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

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

When were the first board games?

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.

History of games
Games in ancient Africa
All our Africa articles

What’s the earliest game called?

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.

More about backgammon
History of dice
West Asian games

Earliest Liubo game

Earliest Liubo game

Liubo in China, Mancala in Africa

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.

Games in ancient China

A Muslim woman and a Christian woman play chess in Spain

A Muslim woman and a Christian woman play chess in Spain

Go, Chess, Parcheesi and Chutes and Ladders

After this we don’t know about any new board games for almost a thousand years. (There probably were some, but we don’t know about them!) 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.

Medieval Islamic games
Games in India

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 spreads to Africa, Europe, and the Americas

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 home