Traditional Board Games

Race Games

These are games in which the goal is to get your pieces to a certain place before your opponent does. Some race games can be played by more than two players, while others can be played as partnerships like some modern card games are. Sometimes the objective for each player is in a different place, and sometimes each player gets to the same finish line by a different path.



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...)



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...)



Also known as chausar or chaupad, this game has many similarities to the more well-known pachisi .  A cross-shaped board hosts the pieces of four players, who play in two partnerships, each player having four pieces.  The pieces begin at fixed positions around the board, racing around the board to finish at the centre. History The history of chaupar is linked to that of pachisi, not least because the boards are identical and that it is therefore ... (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...)

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...)

Five Field Kono

Five field Kono is a game from Korea, of unknown antiquity but first recorded in the west in 1895. Two players each try to get their pieces across the board to the opposite side. The first to occupy the starting positions of his opponent wins the game. History of Five Field Kono At the end of the nineteenth century, a number of board games then current in Korea were recorded by the American ethnographer Stewart Culin. Ko-no was the ... (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...)



Played in Sudan, the native name of this game is "l'ib el merafib", and is often known in English as "hyena" or "the hyena game". The rules of the game allow for little or no decision making, so this is evidently a game intended for young children. The scenario is that each player's mother, as the pieces are called, must get safely from the start ("the village") around a spiral course to the well at the centre of the ... (read more...)


Kerala is a race game of unknown, probably Asian, origin. It may not be historic, given the lack of documentary sources, but has been assumed to be so by a number of writers. Two or three players race their pieces from their own "runways" to a shared square track, which they have to circumnavigate twice, before returning pieces to their own runway. Between each circuit of the board, a player's pieces must all gather in the centre. The first ... (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...)



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...)

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...)



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...)



Nyout is a Korean race game for two, three or four players. Each player races their pieces, or "horses", around a track to try to be the first one to bear the horses off the board. Nyout differs from some games in having a number of short-cuts to the finish line, which pieces may take if they land on the appropriate squares. History of Nyout Korea is rich in interesting traditional board games. It has its own version of ... (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...)



Played by the Aztecs, patolli was a race game on a cross-shaped board. Pieces raced around the board according to the throws of five beans, which were marked on one side and plain on the other. Complete rules for the game have not survived, but board game historian R. C. Bell proposed a plausible reconstruction for them. History of Patolli Patolli was played by the Aztecs at the time of the Spanish arrival in Mexico. It was a gambling ... (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...)



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...)


Saturankam is a race game played on a square board, around which the players' pieces move in a labyrinthine path. It is played in southern India and Sri Lanka. It is of unknown antiquity, but square-board race games in India are thought to predate chess. The name “saturankam” in fact means “chess”, and chess is thought to have been designed around an 8×8 square race game board. The dice in saturankam, called “kemadi”, often made of brass, have values ... (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...)


There is a picturesque setting for thaayam in R. C. Bell's book Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations. Girls employed to scare birds away from the rice crop as it was ripening would play this to while away the hours (presumably, those hours when the birds were elsewhere). Thaayam is a race game played on a square board. The pieces follow a simple but labyrinthine path around the board, starting on the edges closest to each player and ... (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 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...)

Zohn Ahl


Zohn ahl is one of a family of "ahl" games, race games played on a circular board. The board contains special spaces at the cardinal compass points, one being the start/finish line and the others being hazards that should be avoided. The lack of any decisions in the game mean that it will not entertain modern adults. But its simple character suits young children, and with its history it can be regarded more as a cultural activity than a ... (read more...)


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