Traditional Board Games

Ancient Games

Queen Nefertari playing senet in a tomb painting.
Queen Nefertari playing senet in a tomb painting.

One thing that marks games which have survived from the ancient world is their widespread popularity. While any craze can spread worldwide, these games have had more than a thousand years to bed in and become part of the culture in diverse nations.

Of the games that don't survive, there is a different story. Some of them are nameless, just etchings in a pavement. Others have been restored piecemeal from occasional mentions in literature. Others have had to be reinvented, and are little more than modern games on an ancient board.



There is a large family of games called tables, played on a board of twenty-four points arranged in two rows of twelve, each row split into two "tables" of six points. These date back at least to the Romans, who had a game of this type called "tabula". The games are usually played with fifteen pieces and either two or three dice. Backgammon is the most common of these in the English speaking world. The rules are as follows: ... (read more...)

Dogs and Jackals


Dogs & Jackals is the modern name of this race game from ancient Egypt. Two players start at opposite ends of the track with five pieces each. These pieces are raced around the board, which certain spaces act as shortcuts or setbacks. The first player to get all his or her pieces to a designated exit point wins the game. History of Dogs & Jackals We do not know what the ancient Egyptians called this game. Today it has ... (read more...)



Go is a war game of territorial capture from the far east. It was invented in China thousands of years ago, and spread to Korea and Japan in the early centuries of our era. The game is very simple but very deep. Players must lay down stones on the board, claiming the territory they surround. Occasional captures of stones (or "armies") are made, but the winner is the player who claims the most territory. In the past century go ... (read more...)



Liubo is an ancient lost race game from China. Said to be about two thousand years old, the game was mentioned in a fifth century Chinese translation of the Indian Brahmasutra as being obsolete by that time. Though the original rules are lost, plenty of relics survive to give us clues about game play. The game was played by two on a square board. The board possessed peculiar markings resembling a symmetrical pattern of T and L shapes, the ... (read more...)

Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum

Sometimes called duodecim scripta, this Roman game is a relative, and probably ancestor, of backgammon. It is played on a board of three rows of twelve columns of playing spaces, and its name means "game of twelve lines". Each player has fifteen pieces, and three dice control the game. The players have to enter their pieces onto the board, race them around the three rows, and bear them off at the end of the track. Enemy pieces can be ... (read more...)

Ludus Latrunculorum

Ludus Latrunculorum is an ancient Roman game of pure skill. Two players face each other across a rectangular board which is marked with a grid of squares. The players each have an equal number of pieces, with one player's pieces differing from the other in colour. In some versions of this game, each player also has a "dux", a special piece with increased powers. Pieces move around the board and capture one another by surrounding; a piece of one ... (read more...)


This family of board games is played throughout most of Africa, some parts of the middle east, and further into south-east Asia. Boards consist of a grid of holes, usually in a grid of two, three or four rows. Pieces are seeds, beans or stones which are piled into the holes in varying quantities. Players do not have their own set of pieces, but instead each player takes control of a particular half of the board and all the ... (read more...)



Mehen is a mysterious early game of the ancient Egyptians. It first appeared in about 3000 BC and continued until 2300 BC. While the extant boards could be taken for something other than board games, a number of wall paintings show the board in its proper context and make its purpose beyond doubt. No set of rules has survived for mehen. It appears to be a race to (or from) the centre of the board, which is in the ... (read more...)

Nine Men's Morris


Nine men's morris is a classic game of pure strategy. It has been described as "noughts and crosses for adults", as it shares the simpler game's aim for forming rows of three, but weaves that aim into a much more sophisticated game of wits. The rows of three, called "mills", are not the main aim of the game, they are a means to an end. The board starts empty, and players place their pieces in turn; forming a row ... (read more...)



Pachisi, sometimes called the National Game of India, is a race game for four players played on a cross-shaped board. Each player must race their pieces from the centre, around the board, and back again, landing on their opponents where possible to send them back to the start. Players form partnerships, and the game is won and lost by partners, not individuals. History of Pachisi History of Pachisi Among the many board games that India has given the world, ... (read more...)



Petteia is an ancient Greek game of pure skill. Two players face each other across a rectangular board which is marked with a grid of squares. The players each have an equal number of pieces, all of the same type, with one player's pieces differing from the other in colour. Pieces move around the board and capture one another by surrounding; a piece of one colour caught between two of the other is removed from play. The winner is ... (read more...)

Royal Game of Ur


The Royal Game of Ur is a modern name for an ancient race game known only from archaeological excavations. Two players race around a figure-of-8-shaped board, with seven pieces, according to the throws of three binary lots. It is assumed that the pieces were entered onto the board at one place and exited at another; the shape of the board and its symmetrical markings also raise the possibility that each player started and finished on his own half of ... (read more...)



Senet is a race game from ancient Egypt. The board is a one-dimensional track that is folded in on itself, like that of snakes & ladders. Players race their pieces along the track according to the throws of casting sticks. There are safe squares and hazards along the way, and a piece may be knocked backwards if it is hit by an opponent. The pieces are borne off the board when they reach the end, and the first player ... (read more...)


T'shu-p'u is a race game played on a small cross-shaped board. It is a Chinese version of the various cross-shaped race games played in India, and is very old. It is a partnership game, where four players compete in two teams of two. Each player must race their pieces around the board and up to the centre; the first partnership to achieve this wins the game. History of T'shu-p'u Some Chinese sources claim that the game was introduced in ... (read more...)

The Game of Twenty Squares


This is a race game, most popular in ancient Egypt but spread, and probably originating, all over the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. The board is set out in two sections: a block of three rows of four squares at one end, and an 8-square extension of the middle row. It is supposed that two players each started their pieces on one of the short rows, and moved them onto the middle row in a race to the ... (read more...)

Three Men's Morris


One of the simplest board games in the world is three men's morris. Each player has three pieces, and the board is a grid of nine points, in three rows of three. Players enter their pieces one at a time, in turn, trying to form a row of three. Once all pieces are on the board, players move their pieces along the marked lines until one player or other has a row of three, that player winning the game. ... (read more...)


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