These 5000 Years Old Ancient Games Still Favorite of Many

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Ancient Games

Entertainment is man’s greatest companion ever, there will be no exaggeration to say this. That is why people have always invented different means of entertainment.

Many ancient board games have been found in archeological excavations which were invented by the ancient people and kings. By these remains, we can easily determine the entertained means of those generations.

Some of the games are still played by the current generation but some of the games died and forgotten by people or replaced by advanced games. Here 5 oldest games are listed which are still played by people and favorite of many.

Senet, Egypt

Left Top – Painting in the tomb of Egyptian Queen Nefertari (1295–1255 BCE)
Left Bottom – Senet game box, c. 1550 –1295 B.C.
Right Bottom- Senet set inscribed with the Horus-name of Amenhotep III r. 1391 – 1353 BCE

A Senet is an ancient Egyptian board game and claimed as one of the oldest board game which is still played by the people. A Senet board consisting of 30 squares arranged into three parallel rows of ten squares each.

Two contestants strategically moved through these squares on the throw of dice, freely passing each other in an attempt to gain the position of final superiority at the edge of the board. 

History

Senet was originally strictly a pastime with no religious significance. As the Egyptian religion evolved and fascination with the netherworld increased the Egyptians superimposed their beliefs onto the gameboard and specific moves of senet. By the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty in 1293 BC, the senet board had been transformed into a simulation of the netherworld, with its squares depicting major divinities and events in the afterlife.

Historically, senet made it first known appearance in the Third Dynasty mastaba or tomb of Hesy-re, the overseer of the royal scribes of King Djoser at Saqqara, dating to approximately 2686 BC. The painting depicted people playing the game as a daily life scene.

To Play, You Need

  • Wooden board with game printed on it
  • 4 dice made by wood
  • 14 pawns, 7 for each player

How to Play

Although details of the original game rules are a subject of some conjecture, historians have made their own reconstructions of the game. These rules are based on snippets of texts that span over a thousand years, over which time gameplay is likely to have changed. Therefore, it is unlikely these rules reflect the exact course of ancient Egyptian gameplay.

The game was complicated. Two players determined their moves by throwing casting sticks or bones. A game piece started at square 1 on the upper left and zig-zagged across each row and down to the next until it crossed square 30 on the bottom right. 

The last five squares (squares 26–30) are usually decorated. Square 26 is usually marked with the sign for “good” (nefer). Landing in this special square gave the player a free turn.

It seems that the players had to reach this sign before they could move on to win the game.

Square 27 on this senet board depicts a water hazard. If a game piece landed on this special square, it was removed from the grid before it could cross the final square on the bottom right.

Players competed to cross the final square with all of their pieces.

Mehen, Egypt

Mehen is another board game played in ancient Egypt. The game was named in reference to Mehen, a snake deity in ancient Egyptian religion. Mehen is a multiplayer game that makes it different from other games like Senet which is played between two players.

The main function of the serpent-shaped god was to protect the sun-god Ra from his enemies by coiling around him.

In the Old Kingdom, the race game Mehen took the name and shape of the god: a coiled serpent with the gaming spaces on its back.

As “bodyguard”, Mehen symbolizes the sun god’s immediate neighborhood for the deceased. The deceased walks towards Ra on the back of the serpent-god.

History

Evidence of the game of Mehen is found from the Predynastic period dating from approximately 3000 BC and continues until the end of the Old Kingdom, around 2300 BC. No scenes or boards date to the Middle Kingdom of Egypt or the New Kingdom of Egypt, and so it appears that the game was no longer played in Egypt after the Old Kingdom. It seems it was overtaken by more complex games like Senet.

To Play, You Need

  • Wooden or stone board with game printed on it
  • Dice
  • One Pawn for each player

How to Play

From archaeological evidence, the game seemed to have been played on a spiraling track with a lion- or lioness-shaped pieces, in sets of three or as many as six, and a few small spheres. Players have to travel on the square-shaped which are drawn on the coil and have to reach the center where Ra is present. The player who reaches first called the winner.

Hounds and Jackals, Egypt

Hounds and Jackals is a board game played in ancient Egypt. The game appeared in Egypt, around 2000 BC and was mainly popular in the Middle Kingdom. The original name of this game is unknown. Different archaeologists use different names.

The game was named “Hounds and jackals” because of the decorative shapes of the pegs – one player’s pins were carved in the form of hounds, while the opposite player’s pins were carved as jackals.

The game was called 58 Holes by William Mathew Flinders Petrie because the game board features 58 holes (29 for each side).

“Shen” is the less common name for this game; it was inscribed in Egyptian hieroglyphs around the big hole on some of the boards found.

The game is also called the “Palm tree game” as some of the holes were replaced by tree figures.

History

Hounds and Jackals were invented in Ancient Egypt 4,000 years ago. Hounds and Jackals appeared in Egypt, around 2000 BC and was mainly popular in the Middle Kingdom.

One complete gaming set was discovered in a Theban tomb of ancient Egyptian pharaoh Amenemhat IV that dates to the 12th Dynasty. 

The latter game set is one of the best-preserved examples and is today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

To Play, You Need

  • Wooden board with game printed on it
  • 4 dice made by wood
  • 5 Hound and 5 Jackels

How to Play

The game is played with two players. The gaming board has two sets of 29 holes. Gaming pieces are ten small sticks with either jackal or dog heads and 4, two-sided, throwing sticks are included in the game to serve as dice, with one side rounded and the other side flat. 

One player takes five jackal heads, and the other player takes five dog heads. The aim of the game was perhaps to start at one point on the board and to reach with all figures another point on the board. The hole on the top of the board is slightly bigger than others and accepted as the endpoint for the players.

All 4 throwing sticks are thrown at the same time. The score is determined as follows:

  • If one throwing stick landed on the flat side and the other three landed on the round side the score is 1.
  • If two throwing sticks landed on the flat side and the other two landed on the round side the score is 2.
  • If three throwing sticks landed on the flat side and the fourth one landed on the round side the score is 3.
  • If all four throwing sticks landed on the flat side the score is 4.
  • If all four throwing sticks landed on the rounded side the score is 5, which is the maximum obtainable score.

Royal Game of Ur, Sumer

The Royal Game of Ur is a two-player strategy race board game that was first played in ancient Mesopotamia during the early third millennium BC.

The game was popular across the Middle East among people of all social strata and boards for playing it have been found at locations as far away from Mesopotamia as Crete and Sri Lanka.

At the height of its popularity, the game acquired spiritual significance, and events in the game were believed to reflect a player’s future and convey messages from deities or other supernatural beings.

The Game of Ur received its name because it was first rediscovered by the English archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley during his excavations of the Royal Cemetery at Ur between 1922 and 1934.

The rules of the Game of Ur as it was played in the second century BC have been preserved on a Babylonian clay tablet written by the scribe Itti-Marduk-balāṭu. Based on this tablet and the shape of the gameboard, British Museum curator Irving Finkel reconstructed the basic rules of how the game might have been played.

The object of the game is to run the course of the board and bear all one’s pieces off before one’s opponent.

History

Earliest boards date to c. 2600 – c. 2400 BC during the Early Dynastic III, being played popularly in the Middle East through late antiquity and in Kochi, India through the 1950s.

When the Game of Ur was first discovered, no one knew how it was played. Then, in the early 1980s, but by translating a clay tablet written in 177 BC by the Babylonian scribe Itti-Marduk-balāṭu describing how the game was played during that time period which was based on an earlier description of the rules by another scribe named Iddin-Bēl.

This second tablet was undated but is believed by archaeologists to have been written several centuries earlier than the tablet by Itti-Marduk-balāṭu and to have originated from the city of Uruk. The backs of both tablets show diagrams of the gameboard, clearly indicating which game they are describing.

To Play, You Need

  • Two players
  • Seven counters each – you can use anything – coins, paper, or counters from another game
  • A board – print the one below or make your own!
  • A dice or four throw-sticks. If you made them for mehen or senet, you can use them again here.

How to Play

The rules of this game are simple. The aim is to get all 7 pieces in the table to arrive at the finish point first.

  • Roll the dice to decide who goes first.
  • The players take turns to throw three binary lots and move one of their pieces.
  • Only one piece can be moved by rolling the dice and the pieces must always advance on the track.
  • If a pawn lands on a square occupied by an opposing pawn, the landed pawn is expelled from the board and must start over from the beginning.

Want to Know More about Sumerian Culture

Chaupar, India

Chaupar is a cross and circle board game played in India. with wooden pawns and six cowry shells to be used to determine each player’s move. Variations are played throughout India and some parts of Pakistan. It is similar in some ways to Pachisi, Parcheesi, and Ludo. In most of the villages of Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan, this game is played by old persons.

The oldest record of this game is mentioned in an ancient Indian epic tale Mahabharata which is at least 5000 years old. In Mahabharata, during an event, Chaupar was played between the Pandu prince “Yudhistir” and Kaurav prince “Duryodhana”. Later that game became the reason for the battle of Mahabharata. It is believed that nuclear equivalent weapons were used in that battle.

To Play, You Need

  • 1 Cloth or wooden board on which game is drawn
  • 16 Pawns for four-players, four for each player
  • 7 Cowrie Shells

How to Play

A maximum of four players can play this game at one time, each sitting in front of an arm of the cross. The center of the cross is “ghar” or “home”.

The center column on each arm of the cross is the “home column” for each player’s men after they cross the flower motif. The starting point for each player is the flower motif on the column to the left of his home column.

Each player has to enter his four men into the game from the starting point. The men travel around the outer perimeter columns in an anti-clockwise direction.

Before a player can bring any of his own men “home”, he has to knock out at least one man of another player. This is called a “tohd”.

Only the player’s own men can enter the home column of each player. Once the men cross the flower motif, they are played by laying the pieces on their side to indicate they are in their final home stretch and are safe now from any further attack.

All seven cowry shells are used in each throw. In one version, scoring is as follows:

  • All 7 facing down – 7 points
  • 1 facing up, 6 facing down – 11 points
  • 2 facing up, 5 facing down – 2 points
  • 3 facing up, 4 facing down – 3 points
  • 4 facing up, 3 facing down – 4 points
  • 5 facing up, 2 facing down – 25 points
  • 6 facing up, 1 facing down – 30 points
  • All 7 facing up – 14 points

Reference

https://web.archive.org/web/20080918080211/http://www.gamesmuseum.uwaterloo.ca/Archives/Piccione/index.html

https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/metkids/2017/ancient-egypt-board-games

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/4148/mehen

https://web.archive.org/web/20120901054511/http://www.boardgamestudies.info/pdf/issue2/BGS2Rothoehler.pdf

https://www.ancientgames.org/hounds-and-jackals/

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