Board Games of the World – A History

Today we have a wonderful heritage of board games from across the world. People have been inventing and playing board games for millennia. These games have evolved over the ages and exist today as an incredible store of information and fun for all. One of the oldest games is the ancient Egyptian game of Senet which dates back to about 3500 BC, and an example of a game invented recently is Pente, was designed by Gary Gabrel in 1978.

Many games reflect the competitive activities of their time such as races or the tactics and strategy of warfare. This can be seen in games such as Backgammon or Chess. Backgammon evolved from the ancient Roman game of Tabula, a race game between two players.

The game of Chess has its origins in northern India around 3000 BC as the game Chaturanga. This is a Sanskrit name meaning four parts and reflect to the division of a platoon in an Indian army in Vedic times into four parts, an elephant, a chariot, three horsemen and five foot soldiers. Chaturanga was introduced into Persia as the game Shatranj and from there spread westwards through Islamic expansion to Spain (Ajedrez) and then eventually became the modern game of Chess. Ethiopian chess called Centerej is also derived from Shatranj. Chaturanga also spread eastwards and evolved to become Chinese chess XiangQi and Japanese chess Shogi. Other eastern variants include Thai chess Makruk and Burmese chess Sittuyin.

Chess has many interesting variants including Farmer's Chess or Gala which still played in some farming villages in Schleswig-Holstein in Germany. Gala is played on a 10 x 10 board which has four 4 x 4 sections called castles and each player has two Kings or Galas. Circular Byzantine Chess is played on a 16 x 4 circular board.

Another interesting predecessor of modern international Chess is Courier Chess. This game, also called Kurierspiel, is a southern German variant played on a 8 x 12 board. Lucan Van Leyden the great Dutch renaissance painter and engraver of Leiden cave us the famous painting, The Chess Players in 1508 at the age of fourteen. This painting depicts a game of Courier. This painting formed part of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin and in 1945 narrowly escaped destruction during bombs raids before being moved to Merkers salt mine near Erfurt and recovery by General Pattons Third Army. The village of Strobeck near Halberstadt in the Hartz Mountains possesses a Courier board presented to the village in 1651 by the Elector-Prince Frederick William of Brandenburg. The game is named for one of the more powerful pieces, the Courier.

Mancala is these days the name given to a family of board games played through Africa, the Caribbean, India and south-east Asia. These games are usually played on wooden boards with two, three or four rows of holes carved into them. Sometimes these games are played in a set of holes scooped in the ground. The counters used for these games include stones, marbles, seeds, beans, cowrie shells or small lumps of dung. Mancala is an Arabic word meaning to transfer and comes from the way the player sow the counters into the holes. Mancala games have the most diverse set of names of any board game; there are hundreds of different names for the game of Mancala. The game originated in Africa and spread through Bantu expansion and then to south-east Asia by Arab traders and to the Caribbean by the slave trade. Examples of these names include Warri (Caribbean), Oware (Ghana), Maruba (South Africa), Tsoro (Zimbabwe), Gabata (Ethiopia), Layli Goobalay (Somalia), Pallanguli (Sri Lanka) and Chongkak (Malaysia).

There are many other fascinating games that can provide hours of entertainment or form the basis for social studies projects to bring to life the games, customs and language of other cultures. Other interesting games include Backgammon, Bashne, Brax, Bizingo, Bul, Checkers, Drafts, Fanorona, Go, Konane, Ming Mang, Mu Torere, Reversi, Shashki, Zamma and Zohn Ahl.