People played games since the dawn of time. For some nations, it was just a way to have fun, whereas others viewed them as a way to strategise and even assigned religious significance to some games. Keep reading to find out more about some of the most popular board games of the ancient world.
This is an Indian gem of a board game developed around 6th century AD. It is believed that Chaturanga is one of the ancestors of modern chess.
The name of the game can be translated as “having four limbs”. It is believed to have been inspired by ancient military strategists and was played on an 8×8 board called Ashtapada. The rules aren’t too different from chess – either the white or the black side has to deliver a checkmate to the other side. However, the exact precise rules of the Chaturanga are still not fully known.
“Mancala” is an umbrella term for a series of ancient board games. The very first games are believed to have been played by the Egyptians circa 1000 BC. The strategy didn’t change much since then – despite the fact that the count-and-capture games were most likely the first games ever played. After all, you didn’t need much back then to play; a patch of ground and some pebbles were more than sufficient.
Pachisi is the original cross-and-circle game – the ancestor of the popular game Ludo. We know that the game has originated in India, but so far, nobody has been able to establish when exactly Pachisi has come to be.
The word “Pachisi” can be translated as “twenty fire”. The game is played on a symmetrical cross and the most important rule is to race your piece through the “board”. Some powerful rulers have apparently preferred the “live-action” version of the game which involved slave girls.
The Royal Game of Ur
This is not the only game on the list that’s still played today, but it’s the only one that’s still played by the original rules. The game is believed to have originated way back in 3,000 BC!
The Royal Game of Ur (also known as The Game of Twenty Squares) has originated somewhere in Mesopotamia, although the remnants of it have been found all over the place, from Egypt to India. The game was played with markers and dices. The parties had to beat each other to the end of the board. We know this because of the cuneiform texts I’ve written about previously.
Senet is a board game that originated circa 3,500 BC and was very popular in Ancient Egypt, if the artwork found on the burial sites is to be believed. Even Pharaoh Tut was apparently a fan of the game that also served as a talisman for the journey of the dead only a few hundreds of years after it was invented.
Since it’s one of the oldest board games in the world, it’s not that hard to believe that we still haven’t totally figured out the rules yet. We do know, however, that Senet was played on a 30-square board with two sets of pawns.
Let’s move on from ancient southern civilizations and take a look at a game invented a lot further north. Tafl, or hnefatafl, was a very popular game in Scandinavia during the Viking times. In fact, the Vikings loved it so much they spread it all over Europe. Even the late Terry Pratchett based the game Thud of his world-famous Discworld series on tafl.
Despite its history and fame, tafl is another game on the list we don’t still know the rules of. We know that it involves capturing a king and that the rules strongly favour him, but the rest is still hidden in the depths of history.
Remember playing Noughts and Crosses in middle school? My fellow procrastinators would be happy to know that the game isn’t just a silly way to pass the time, but actually a part of history. Terni Lapilli was a version of Noughts and Crosses that originated in the Roman Empire circa 1st century BC. The grid marks have been found all over Rome. However, unlike modern kids, the Romans used pieces that they moved around the grid, instead of drawing the X’s and the O’s.