The History of Board Games
by Sayan Karmakar on Apr 20, 2023
All the way back to the Beginning
The earliest ever recorded Board Game is SENET traces of which have been found back in 3500 BC in Predynastic Egypt. The board is played by 2 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.
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. BACKGAMMON is a 2 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, the first ever modern chess tournament was arranged in London in 1851 by leading chess player, Howard Staunton. The trend quickly spread across continents, with different players bringing new techniques and strategies which revolutionized the way in which we play the game today.
No history of Board Games would be complete without MONOPOLY. The game has caused many rifts amongst competitive families. The earliest origin of the game dates back to 1903, when Elizabeth J. Magie Phillips designed and published a game called ‘The Landlord’s Game’. 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.
Another money focused game is of course BINGO. 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.
The Intersection of Board Games and Belief Systems
The Ancient Egyptians, like other advanced civilizations, loved Board Games. But what’s unique about Egypt is the way that board games seeped into their religious system, with one game, in particular, becoming closely entwined with their polytheistic worship of the serpent God Mehen. Chauper or Mokshpat, which eventually became known as SNAKES & LADDERS. The Ladders representing Humility, Kindness, Faith and other good Values allowed players to ascend towards salvation. The Snakes represented bad deeds and less than admirable characteristics and landing on one would send players backward. 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 of 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.
Board Gaming in 21st Century Renaissance
The popularity of Monopoly sparked the creation of many games that are still played today including Candyland, Clue, Pictionary, Scrabble, Risk, Sorry and Trivial Pursuit. Today, Board Games are more popular than ever. There are a lot of reasons for the spike in popularity :
Innovative Game Mechanics
Games have gotten better. It’s not just the themes, the artwork or the rise of cheap 3D printing, the actual game mechanics that underlie every turn have improved. From cooperative to worker placement, to deck building, there’s a whole universe of game styles that simply didn’t exist before, opening up the hobby to more people.
The Power of Nostalgia
It’s also hard to resist the Nostalgic allure of Board Games. As adults, Board Games help connect us to the kid within, where we can focus on fun, explore fantasy realms and put off adulting for 45-60 minutes.
Real-World Social Engagement
Finally, humans are social creatures. We crave connectivity. Board Games create space for families and friends to get together face-to-face, put down their phones and just have fun.
If you thought that Video Games would mean the end of Board Games, think again. The number of published games has been on the rise since 2000, with more than 3,400 games published in 2015. And while countless Board Games have sought their way to the top of best-selling games lists, the top seller most years is often a return to basics – Chess, Checkers or Backgammon. It’s proof that older games, while often less flashy and perhaps a little dated, have a way of outlasting the competition. The nature and method of Board Games has evolved significantly over the past few 1000 years, creating games with more focus on teamwork and fantasy than simple, straightforward strategy or luck.