People have played games since the dawn of time. Most were just for fun, but some were used to teach strategy, while other games had religious significance. Keep reading to learn about some of the most ancient games in the world.
Terni Lapilli is an ancient Roman game invented in the first century BC, and very similar to Noughts and Crosses that we play today, otherwise known as Tic Tac Toe. The familiar grid marks of the game have been found all over Rome. The Romans used pieces to move on the board rather than writing in the X’s and the O’s like we do today.
The Vikings invented the game of hnefatafl or Tafl, and because they were a seagoing people, this game spread across Europe. All that is known about the game is that it involves capturing a king, but the remaining rules are not known. It does appear to be similar to chess and an interesting strategy game all the same.
Another game from around 3000 BC is Senet, an ancient Egyptian board game. Apparently King Tut was even a fan. The game was considered lucky and served as a talisman for the journey of the dead. It is one of the oldest board games in the world, and was plaed on a 30-square board with two sets of pawns, but the exact rules have been lost forever.
The Royal Game of Ur
Not only is this game still played today, we still play by the original rules from 3000 BC! The Royal Game of Ur is also called The Game of Twenty Squares and originated in Mesopotamia. It must have caught on and spread like wildfire, because the remnants of the game have been found in many places worldwide, including Egypt and India. The game was played with markers and dice and involved two players, who had to reach the end of hte board to win.
The cross and circle game known as Pachisi is the original ancient form of today’s modern game known as Ludo. Pachisi means “twenty fire” and originated in India, but historians do not know when the game was invented. The game is played on a symmetrical cross and you must move your piece through the board.
The game of mancala is still played today. The word “mancala” means “to move” in Arabic, and actually is a generic term referring to a group of ancient board games involving count and capture strategies. The very first games were likely played by the Egyptians as early as 1000 BC. Over 800 ancient versions of the game, played with small stones or seeds, have been identified. All games are two players and involve strategy of dropping the seeds or stones in holes. Some games used holes in the ground while others used holes carved into a board or other playing surface. The objective is usually to capture all or some of your opponent's stones. Versions of mancala played around the world include Bao la Kiswahili in Eastern Africa, Congkak in South Asia, Kalah in North America, and Oware and Ashanti played worldwide.
This old Indian gem of a board game is believed to have started around 6th century AD and is a precursor to the modern game of chess. The game’s name “chaturanga” is translated as “having four limbs”, and is thought to have been invented by military strategists. It was played on an 8 inch square board called the ashtapada. While the exact rules of chaturanga have been lost, the game seems surprisingly similar to chess in that either the white or black pieces have to checkmate the other side.
The Chinese game of Go was first played in China more than 3000 years ago. It is played throughout Asia, as Wei Ch'i in China and Baduk in Korea, and is very popular today in Japan, so much so that newspapers run columns about the game.
As mentioned, modern day chess can trace its roots to Chaturanga, a chess-like game played in India around 600 AD. Chess is played worldwide today, and there are competitive professional players and world champions. There are many versions of the game, including the Chinese chess version known as Xiangqi and Japanese chess called Shogi, both of which were invented in around 800 AD. Near the end of the 1400s, the bishop and queen were added to the Western version of chess.
Long before it became the popular game we know today as checkers, it was called draughts. The familiar square board is used to play several strategy games, all involving two players and all involving diagonal moves to capture your opponent’s pieces. The word “draughts” comes from the more ancient word “alquerque” which means “to draw or to move”. The most popular form today is known as English draughts or American checkers, but there are also Russian draughts; all three are played on an 8x8 inch board. International draughts is played on a 10x10 board and Canadians have gone big with a 12x12 board for Canadian checkers.
Mah Jongg is another Asian originated game that dates back to 800 AD. It was originally a card game, but today is played with beautifully etched tiles and is extremely popular in Asia and worldwide. The modern version of Mah Jongg that we all play today is thought to have originatedin the 1800s in China.
There are even very popular computer games today too!