A Brief History of Board Games

When was the last time you had a game night? We’re talking old school board games. Every home should have some portion of a closet dedicated to the proper storage of board games. The amount of games housed in a collection usually depends on the size of the family and how much they embrace fun. Here’s a hint: the family that plays together, stays together. The next time you participate in a game night, you’ll be able to delight and amuse your fellow contestants with amazing historical facts of board games. Ready to roll the dice?

Speaking Of Dice

As any decent historian will tell you, some form of dice has been used since before history was every written in a history book. Translation: dice are really old. Talk to any old school craps player and you’ll hear dice referred to as “bones.” That is because back in the day, dice were actually made of bones, specifically animal bones. The ancient Romans loved to dice. All this involved was rolling them bones to score a high number. As games go, dice was already an established component so it wasn’t a big leap to incorporate them into the play as a way of advancing markers from one spot to the other. It’s where those markers went that made the game.

Senet And The Royal Game Of Ur

For the first official reckoning of board game play, you’ll have to take the way-back machine to 3500 BC. That’s when you’ll find the Ancient Egyptians playing this board game. How do we know this? There is actually hieroglyphics of Queen Nefertari taking a turn at the Senet game. The game appears to be simple. The board consists of 30 squares arranged in three rows of ten. There are also two sets of pawns. How do you play? Actually, nobody knows. They just know it’s an old board game.

Flash ahead to 2600 BC and you’ll find the Royal Game of Ur. A version of this game was discovered in an Iraqi cave back in the 1920s complete with a set of instructions. A version of this game popped up in another ancient pyramid. Apparently, King Tut was buried with the game so he would have something to do in the afterlife.

Along Came Chess

Variations of dice and board games would keep popping up but it was the Indian version of chaturanga that became a real game changer. Chaturanga means four divisions. Here that meant infantry, cavalry, elephants and charioty. We’re talking 280 BC where elephants and chariots were still used in battle. By the year 1475, Chaturanga had spread and morphed into the version of chess that we still play today. That would put chess as one of the most popular, oldest and continuously played board games in world history. Back then, they called it Mad Queen Chess. That’s what you should start calling it.

Checkers Etc.

Here in America, draughts, a.k.a. checkers was all the rage in Revolutionary times. It wasn’t until 1822 when the first actual board game was published. This was the non-stop funfest called Traveler’s Tour Through The United States. Other board games with titles like The Mansion of Happiness, The Game of Pope or Pagan and The Checkered Game Of Life soon followed. Most of these games involved moving around a board (thank you, bones!) whilst learning a decent lesson about the importance of morals. These games morphed into play about scoring big bucks. Thus, the era of competitive capitalistic board games was born culminating in 1935 with the first version of Monopoly to hit the toy store shelves. It would be years before Hungry, Hungry Hippo would come along and provide us with a game just for fun.

What’s your favorite board game?