Rhythmomachia: The Philosopher's Game

Table of Contents
  1. A Strategy Game of High Mathematical Precision
  2. The Rules of the Game
  3. The Moves
  4. The Attacking Options
  5. The Winning Orders
  6. Download Rhythmomachia
  7. Comments & Puzzles
  8. References
Rhythmomachia 2
via Webstart

A Strategy Game of High Mathematical Precision

To enjoy the full depth of Rhythmomachia, we recommend to read the rules on this page incrementally, and instantly try a few moves on the board. When you take a little time to discover its value, Rhythmomachia really is just an incredible game!

Be sure to click the End Turn button at the end of each turn.

If your browser works correctly, you should see the board game displayed above. Otherwise, you can run Rhythmomachia 2 Webstart or download Rhythmomachia. Look at the button descriptions and further help if you are unsure what the buttons do. If the whole applet does not show, make sure you have enabled Java support for your browser. A new implementation, Rhythmomachia 2, with much more features is available as a separate application for download or as Rhythmomachia 2 Webstart.

P.S. Note that I implemented Rhythmomachia when I was in high school before I knew anything about computer science. I hope you find it interesting.

See David Dyers' recent Rhythmomachia

The Rules of the Game

Rhythmomachia is a complex strategic game played on a board similar to a chessboard. It is an old game supposedly invented in the Middle Ages, and has several mathematical roots. Rhythmomachia is played by two players. The program is based on a historical reconstruction.

Early, there were some theoretical and mathematical examinations. Some concerning the best strategies, and some analyzing how far Rhythmomachia's tactics might relate to ancient warfare. Though some of these examinations might be mainly unproved or even mere fiction conserved over the centuries, one cannot doubt that Rhythmomachia makes use of certain mathematical connections known in number theory.

Rhythmomachia is played by two players. Who wins and when? The player whose figures (pieces) are arranged in a regular mathematical order on the opposite yard, or has captured all opposite figures. Who starts? The blue one does the first move. Then the two players alternate by turn.

The Moves

For making a move, use your mouse to drag pieces to their new position according to the following moves:

Though, if a tower looses one of its components and there is an identical duplicate of the same league, the player can choose to swap them. The figure in the tower which was lost is removed and the duplicate takes its place in the tower, instead.

The Attacking Options

Though every player can only do a single move per turn, each can attack as many times as possible, before and/or after the move. Each figure can attack as many times as possible and even one attack can be lead by as many figures as necessary. To attack an opponent's figure successfully, one must reduce its rating exactly to zero (each figure that still has a negative or positive rating at the end of the opponents turn, will regenerate to its full rating). Since the ratings vary that much, it is rather difficult to attack another figure successfully.

Various possibilities for a single attack of a figure do exist, each with the goal of reducing the target's rating to 0:

When attacking, you must respect that

The Winning Orders

A player can win if he has arranged his figures in a distinct shape and a distinct order (according to their ratings). Such an arrangement must fully be located on the opposite yard (the half the board where the opposite player starts). The figures playing a role in such an arrangement must be located in a regular mathematical shape like: The ratings of these figures must be in a regular order like:

Download Rhythmomachia

If you liked this game, you can also download it. Rhythmomachia 2 is very much like Rhythmomachia 1, but supports more rules (for example full pyramid support) and is customizable for several rule variants at least to some extent. It has been rewritten completely, in order to flexibilize the rules and make use of more Java features than the original version for Java Virtual Machine 1.0 supports. This allowed beautifying the user interface. Also thanks to the integration in our game library, we can now start to implement a computer player. Some rudimentary steps have already been taken into this direction, but the overall player performance is still much worse than that for the Seti game. There are improvements yet to come. But still the 2 stable preview release is recommended over Rhythmomachia 1. Rhythmomachia 2 is not yet available as an applet, though, but has to be downloaded. Also, it only supports Java Virtual Machine 1.4+, currently.

Comments & Puzzles

If you have found out any mathematical properties concerning Rhythmomachia, or know any alternative rules then please tell me. Also if you know about additional sources on the web, I can include a link to them.

Some hints if try to solve some puzzles: a simple mathematical connection in Rhythmomachia concerns the starting arrangements of the figures. Some of the pieces' ratings follow up a sequence like:

for example in Can you find out further connections?

What figures are the most effective ones? Which can attack the most opponents and which can be attacked by the least? Which figures can be used best for winning orders? What value do these figures have then?

Can you compute a list of all possible combinations for winning orders? My computer printed out this list of winning orders.


There are quite a few books and descriptions on the deeper aspects, philosophy and strategy of Rhythmomachia play. Some of them further contain interesting historical motivations.
[Bell, 1983]
Bell, Robert Charles. The Boardgame Book. Bookthrift, 1983. ISBN 978-0671060305
[Illmer et al., 1987]
Illmer, Detlef & Gädeke, Nora, & Henge, Elisabeth & Pfeiffer, Helene & Spickler-Beck, Monika. Rhythmomachia. Hugendubel Verlag, 1987, ISBN 3-88034-3194-5 (in German)
[Borst, 1986]
Borst, Arno. Das mittelalterliche Zahlenkampfspiel. - Heidelberg : Winter, 1986. - 553 S. : Ill. (Supplemente zu den Sitzungsberichten der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-Historische Klasse ; 5) Literaturverz. S. 495 - 498 ISBN 3-533-03750-9 ISBN 3-533-03751-7 SW: Zahlenkampfspiel ; Geschichte (in German)
[Barozzi, 1572]
Barozzi, Francesco (1538?-1587?) Il nobilissimo et antiqvissimo givoco Pythagoreo nominato rythmomachia cioe battablia de consonantie de nvmeri, ritrouato per vtilita & solazzo delli stidiosi, et al presente in lingua volgare in modo di paraphrasi composto. Venetia, G. Perchacino, 1572 (in Italian)
[Fulke, 1563]
1563 translation by William Fulke of Boissiere's 1554/56 description of Rythmomachy. It is entry 15542a in the Short Title Catalog of Pollard and Redgrave, and on Reel 806 of the corresponding microfilm collection. (The sources disagree, on whether the name is Fulke or Fulwood. He lived 1538-1589.)
[Moyer, 2001]
Moyer, Ann E. The Philosophers' Game: Rithmomachia in Medieval and Renaissance Europe. University of Michigan Press, 2001.
Rithmomachia, the Philosophers' Game: A Mediaeval Battle of Numbers
Rhythmomachia - das Philosophenspiel: Ein mittelalterlicher Zahlenkampf
More bibliography on Rhythmomachia (in French).