Who invented board games?

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King Tutankhamon's Senet Board (ca. 1300 BC)

King Tutankhamon’s Senet Board (ca. 1300 BC)

People were playing board games earlier than we have any records. Probably the first board games were scratched into dirt. People played with stones or fruit pits for pieces. The earliest board game that we know about for sure, from Pre-dynastic Egypt, about 3000 BC. It’s a game called Senet. Senet was like our modern game backgammon. People also played backgammon in ancient Iran by about 3000 BC, using dice that were pretty much just like modern dice.

Earliest Liubo game

Earliest Liubo game

By 1500 BC, people in Shang Dynasty China were playing a game called Liubo. We don’t really know the rules to Liubo. A little later, about 1400 BC, Second Intermediate Period people in Egypt seem to have been playing an early version of the African game Mancala.

A Muslim woman and a Christian woman play chess in Spain

A Muslim woman and a Christian woman play chess in Spain

After this we don’t know about any new board games for almost a thousand years. But then in 548 BC there were people in China playing Go. About 400 BC people in China began to play a form of chess, and gradually people in India and Central Asia learned to play chess. Greater interest in board games led to the Indian invention of Parcheesi around 300 AD, and a version of Chutes and Ladders about 1200 AD.

Chess gradually spread west across the Islamic world to West Asia and North Africa. By the Middle Ages, chess reached Christian Europe, and after 1500 AD Europeans brought chess to North America and South America.

Learn by doing: play a game of chess or backgammon
More about dice games

Bibliography and further reading about the history of board games:

Chinese games
Central Asian games
West Asian games
Egyptian games
Islamic games
North American games
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By |2018-04-20T22:32:46+00:00June 23rd, 2017|Africa, Games|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Who invented board games?. Quatr.us Study Guides, June 23, 2017. Web. November 16, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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