The History of Board Games

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For many people, board games represent a staple of family gatherings. But board games actually go back much further than many of us might initially think. Let’s take a brief look into the history of the board game, how it has changed over the years and what players today can expect from modern day board games.

The earliest ever recorded board game is senet traces of which have been found as far back as 3500 BC in predynastic Egypt. The board is made up of three rows of ten squares, and the game is played by two players, each with a set of about 5 pawns. For a couple of centuries in the middle of the second millennium, the game was considered in Egypt to represent the journey of the dead – which is why so many senet boards have been found near graves in Egypt. There has been considerable debate on how to play senet, but it is currently understood that the game is played by throwing sticks to establish how many squares you get to move your pawn across the board.

history-of-board-gamesThe throwing of the sticks is very obviously a form of dice throwing. Incidentally, board games using dice have also been around for a significant length of time. The oldest set of dice ever discovered was from a 5000 year old set of Backgammon uncovered at the Burnt City in the south east of Iran. It has since migrated across the world and was particularly popular amongst the British Clergy during the 18th Century. Backgammon is a two person game in which the player aims to get rid of all of their pieces on the board before their opponent. The heavy strategy of the game has generated a lot of interest from within the world of computer science.

Another game which has caught the imagination of computer scientists is chess. Chess has been around since approximately 1000 AD and has remained a popular favourite ever since. However, it wasn’t until the 1851 that the first ever modern chess tournament was arranged in London by leading chess player, Howard Staunton. The trend quickly spread across continents, with different players bringing new techniques and strategies which revolutionised the way in which we play the game today.

No history of board games would be complete without Monopoly. The game has caused many a rift amongst competitive families. The earliest origin of the game dates back of 1903, when Elizabeth J. Magie Phillips designed and published a game called The Landlord’s Game. The purpose of the game was originally educational, to demonstrate the single tax theory of Henry George and educate people about the disadvantages of private monopolies. In 1933, a new version of the game called Monopoly was released by the Parker Brothers. Over the decades the game spread across the Atlantic and into Europe. Today, several different types of monopoly exist, including novelty ones relating to pop culture.

The-Landlords-Game

Another money focussed game is of course bingo. There are several different types of bingo, including 90 Ball and 75 ball bingo. The basic setup of the game is that you have several tickets with numbers on them, and you want to have all of your numbers crossed out before anyone else. The first person to do this wins the cash. The game is a variation of the Lottery, which originated in Italy in the mid-17th Century, but the first proper game of bingo – or “Beano” as it was then called – was played in Atlanta in 1929. Nowadays, bingo is played in large halls or in new gaming sites, with varying sizes of jackpots and ticket prices on offer.

Board games have certainly evolved in strategy and in story over the years – possibly to keep up with an increasing number of computer games which can offer more in depth stories and plot lines. Perhaps one of the most significant events in the creation of the modern day board game was the release Dungeons and Dragons in 1974. The role playing nature of the game brought a completely new insight to role board games in general, which then expanded into trends such as re-enactment and Live Action Role Playing.

As we can see, the nature and method of board games has evolved significantly over the part few thousand years, creating games with more focus on team work and fantasy than simple, straightforward strategy or luck.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Nick,

    Thanks for the brief history lesson, but I wish you would have gone a little past 1974 to at least 1995 which really brings us into the modern era of board gaming. Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, and literally thousands more games have been produced since then. It’s a shame to leave such a large gap in the history story.

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