What Was the First Board Game?

Brief History of Board Games

Board games have been played for thousands of years, and they've been played by people of all cultures. In many parts of the world, archaeologists have found the remains of ancient board games, such as chess and backgammon. The finds show that board games have been played for thousands of years and that they have been widely played across cultures.

It is believed that the world's oldest known board game, Senet, dates back to 3300 BC and was discovered in Ancient Egypt. Whilst we can't prove it beyond doubt, it is believed that this is the first board game developed. The earliest known painting of Senet was found in the tomb of Hesy, the son of Ramses II, who ruled from 2686 to 2613 B.C.

However, common board games today have evolved over the ages. Chess, for example, is believed to have its roots in the ancient Indian board game of chaturanga. In the seventh century AD, Sanskrit texts describe a game called chaturanga that was played on a board with four sides.

Other board games fell out of fashion and their rules were forgotten. This is the case with mehen, a board game played in ancient Egypt between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago. The board game is based on texts and images from the Old Kingdom. The board game was played with a snake-shaped board. Game sets included marbles of six colors and six lion figurines. Up to six persons raced pieces about the snake's coiled body; but the spaces were too small for the marbles or the lions, and pictures of the board game were painted on the board as it stood. At present, however, no one knows how mehen was played.

In 2013, archaeologists excavating a 5,000-year-old burial in Turkey found 49 small stones, painted and sculpted to look like pigs, dogs and shapes, along with dice and round tokens made of shell which is presumed to be a board game, but we as yet don’t know the name, or the rules.

Many board games have also been discovered in the ancient civilizations of Central America, including patolli, which required players to throw pebbles onto a square-shaped mat. The mat was painted with squares or crosses, and several large beans were marked with dots or holes. Players threw pebbles onto the mat, and if they landed on a square, they On feast days, people gathered from far and wide and gambled with precious things. In the 16th century, the Spanish conquistadors destroyed the mats and burnt the beans as part of their efforts to destroy native cultures. The only physical evidence of patolli is a passage in a colonial-era manuscript describing its play.

So whilst we will never know the very first board game, we know that the board game of Senet had rules, pieces and was very popular in Ancient Egypt and probably the first we can date accurately!


Next Up: Why Are Board Games Appropriate for Young Children?

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