Board Games

Board games are an important pastime for many people across the world. Especially in the current pandemic, they are likely to become increasingly important to many families. This is not a trend of recent years, but one that has existed throughout history. Whilst often beginning as purely folk creations, board games are increasingly integrated into a much wider and commercial market. They are represented even in hieroglyphs, and simply put, ‘wherever there has been civilization, strange to say, there have been games played on boards’.[1] The first board game can be traced back to as early as 5000 BC, with dice (or painted flat sticks as they began) being of central importance to them. ’49 small carved painted stones were found… in southeast Turkey. These are the earliest gaming pieces ever found’. Similar pieces also found in Syria and Iraq. So safe to assume that board games originated in the Fertile Crescent.[2] By around 3000 BC board games became ‘popular among pharaohs in Ancient Egypt’ and were an official royal pastime, with the main game being Senet. The game became somewhat a talisman for the journey of the dead.[3] The luck involved in games linked to the Egyptians obsession with fate, also becoming increasingly associated with religion and belief. One such game was Mehen with focus on the deity of the same name.[4] Trends in board games are also dependent on their time, and the groups living at that time, with many adopting their own preferred games. For example Rich Saxons played games resembling chess. (chess is likely to have been invented in India in the 6th or 7th century AD or possibly earlier. At any rate, by the 10th century, it was being played in Europe).[5] The Vikings, for a further example, played a board game called hnefatafl. In some versions, one player used 8 pieces to protect the king while the other player used 16 pieces. In other versions, the players had 12 pieces and 24 pieces and the size of the board varied.[6] The Tudors played board games like chess and backgammon (with a backgammon set being found on the wreck of the Mary Rose). Poor people often played nine men’s morris. The Tudors also played draughts and fox and geese.[7] These types of games remained traditional and popular to the 18th Century, including chess, draughts, backgammon and dominoes.[8] Themes are also increasingly important to games.

By 400 AD Tafl boards were popular and were a family of different games of ancient Germanic and Celtic strategy and played on a checked board. Tafl spread with the Vikings to places like Britain, Iceland, Ireland and much of Northern Europe. These games are essentially the building blocks of chess.[9]Then, Mancala came around about 700 AD to describe a genre of games as ‘sowing’ or ‘count-and-capture’ games. Mancala comes from the Arabic word naqala to mean ‘to move’. These games would originally use things like seeds and place them in the pits of the board and moved around in the game. The main aim is to capture more than your opponent.[10] Monopoly, arguably one of the most well-known and popular modern board games, found its origins in ‘The Landlord’s Game’ (1903), created by the American Lizzie Magie.[11] It had a similar board, instructions, aim and made to demonstrate land grabbing and its consequences. Lizzie sold the patent for the game in 1935 to Parker Brothers for just $500, who then made it monopoly as we know it today.[12] Modern board games, as of 2009, have become increasingly diverse and extensive, allowing for indefinite amounts of audiences to be targeted. This is due to Kickstarter, a company that helps to raise funding and support for people to design and sell their own games to the public.[13]

Image retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/apr/11/secret-history-monopoly-capitalist-game-leftwing-origins (United States Patent and Trademark Office).


[1] Andriesse, A. (2019). Progress in Play: Board Games and the Meaning of History. Retrieved from https://publicdomainreview.org/essay/progress-in-play-board-games-and-the-meaning-of-history#fn1.

[2] Attia, P. (2016). The Full History of Board Games. Retrieved from https://medium.com/swlh/the-full-history-of-board-games-5e622811ce89.

[3] Attia, P. (2016).

[4] Attia, P. (2016).

[5] Lambert, T. (2019). A Brief History of Board Games. Retrieved from http://www.localhistories.org/board.html.

[6] Lambert, T. (2019).

[7] Lambert, T. (2019).

[8] Lambert, T. (2019).

[9] Attia, P. (2016).

[10] Attia, P. (2016).

[11] Attia, P. (2016).

[12] Attia, P. (2016).

[13] Attia, P. (2016).

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