Long before PlayStations and Wiis invaded our world, indoor entertainment for children and adults meant playing board games of different kinds. You’d be surprised to know that games like Snakes and Ladders and Ludo have a long, long past and that some board games go back thousands of years. Want to know more? Read on to discover the history of board games.
The oldest games
Senet, the oldest board game known to exist, goes back a whopping 5000 years to ancient Egypt. Game boards discovered in the tombs of Egypt’s kings are three squares by ten squares long and the aim of the game seems to have been to race one’s token across the board. Although it began as a game for fun, along the way, the Egyptians created rules that granted special rights to winners in the after-life (after their death)!
Another ancient game was Mancala, which required players to count and drop seeds through a parallel set of sunken bowls. Players of Palllanguzhi in South India will notice the similarities.
The ‘role’ of dice
Most board games use some form of dice. The earliest forms of dice were sticks cut from branches. The sticks were then split into two such that each would have one flat side and one curved side. A combination of sticks was used to represent various scores – for instance, if all six sticks fell with the flat side facing up, it would mean a throw of six. Later on, knuckle bones of goats and sheep were also used as dice.
The Indian angle
Several of the most popular board games we play even today were invented in India.
The Indian game of Chaupat and the related Pachisi was probably the original ‘cross and circle game’. It requires players to race their pieces around a board and as they do so, they can ‘knock out’ an opponent’s piece by landing on the same square. Chaupat is played in a much simpler way today as ludo.
Another sixteenth century Indian game called Vaikintapaali paved the way for Snakes and Ladders. In the original game, climbing ladders were shown as rewards for good deeds while the rapid fall down a snake’s back was supposed to show that bad deeds would bring about a person’s downfall.
The most popular board games ever
Have you played any of these games?
- Chess – The game of strategy for the smarts
- Monopoly – Some great life lessons can be learnt here
- Scrabble – No better way to brush up your vocabulary
- Uno – The popular card game that can also be enjoyed by very young players
- Risk – A game where you play to win the world!
Board games take to technology
With technology changing our world so much, it’s not surprising that it has also made inroads into the world of board games.
Did you know?
The oldest board game for which rules still survive intact is the ‘Royal Game of Ur’. It is played even today, making it also the oldest ‘living’ board game.
Take, for instance, a new version of Monopoly that’s now available in stores. Instead of fake paper money, players get to use debit cards (like the ones your parents use), and these can be used to pay for new sites and buildings. A version that uses an iPad to manage the bank even allows you to get out of jail free by winning a few minigames on the tablet.
Tablet versions of popular games such as Trivial Pursuit are also available so you can take your game along with you where you go. The touch screen interface of tablets allows players to spin dice, flip cards and move game pieces, the way they would on a real game board.
Technology also allows people to play games with each other even when they are not physically together – for example, you could play Scrabble with a cousin who lives in far-away United States.
Did you know?
Mughal emperor Akbar used to play Chaupat on a life-sized board using slaves instead of pieces!
The greatest gift that ancient India gave to the board game world was Chaturanga – today, all forms of chess are descended from this ancient game. A game of pure skill, it was invented around 1500 years ago.
Ironic, isn’t it? The same technology that drives people apart to play solitary games on phones and computers and to spend more and more time online away from their friends and family, can also bring people around a game board to have fun and play together!