What Is the Name of the World’s Oldest Board Game?
I loved board games as a kid, and I still enjoy occasionally pulling out the classics and playing them with friends and family. I’m always amazed when I learn how long some of my favorites have been around, and it got me wondering what is the name of the oldest board game in the world and are there more than one.
So, what is the name of the oldest board game in the world? Senet and the Royal Game of Ur are the oldest board games in the world. Most experts identify Senet as the oldest, but the Royal Game of Ur lays claim to the oldest intact game board in the world.
So, now that you have an idea of the name of the oldest board game in the world, let’s take a closer look at both of these games, the rules, how to play them, other ancient games, and more!
The World’s Original Board Games: Senet & Royal Game of Ur
Senet and the Royal Game of Ur were popular in ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia, and they had somewhat similar rules. So, let’s look at how to play these two games and what makes them different and great!
The game of Senet is one of the oldest board games in the world, dating back to around 3100 BCE. Senet was a popular game in ancient Egypt — so popular and important to the culture that its instructions were written on the walls of some royal tombs.
This game of Senet was a two-player strategy game where players attempted to move their pieces around the board the fastest. Players would use sticks or bones cast as dice to determine how they could move, and they were able to block their opponents or move them back as well. Much like modern board games, the Senet board had both hazardous and helpful squares to land on, adding an extra element of chance.
The oldest known intact Senet board was discovered in a tomb near Aswan, Egypt, and dates back to around 2680 BCE. It’s now on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The game was popular with common people and ancient Egyptian royalty alike and could be played on a simple board scratched out in the dirt or elaborate game boxes like King Tutankhamun was buried with.
Royal Game of Ur
Although Senet is widely considered to be the oldest board game in the world, the Royal Game of Ur (also called the Game of 20 Squares) is not far behind. Dating back to at least 2600 BCE, this ancient game has been found in excavations from the Sumerian city of Ur in modern-day Iraq. The boards found there were made between 2600-2400 BCE, which means that the Royal Game of Ur is recognized as the oldest complete tabletop game ever discovered.
This two-player race game was played on a board of three rows and eight columns, and players moved their pieces by casting four-sided dice. Like Senet, the Royal Game of Ur allows players to sabotage each other as they race across the board. However, an additional layer of strategy comes into play, as each player has multiple pieces they have to move to the finish line, and their opponents can knock those pieces off, forcing them to start over.
This game was popular with everyone in ancient Mesopotamia, regardless of class, and variations of the game have been found all over the Middle East, including in King Tutankhamun’s tomb – right next to his Senet game boards.
Modern Iterations of Ancient Games
As we see in many of our modern board games, Senet and the Royal Game of Ur evolved into games we may recognize today. Backgammon, for example, can trace its roots to both of these ancient games, and some slightly modernized versions of both of these games are still played in parts of the Middle East.
There is even a movement in Iraq to repopularize the Royal Game of Ur as a way for modern generations to connect with their cultural heritage.
While they may seem simple compared to newer technology and games, understanding these ancient board games and their rules allows us to gain insight into the civilizations that created them and why they were so important to them. Playing them can help us appreciate the ingenuity, creativity, and resilience of our ancestors as well as provide us with a connection to the past in ways we wouldn’t otherwise experience.
Why Games Have Always Been Important to Civilizations
Games have always been an important part of every culture, and it’s clear that the oldest board games in the world were incredibly special to the people who played them. They were not just a way for people to pass their time and relax. They also taught and reinforced valuable skills such as strategy, problem-solving, and resource management.
Some games even had spiritual or religious applications for their players. The ancient Egyptians, for example, believed that Senet was representative of their journey to the afterlife, and they presented their deceased pharaohs with Senet game boards to use in the said afterlife due to these religious beliefs. Many ancient cultures also believed that their games were ways to predict the future or communicate with their gods.
Although we may not see board games in quite the same light today as ancient civilizations did, they still hold an important place in our culture. We play them to have fun, but they can also bring us closer together and teach us valuable skills in the process.
Other Ancient World Games
Senet and the Royal Game of Ur aren’t the only games the ancient world played. Other games such as Mancala, Go, and Chinese Chess (Xiangqi) have been around for centuries if not millennia.
– Mancala, Kalah, or Awale
Mancala, also known as Kalah or Awale, is a two-player game played in Africa and Asia that involves collecting stones and distributing them among holes in a board. The goal of the game is to collect more stones than your opponent. This ancient game is among Senet, the Royal Game of Ur, and Go is one of the oldest games in the world.
Go is an abstract strategy game from China dating back to at least the 3rd century BCE. It’s played on a 19 x 19 grid with black and white pieces called “stones.” Players take turns placing their stones on the board, attempting to capture their opponent’s stones by surrounding them with their own pieces.
Xiangqi, a slightly more recent invention than any of the others we’ve discussed so far, is a two-player game that originated in China around 700-1200 A.D. It’s similar to chess, but the pieces move differently. As well as additional rules that make it more complex. The goal of the game is to capture your opponent’s King piece.
The World’s Original Board Games
These ancient games not only provide us with insight into the cultures they come from, but they can also help us understand why board games have been so popular throughout history and remain popular today.
So whether you’re playing Senet, the Royal Game of Ur, Mancala, Go, Chinese Chess (Xiangqi), or a modern board game, you can be sure you are partaking in something that people around the world have enjoyed for thousands of years.
Can you still play ancient board games?
Yes, you can still play ancient board games. Many of these games have been adapted to modern-day versions, so anyone interested in playing them this way can do so. If you want to get a feel for the original, though, there are also replicas of the original games and online versions that you can play for free.
How do we know the rules of ancient board games?
In many cases, the rules of an ancient board game were written down in historical or religious documents that archeologists have uncovered. Some games remain a mystery, though, as the rules were passed down orally, and archaeologists continue researching and discovering new information about them.
Did every ancient culture play games?
Not every ancient culture played board games, but it is likely that nearly all cultures did in some form or other. We know about some of these games because archaeologists have discovered written records and related artifacts. In general, however, it’s safe to say that most ancient cultures had some game-like activity as part of their culture. Whether they were board games or athletic competitions.