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Traditional Board Games

Games of the World

Games are indigenous to every inhabited continent.
Games are indigenous to every inhabited continent.

The idea of board games didn't spread out from a single source. The idea of playing through miniature races, battles and hunts, using anything from pebbles to hand-carved pieces, seems to have occurred to different people at different times all over the world. Every continent apart from Antarctica has its own board games, with some regions being particularly rich in board gaming history.

India is very rich as a source of board games. Chess is claimed to come from India, but a number of other board games come from there too. A cross-shaped race game called pachisi is played around the world, in some places under the name of "ludo". There are also numerous race games played on square boards, where the pieces follow a spiral pattern to get to the middle. It is one of these games, ashtapada, whose board was later used for chess. And one of the most widespread children's games, snakes & ladders, also came from India.

China and Korea were also very inventive. The elegant game of go, or wei-chi, was invented thousands of years ago in China and has changed very little since then. The Chinese also have their own original version of chess. This was taken to Korea, where the board and rules were altered. Korea is also a source of some original board games, like nyout, and four- and five-field kono.

Australasia and the Pacific was an interesting area for board games. The Maori people had their own board game, called "mu torere", a game of pure strategy where you have to block your opponent from moving. The Hawaiians had a game called 'konane', which plays a little like the jumping puzzle peg solitaire, but is for two players.

In Africa, ancient Egypt is a source of a number of games. Their senet game, where piece race to the end of a board, may be an ancestor of backgammon. They also had other race games: the game of twenty squares, mehen (the game of the snake), and the game of dogs and jackals.

But for deeper strategy, the African continent has more to offer. Mancala is so old that it is unknown precisely where in Africa it came from. And various parts of Africa have taken games from elsewhere and improved or altered them: fanorona, yote and dara are all interesting games of pure strategy.

In Europe, the ancient Greeks and Romans dominated. Backgammon as we would recognise it was formulated by the Romans. They also took the Greek game of petteia and made modifications, sending their version "latrunculi" north, east and west. It developed into the Norse game of hnefatafl in medieval times. Other medieval European games include draughts and fox & geese.

A surprising hotbed of game invention in Europe is Lapland. Although hnefatafl wasn't invented in Lapland, they took the game and played their own version of it. But they also invented the interesting games of dablot prejjesne and sakkhu.

The American continents also had their own games, and some of the most enigmatic games are those played by the Aztecs and the Mayans before the coming of the Europeans. Puluc is well known, but the Aztec game of patolli has had to be reconstructed almost from scratch. The North Americans had their own race games, such as zohn ahl, and even a few strategy games whose details are lost to us.

After the Europeans made contact, the native Americans took to several games from the old world. One was Alquerque, a forerunner of draughts, whose board was modified into a long, snake-like shape and named kolowis awithlaknannai, or "fighting serpents".

Every area has its own selection of board games. Visit the links on this page to see what games were played in each area of the world.

Games of Africa

The games on this page either came from Africa, or were adopted and widely played there. Some games, like nine men's morris, are so old that we really don't know where exactly they came from. (read more...)

Games of Asia

Asia is probably the most diverse source of board games, as befits the largest and most populous of the continents. India, China and Korea were major contributors to the world's board games, and a number of interesting games also came from the middle east. (read more...)

Games of Australasia and the Pacific Islands

Though games from this area are fewer in number than those from other areas, they are very distinctive as befits the widespread and sometimes isolated societies that played them. (read more...)

Games of Europe

The peoples of Europe developed a number of interesting board games, and they also took board games from elsewhere and made improvements upon them. European colonialism meant that many of these games were taken to other parts of the world, influencing native games in other areas. (read more...)

Games of the Americas

Many of the games played in the American continents before European contact have been lost to us, but a few have survived well enough to be played today. Once the Europeans came, the American natives took to games from Europe and made them their own. In the nineteenth century some intriguing traditional games were invented in here, which have become popular around the world. (read more...)

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