

Field 61 — Elysium. You must enter field 61 by exact count. Once arrived there, carry your traveler off the board. The first player to bear off all four pieces is the winner.

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