Halma – The Beauty of Simplicity

It happens that one man creates an almost perfect game. George Howard Monks, who developed a game called Halma, was certainly one of such people. Halma gave rise to other interesting games, but it’s really great without any modifications. It requires relatively simple equipment, the rules are simple too, but you could devote your whole life to study its strategy.

George Howard Monks (1853-1933) was an interesting man. He studied medicine at Harvard and after graduation went to Europe for 4-years internship. Later he practiced surgery in Boston and was even promoted to surgeon-in-chief in 1910 at Boston City Hospital. He worked as a Professor of oral surgery at Harvard Dental School, but he was also connected with the department of surgical anatomy at Harvard Medical School.

This great doctor loved games and he developed two games himself – Halma and Basilinda. Basilinda is all almost forgotten but Halma became a real hit. Monks developed it in 1883 and he was probably inspired by a game named Hoppity. By the way, few games with similar mechanics emerged at the turn of the 20th century. Salta among them.

Halma is important because it gained quite a lot of popularity and broke into the culture. The comparisons referring to Halma were used by British poet and writer Mervyn Laurence Peake. Another British poet – Eleanor Farjeon – mentions Halma in her autobiography. The game of “electronic Halma” is mentioned in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – a comedy science fiction series created by Douglas Adams. There are more cultural references to Halma, mostly in English and American works.

Halma also gave birth to other games. The most popular of them (even more popular than Halma) is Trilma, also known as Chinese Checkers.

Halma was published by various well-known companies from the gaming market, including Parker Brothers, Piatnik, Hexagames, Milton Bradley, Gibsons and many more.

It’s quite easy to understand why Halma is so successful. The game is dynamic and dramatic. You can play with one or three friends. The rules are simple but you can devote whole life to study its strategy.

Halma – rules of the game

Halma is a strategy board game with no element of luck. It is designed for 2 or 4 players. The goal of the game is to transfer all of one’s pieces from the starting corner to the opposing corner. Pieces can make jumps to achieve this goal faster.

Board and pieces

The Halma board is composed of 256 squares (16×16). Traditionally it’s chequered (fields are alternately light and dark). Additional thick lines in the corners show special areas called “camps”.


Pieces in 2 or 4 colors are also needed to play.

  • If there are 2 players, each of them uses 19 pieces of one color.
  • If there are 4 players, each of them uses 13 pieces of one color.

So in 2-player games games there are 38 pieces in total on board. In 4-player games, there are 52 pieces in play.

Traditionally Halma pieces have a form similar to chess pawns, so they look more or less like in the image below.


This is a traditional piece shape, but in practice, you can use small checkers or counters of any shape. Just remember about various colors to distinct pieces of each player.

Initial setup

At the beginning of the game, pieces are set in camps.

If there are two players, opponents start from camps in the opposite corners. Pieces fill the cluster of 19 squares marked with the outer thick lines (as shown in the image below).


If there are two players, each corner is a camp. Players’ pieces fill the cluster of 13 squares marked with the inner thick lines (as shown in the image below).



The first player to move is determined randomly. After the first move player take their turns alternately (when there are 2 players) or clockwise (when there are four players).

There are to types of moves – plain moves and jumps.

When making a plain move a piece may move one square in any direction. This move can be made horizontally, diagonally or vertically. The image below shows possible moves of two pawns.


The second type of move – jump – is made by jumping over any pawn to the next free field behind it. It’s allowed to jump over your own and opponents’ pieces. This movement resembles a capturing in checkers, but in Halma, no captures are made. The piece that was jumped over remains on board and still takes part in the game. And what’s important, there’s no obligation to perform a jump.


It’s possible to make many jumps in one move if the jumping piece has the ability to make further jumps.

It’s allowed to change the direction after each jump and it’s still allowed to jump over friendly and enemy pieces. Multiple jumps can be ended at any moment (there’s no obligation to jump as long as it’s possible). The image below shows an example of multiple jumps made in one turn.


The aim of the game

The game of the game is to transfer all pieces from own camp into the opponent’s camp in the opposing corner. So if at the beginning the setup was like this…


…then white pieces go to greens’ camp, red pieces go to yellows’ camp, yellow to reds’ and green to white’s. The image below shows the possible end of the game.


In this case yellow wins. Of course it’s possible to play further to find out who was 2nd and 3thd.

40 moves rule

Halma rules are simple and there’s really no need to make them more complicated. But some experienced players noticed one problem, that can be solved with one additional rule.

Some players deliberately leave one or two pawns in their camp to prevent the opponent from winning. That’s why some people agree, that player loses if he has his own pawns in his own camp after 40th move. This additional rule makes can make life easier, but you can also play without it. In the long run, staying in your camp simply does not pay off.

How about 3 players?

Halma is designed for 2 or 4 players but some books mention 3-players variant. The play is similar to a two-handed game (each player has 19 pawns), but one additional player tries to occupy an empty camp in the opposite corner. In my opinion, this is not the best idea to play this way because conditions are not the same for everyone.

Team play

Whenever the game is intended for 4 players, there’s a temptation to play in teams. You can play Halma this way. Partners should sit in the opposite corners so the aim of the game is to swap sides with your partner before the opponent team.

Strategy and features of Halma

Halma is one of these games that I love. The rules are simple enough to learn them in a minute, but studying its strategies can take a lifetime.

Try to play Halma and you’ll quickly notice something. Each game has three stages. In the opening, players try to optimally spread their pawns. The middlegame starts after the contact with opponents’ pieces. In this phase, you must block the opponent and/or use their pawns for your own purposes. The third stage is the ending where you have to put your pawns in place as fast as possible.

In this game – as in many others – it’s very important to control the center of the board. You need to master some specific skills like building walls to block the opponent or make frequent double jumps through your own pawns.


There are many variants of Halma, played on smaller boards (8×8 or 10×10) with a fewer number of pawns. I warn that these variant are simpler in terms of strategy but they have one big advantage. You can play them with a Draughts set.

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