Traditional Board Games

Early Modern Games

Princess Soubise playing solitaire, 1687.
Princess Soubise playing solitaire, 1687.

Games in early modern times have benefitted from industrial production techniques and worldwide distribution. The sheer number of them mean that the majority have disappeared without trace, but the few that are still played today have travelled the world virtually unchanged.

Some of the games, even those that survive, have remained a local phenomenon, particularly those invented in non-industrial parts of the world or in isolated cultures. It is only with the internet that they are becoming more widely known.



Agon is a kind of race game played with pure strategy. Sometimes called Queen's Guard, the game features a queen and six guards for each of the two players. The object is to get one's queen to the centre of the board, surrounded by her guards. The most notable aspect of this game is that it is one of the earliest to be played on a hexagonal grid. History of Agon The game of agon is somewhat mysterious and ... (read more...)



Asalto is a hunt game from 19th-century Europe. It uses a cross-shaped board of 33 points, with one of the arms of the cross marked out as a fortress. Two loyal officers man the fortress, and they try to fend of 24 invading rebels who are trying to trap them. A number of variations were made on this game. German Tactics restricted the movement of the rebels. Officers & Sepoys enlarged the board to accommodate fifty rebels and three ... (read more...)



The full name of this game is kolowis awithlaknannai, though it is usually known as awithlaknannai. It is a variant of alquerque, a game which also inspired the more common game of draughts, or checkers. Pieces in awithlaknannai move a single step from one point to an adjacent point along a marked line. They can capture enemy pieces by jumping, as in draughts. History of Awithlaknannai History of Awithlaknannai At some time after the Spanish conquest, the game of ... (read more...)

Captain's Mistress

Known more widely as Connect 4, this is a game in which players must drop pieces into a vertical grid, attempting to form a row of four of their own colour. Dating from the turn of the twentieth century at the latest, it is one of the earliest games to use gravity as a mechanism of play. History of Captain's Mistress The origin of this game is unknown. It certainly dates back to about 1900, though it could be ... (read more...)

Chinese Checkers


Chinese checkers is a race game for two, three, four or six players. Unlike most race games, performance is dictated completely by skill rather than any luck element. Players race their pieces from their starting positions, across the board to the opposite end. Pieces move to adjacent spaces, but may also jump over one another like in draughts (though without capturing). It is in the construction of long "ladders" of pieces that may be jumped that a player gets ... (read more...)

Coan Ki


The name of this Chinese game means "the bottle game", and reflects the traditional shape of the pieces. It is a race game with a slight resemblance to backgammon, but it is played by completely different rules. The rules are only partially recorded, but some credible attempts have been made at reconstruction. Players aim to race their pieces anti-clockwise around the board in response to the rolls of two dice. The game is played for a stake, and a ... (read more...)

Dablot Prejjesne


Dablot prejjesne is a Sami game from the nineteenth century. It recalls historical struggles between nomadic Sami warriors and Finnish settlers farming the land. One side has a king, prince and warriors, while the other has a landlord, his son and tenant farmers. Despite the differences in names, the sides are completely equal in number and power, making this an even-handed game of war. History of Dablot Prejjesne The nomadic Sami people from Lapland have been quite innovative over ... (read more...)



Fanorona is a game of pure strategy from Madagascar. Based loosely on alquerque, the game is notable for its unusual methods of capture. Whole rows of enemy pieces are captured by approach and withdrawal, where a piece moves up to touch the enemies or, when touching, moves away. The capture of whole rows of pieces gives the game a dramatic beginning, with a full board providing many targets for capture to each player. History of Fanorona The game dates ... (read more...)



The game of halma, whose name means "jump" in Greek, is an entertaining product of the Victorian era. An 18th century gaming board marked out like a halma board suggests it may have earlier origins, but it was not until the 1880s that it was published and came to the attention of the wider world. The object of the game is to race your pieces to the opposite corner of the board, before your opponent can do the same, ... (read more...)



The game of halma, whose name means "jump" in Greek, is an entertaining product of the Victorian era. An 18th century gaming board marked out like a halma board suggests it may have earlier origins, but it was not until the 1880s that it was published and came to the attention of the wider world. The object of the game is to get your pieces to the opposite corner of the board before your opponent(s) can do the same. ... (read more...)

Hare & Hounds


Hare & hounds is the smallest and most simple of all the hunt games. Also called the French Military Game, it is played on a board of eleven points, connected together by lines. On the board three hounds try to trap one hare. The hare may move in any direction, while the hounds may move only forwards. The hare wins by getting past the hounds, the hounds by trapping the hare. History of Hare & Hounds The game seems ... (read more...)


Leapfrog is a game of capture for almost any number of players, from nineteenth-century England. It plays like a multi-player peg solitaire: players capture pieces by jumping over them, and this is the only move permitted. Once no more moves are possible, the winner is the player with the most pieces. History of Leapfrog Leapfrog is one of those games about whose origins we know very little. It was invented some time before 1898, as the game historian H. ... (read more...)



Ludo is simplification of the Indian game Pachisi. Invented at the end of the nineteenth century, Ludo has been a popular game from then till now. Though the player has some choice in what to do, luck dominates in deciding who wins and who loses, making it an excellent game to play against children. Up to four players each have four pieces, which they race around the outside of a cross-shaped board according to the throws of a single ... (read more...)



Renju is a Japanese game more popular in its homeland than abroad. Two players, black and white, place stones on a grid, attempting to form a row of five. Because the first player normally has a great advantage in such connection games, there are limitations placed on the first player's formations that do not apply to the opponent. This makes the game fairly well-balanced and suitable for serious play. History of Renju For many years in Japan, games have ... (read more...)


Reversi, commercially known as Othello since the 1970s, is a game of placement and capture. The game starts with four pieces in the centre of the board, two of each colour. Players place pieces one at a time, capturing rows of opposing pieces that are sandwiched between the newly-placed piece and other friendly pieces around the board. Pieces are black on one side and white on another; a captured black piece is turned over to show its white side. ... (read more...)



Salta is a game of position, played with 15 special pieces per side on a 10x10 European draughts board. Pieces move and jump as in draughts, but the aim of the game is very different. The aim of the game is to get all of your pieces to the opposite side of the board. But the pieces are each marked by suit and number, and must arrive at their destinations in the same arrangement as they started the game. ... (read more...)



Seega is a small battle game played in Egypt in the 19th and 20th centuries. Two players drop pieces onto a board, leaving only the central square empty, after which pieces are moved around the board from one square to the next. Pieces are captured by surrounding them on opposite sides, and the player who captures all of the opponent's pieces wins the game. History of Seega Egypt was a source of many interesting games in ancient times, but ... (read more...)


Surakarta is a battle game from Java. Play takes place on a grid of six rows of six points, between contending forces which have twelve pieces each. Pieces move like chess kings to adjacent points, but capture in a unique fashion, moving in a bobsleigh-like path that take in circular extensions at the edge of the board. Some have doubted the authenticity of the game. History of Surakarta The island of Java has given the world the peculiar and ... (read more...)



Tablut is a hybrid hunt/war game from Lapland. It is one of many variants of the old Norse game of hnefatafl, played throughout Northern Europe. A king attempts to escape from the board with the help of eight defenders. Sixteen attackers attempt to capture him. History of Tablut In 1732, the famous Swedish botan­ist Linnaeus took a tour of Lapland, keeping a journal of all that inter­ested him. Among the non-botanic­al observations that he included in this journal were ... (read more...)

The Amusing Game of Kilkenny Cats


The nineteenth century was quite an innovative time for abstract and lightly-themed games. Typical of the type is The Amusing Game of Kilkenny Cats, a game that combines skill and luck for two or four players. Game publishers of the time often used to add prefixes like "The Amusing Game of..." to their titles which give some of the games a period flavour before one even looks at the components. And just as often, the title of the game ... (read more...)

The Game of the Goose


Invented in the renaissance and spread internationally, the Game of the Goose is race game in which pieces move from the edge to the centre of a spiral board. Typically this game is completely luck-based, with players having no decisions to make. But rather than being a children's game, it was traditionally a gambling game, with stakes to be paid into a pot. History of the Game of the Goose Appearing late in the sixteenth century, the game's origins ... (read more...)

The Queah Game

Queah is a draughts-like game from Liberia. The board is a grid, usually rotated so that the playing spaces are interlocking diamonds rather than squares. Each player has ten pieces, four of which start on the board, the other six being entered each time a piece is lost. The pieces move around the board step-by-step, capturing each other by leaping. The player who captures all opposing pieces is the winner. History of the Queah Game The official name for ... (read more...)


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