11 Ancient Board Games
Some of these games have been around for over 4000 years, and although some have disappeared from history, archaeologists have worked tirelessly to discover the rules.
Hieroglyphs depicting Egyptian Senet players date all the way back to 3100 BCE. Even King Tut had a copy—it spent around three millennia lingering in his tomb before modern archaeologists got their hands on it.
2. Latrunculi (or “Mercenaries”)
One might call this Rome’s answer to chess: The elegant strategy game required armies of black and white pieces to duke it out across boards made with wood, marble, stone, or silver.
3. The Royal Game of Ur
Ur (aka: “The Game of Twenty Squares”) has been around since at least 3000 BCE and took hold in ancient societies from Egypt to India. Try it out for yourself with the British Museum’s free shockwave version. Fair warning: it’s way more addictive than solitaire!
Throughout the Aztec empire, noble families and peasants alike were known to relish patolli. Participants threw dotted stones or beans to determine how their pieces would move over a cross-shaped board. Gambling was usually involved.
Experts aren’t sure what the object of this ancient Egyptian game was, but, in any event, it involved a board shaped like a coiled snake. Marbles may have also been involved.
Think checkers, except instead of eliminating an opponent’s piece by leaping over it, you’d sandwich it between two of yours. A staple in ancient Greece, Petteia parables proved irresistible to many great thinkers. Take, for instance, Aristotle, who claimed that “a citizen without a state may be compared to an isolated piece in a game of petteia.”
This one is still very much alive and kicking. Go likely originated in China between 2500 and 4000 years ago (Confucius himself even wrote of it). Fast-forward to the present age, in which the American Go Association’s e-journal reached 13,000 subscribers as recently as 2011. Now that’s longevity!
8. Duodecem Scripta
9. Unidentified Turkish Game
In 2013, archaeologists unearthed what have been described as 49 “board game tokens” from a grave site dating back to 2900 BCE. According to Ege University’s Haluk Sağlamtimur, who ran the dig, “our gaming pieces were found all together in the same cluster. It’s a unique finding, a rather complete set of a chess like game.” (He adds that his team is still “puzzling over its strategy.”)
The Egyptians might have enjoyed a primitive version of mancala as far back as 1000 BCE. Back then, it was likely played on surfaces made with stone or ivory. Today’s enthusiasts, in contrast, largely prefer wood.
11. Terni Lapilli
Terni Lapilli boards were akin to tic-tac-toe grids and a fairly common sight during the Roman Empire.