Board games have been played in most cultures and societies throughout history. What differentiates them from other types of games is that they are played with counters or pieces that are placed on, removed from, or moved across a board. Simple board games are ideal for entertainment, while more complex ones require much thinking and strategy.
S’n’t, later known as Senet or Senat, is believed to be the oldest board game.
It has been found in the Predynastic and First Dynasty burials of Egypt, in tombs of both pharaohs and workers. One board was found buried with King Tutankhamen, while a hieroglyph representing a Senet game was found honoring a king, dating back to 3100 BCE.
Another ancient board game is the Royal Game of Ur, dating back to more than 2500 BCE. The Royal Game of Ur and other games were discovered by Sir Leonard Woolley in the Royal Tombs of Ur, which is now modern day Iraq. Sir Woolley’s books document little on the games he found, most of which are now in the British Museum in London.
The mancala is likely to have been around for thousands of years. This game involves stones being moved about holes arranged in two or more parallel rows on a board. Rows of holes have been found carved on slabs in ancient structures in Egypt that resemble mancala game boards. Richard Leakey also discovered some boards in Kenya, and he dates these to the Neolithic times.
The Chinese game of Go or Wei-qi is not only one of the oldest known board games, it has also essentially kept the same rules for longer than any other game. It originated in China as far back as 2300 BCE, spread into Korea in the second century, then traveled to Japan via trade routes around the year 700 AD.
The next time you’re playing board games, try to imagine and learn how they were played in ancient times. You may just find the history of board games to be just as interesting as the games themselves.