Board games have been around for a very, very long time indeed. They were some of the earliest forms of entertainment crafted by successful civilizations. Board games still remain a very popular market today, with games of all kinds of difficulties and scenarios out there for you to enjoy.
There are extremely simple board games that run purely on chance – like Snakes and Ladders – and then there are extremely complex board games like Dungeons & Dragons. And, as you’re probably already aware, some board games even have international tournaments, like Chess for example.
Board games are typically defined by, naturally, a game set on a board. The defining feature of board games however, may be attributed to pieces and tokens that are moved around the board. Because of this, card games would not be considered board games, but some games that use cards (like Monopoly that has cards for property deeds) are board games.
The Earliest Form of Board Games
The oldest board game ever found dates all the way back to 3500 BC. This game, called Senet, was uncovered in Egyptian ruins. Senet consisted of a board of thirty squares, and two sets of pawns. Being as old as it is, the rules of Senet aren’t known for certain. Some rules have been decided by examination of ancient texts and depictions of the game that range over a millennium. Senet sets are sold nowadays as well, though it is highly unlikely this is 100% the same game the Egyptians played so long ago.
Ancient board games weren’t all the same either. Much like today, there was quite some variety even thousands of years ago. Many of these games have survived all that time and are widely available today. One type of ancient board games that still exists today are racing games. The general gameplay would consist of players moving their tokens around the board in the hopes of being the first to complete the circuit. Pachisi is one of the oldest surviving racing board games. It is now the national game of India, and is more widely known by the name ‘Ludo’.
Another ancient game that might sort of be considered a board game is what you now know as tic-tac-toe. Evidence of this game having existed is found, once again, in Egyptian ruins. Though the rules might have been a bit different back then; with players using pebbles instead of chalk. Each player was limited to three pebbles, and moved them around trying to make a line. Much more evidence of this game is found in Rome, where there are dozens if not hundreds of grids drawn all over the place. So what you play on the corner of a page in school today is what people played literally thousands of years ago too.
Then there were strategy games, mostly about commanding opposing armies of pawns. Tafl games were the earliest iterations of strategic board games. Nordic and Celtic in origin, these games were played on checkered boards and were later replaced with Chess, a game that is still widely in play today. Many European countries used to play Tafl board games, including Britain, Ireland, Lapland, Sweden, and Norway.
Tafl was the original name for these board games, but was later replaced with Hnefatafl in an attempt to distinguish these games from other games that were gaining popularity during that time. There were many variants of Tafl board games, but only the rules of Tablut have remain unchanged and well documented. Other variants included Ard Ri, Alea Evangelii, and Brandubh.
The oldest Chess pieces ever recovered date back to 760 AD. Thus, Chess is relatively much newer compared to other ancient board games. Chess reached Europe in the 9th Century, and saw changes to the rules regarding the movements of pawns, bishops, and queens around the late 1400’s. The rules regarding stalemate were only finalized in the 19th Century, along with the rule about White moving first.
Acceptance of Board Games in Recent Centuries
Though board games weren’t at all a new concept around the time the United States came into being, it nevertheless took the country some time to accept them as being normal. Before, and for some after independence, board games were viewed as “a waste of time” and “harmful”. A sentiment that seems to still plague the older generations today when it comes to video games.
But the situation in early U.S was so bad, partly due to religious superstition playing in to it, that dice were literally thought of as playthings of the Devil. It was considered quite normal to look down on people who would play board games as being useless members of society, and it wasn’t until the United States had urbanized a lot more that the focus shifted from maximum work to actually enjoying life.
The United States didn’t change its stance on board games overnight though. The earliest board games that were released officially in the country were games that were meant to propagate Christian values in children. One amusing example is a game that was named ‘The Siege of the Stronghold of Satan by the Christian Army’. Very subtle.
Some conservative countries still look down on board games. Mostly in the Middle East and South East Asia, board games, along with video games, are still considered a waste of time, and some people can have really strong opinions about the matter. Sports however, seem to have been spared this scrutiny, probably because they’re good workouts.
Board Games Today
And now we arrive at today. In the last few decades, the board game industry has skyrocketed. There has never been as many board games as there are today. Role Playing Games were a huge success – with Dungeons & Dragons having an insane following – and led to the creation of computer role playing games.
Today, you have all sorts of options; from casual luck-based games like Ludo and Snakes & Ladders, to strategic games like Checkers and Chess. And then of course, there are the hundreds of role playing spinoffs. From the original Dungeons & Dragons to spinoff board games for the Fallout franchise of video games,the choice is limitless, and so is the fun.
As almost everything that exists today, board games have a rich history full of interesting facts and influences. The fact that common games like tic-tac-toe were once played over five thousand years ago is simply mind-blowing, and really puts into perspective how alike our societies are to those that existed all those years ago.