Uckers: What is it and why does the military play it?

The board game has been played by Royal Navy sailors since the 18th century.

What is Uckers?

At its core, Uckers is a board game based on Ludo. Some say Uckers is to Ludo what chess is to draughts.

Uckers is even played on a traditional Ludo board but with two dice and stackable counters.

Why do military personnel play Uckers?

Its origins can be traced back to the Royal Navy, but Uckers has many similarities to Parchisi, the board game sometimes described as "the national game of India".

It is thought that British sailors developed their own version of the game to pass the time on the great sailing voyages of the 18th and 19th Centuries as British sailors travelled the world immersing themselves in different cultures.

Where the game's name came from is unknown, but it has been suggested that it might have come from the old Anglo-Saxon terminology, for the process of "ucking" a piece off, sending it back to its starting point.

Royal Navy seamen play Uckers during a Sunday afternoon break in the Second World War (Picture: Alamy).

The rules

The game is played with four players in two teams that play diagonally opposite each other – red and yellow against blue and green.

The aim of the game is to get around the board with each of your counters and finish in the corresponding coloured home triangle.

Counters move clockwise around the board, with the dice roll determining the number of moves, but the player is vulnerable to being knocked off by an opponent and forced to start the journey again.

The team with all eight of its counters "home" first wins the game.

Watch: How are board games being used for training in anti-submarine warfare.

An extra impressive victory is achieved when you finish the game while your opponent still has all their pieces in their base.

This is known as an "eight-piece in harbour" or an "eight-piece dicking" and sometimes comes with a forfeit.

Uckers is still played below decks on Royal Navy vessels and regular Uckers tournaments are also held ashore between teams from certain Royal Naval Association branches.

Cover image: Prince Harry plays a game of Uckers with fellow pilots at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan (Picture: Alamy).