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Discovering Ancient Board Games

Irving Finkel

It seems like for as long as parents have needed to keep their cooped-up children occupied on rainy days, they have had board games to help. These games come and go, but which have been around the longest? We rounded up some of the world’s oldest board games, which have been played for centuries or in some cases, millennia. They have elegant rules, deep strategy, and tactical opportunities, and they all continue to delight modern-day gamers of all ages. 

  • Go l-go

  • Poorfish / Getty Images

Go was first played in China more than 3,000 years ago. It’s believed to be the oldest continuously played board game. Today, the game is so popular in Japan that newspapers run columns about the game. Known as wei ch’i in China and baduk in Korea, it roughly translates to mean “board game of surrounding” or “encircling game.” It is truly the grandfather of all board games. Do not let this game fool you, the rules may be simple, but the strategy is thought to be more complex than chess.

  • Lottie Davies/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Although you may associate chess as a game of wits played between two European monarchs, the game actually comes from south Asia. Chess can trace its roots to a game called chaturanga,which was played in India around 600 A.D. Chinese chess (xiangqi) and Japanese chess (shogi) came into existence by 800 A.D. Circa 1200, Europeans began adapting the Indian game. Near the end of the 1400s, the bishop and queen were added to Western chess.

  • Victor Maffe / Getty Images

Although it appears to be a much simpler game than chess, checkers (in American English) and draughts (in British English) offers plenty of strategic considerations for those who look for them. The modern variety is believed to have been derived from a similar Middle Eastern game called alquerque. There are a number of variations of checkers that have been played since at least 3000 B.C. Great thinkers like Plato and Homer both referenced playing the game. Checkerboards have even been found in Egyptian tombs.

Mancala

  • Mancala board
  • Cburnett/Wikimedia CC 2.0

The word mancala means “to transfer” in Arabic. This game, which by some estimates is 7,000 years old, challenges players to move pieces from bin to bin in its special board. Many rule variations exist, and mancala is played in some form in almost every African country. There are over 800 different names for this turn-based strategy game. The boards can range from something simple with two rows of bins to more artistically-crafted designs made to look like things like seashells or animals. The largest of these games uses 400 pieces to play. The gameplay shares some similarities with modern-day backgammon.

Mahjong

  • Mahjong game
  • Sam Diephuis/Getty Images

With roots dating back to 800 A.D., mahjong is the youngest game on this list. Originally a card game, its current form is played with beautifully-etched tiles. The modern version of mahjong was probably first played sometime in the 1800s in China. Soon after, the game also made its way to England. With the advances in technology, it became a very popular computer game and a preinstalled feature on many computers. 

Source – TheSpruceCraft