Traditional Board Games

What are these "Traditional Board Games"?

Sunday, 2nd March 2014

I've used the term "traditional board games" for a number of years now to describe the kind of game you will see on this site. But the phrase means different things to different people. People think of games from their childhood, which can be anything from chess to snakes & ladders to Monopoly. So I thought I'd start off the blog by putting down exactly what I mean by traditional board games.

When people ask me what kind of game I make and write about, I often answer "games like chess, draughts and backgammon, but not chess, draughts or backgammon." Not that I dislike those games, but their fields are already overcrowded, so I spend little time on these well known games. The games that get my attention are usually old and usually themeless, mostly both, and never (still) the property of a copyright owner.

Themeless means that the game isn't set in any particular time or place. The board is a board. It's not Britain, Egypt, Asia or the surface of Mars, it's just a board. Sometimes it's a battlefield or a race track, but it's never a detailed depiction. The pieces are usually just pieces, though sometimes, as in chess, they have names which don't always have much bearing on their abilities in the game.

There are borderline cases. Tablut pits a Swedish king and army against Muscovite invaders, but as with chess, these are just names given to the pieces, rather than accurate depictions. And the Chinese chess board has two palaces and a river, but these are very abstract in the aesthetic sense.

The word "abstract" would describe this well, but in the gaming world, the term "abstract" has been adopted to mean games that are not only without theme, but also without luck. So it won't do here, where games with a chance element like backgammon are very much included.

Age is a more obvious criteria, but "old" is subjective. To people brought up on electronic entertainment, Trivial Pursuit and Risk are old. I've drawn an arbitrary line at about 1900, though some games of interest do cross it - particularly those games which are developments of other games before 1900 (like the 1948 game grasshopper, which is a development of the 19th century game of halma).

The exclusions, of early themed games and modern themeless ones, are really on the basis of numbers. Many thousands of themed games, usually simple roll-and-move race games, were published before 1900, and I wouldn't have time to look into them all. Even more games of an abstract nature are published now, as people take advantage of modern technology and communications to experiment with game mechanics - and the number of such games since 1900 is overwhelming.

This still leaves me with a wide field of study. I have details of six to twelve hundred board games that fit my criteria; a mere 90 of them are on this site at the time of writing. Many of these games have little coverage elsewhere on the web. I think this will keep me entertained for a while longer.


New Comment

Yes No