It truly is a glorious time for the resurgence of board games. For the past few years, Board games have seen almost a 40% per year interest rise from fans all over the world. This is a higher rate than even Google’s growth per year. This interest growth can also be attributed to a whole host of promotional activities that have evolved around the field of board games. You can now look forward to a web series on the subject co-created by Felicia Day with none other than Will Wheaton hosting the show, international events sparking off from the popularity of board games and companies starting new lines of the oldest board games in history. This rather makes people want to look back through time to mark the journey in terms of the History of Boards Games. Where did it all begin? What can we look forward to as the future of Board Games? So here it is, a step-by-step accounting of Board Games’ journey through inception in to the world today!
History of Board Games – Journey Through Time and Cultures
Board games can trace back their line to the Pre-historic times. So we had board games before we even had the written word. This kind of puts in perspective of what held more importance for people even at the dawn of time. The strategies and repeated patterns of the games appealed to masses then as it does now.
The Very First Board Game in History
It is not hard to guess that the Dice came as the very first stochastic board game. In fact, the repeated occurrence of the dice in so many derivative games across time and cultures puts in to perspective the immense popularity of this invention. 49 small, painted, and carved stones were discovered at the Basur Höyük, which is a 5000-year-old burial mound in South East Turkey. Similar discoveries that can be traced back to about the same era were traced in Syria and Iraq. This attributed for historians to assume that the Dice originated from the Fertile Crescent area of the old world map. The basins and valleys of the Rivers Nile, Euprates, and Tigris marked this crescent. The area is also attributed with the inventions of Papyrus, alcohol, breath fresheners and the calendar, which cannot be a coincidence; after all, they are the very things mostly need around you on board game nights! 😉
Variations of the dice included flat sticks painted on one side to represent the roll. Mesopotamian versions of the dice were actually knucklebones from apes and humans. These were polished and painted to represent the dice. Other materials used were, carved stones, painted wood and in some cases turtle shells. The dice evolved with the cultures and began to be increasingly modified. In later years, dice could be made with brass, copper, ivory, marble, and even glass, which were some of the most valuable materials at the time. The closest design for the dice we know today can be traced back to the Roman era when the six –sided dice and even the ones with the cut corners design were recovered.
Board Games for Bored Royals
Today we often reach for the board games when bored. Incidentally, that is not new. At one point in history, the board games evolved because of the highest need of the hour – Royal pastime options. Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt (3100 B.C) were intense about the game of Senet. Senet Sets have been discovered in dynastic as well as pre dynastic burial mounds, signifying that the pharaohs literally took the game to their graves! Did I mention that board games are important? Many Egyptian tombs have glorious illustrations of the pharaohs playing Senet.
Once you think about it, you can easily see the source of the game’s significance. Ancient Egyptians have been strongly associated with the concept of ‘Fate’. It is easy to see why the Senet will appeal to their sense of Fate seeing how the game is strongly attached to the element of luck. In fact, soon the game was tied quite intently with the religion of the area. People believed that the Gods of the Natural Pantheon – Ra, Thoth, protected the winning player, the game was even featured in the Book of the Dead! Talk about cranking up the intensity!
The Senet board of the Egyptian era had 30 squares, which were designed to be in 10 columns with three rows. Two sets of pawns (varying numbers) were recovered with the board. This setup is the basis for the design of the Senet boards that we know of today. In fact, historians have only been able to make what can be called an educated guess regarding the actual playing rules of the game.
Board Games’ Relationship With Religion
With the Egyptian Era, the combination of religion and board games had started to take shape. It soon gained momentum when the board games emerged from the royal circles and made their way in to the working class families. Now, the idea of religion and the games of Fate intensified as common beliefs and mythical stories from all parts of the world found an outlet in incredible board games. Mehen is one of the prime examples of this trend and the game can be traced back to 3000 B.C.
The board game actually represented Mehen, the deity. The sun worshippers of the era had a strong belief on the God Mehen who was represented by a huge serpent. The story is that the serpent wrapped Re (Sun God) in its huge coils completely hide the light of the Sun. The board game represents a huge coiled snake and today historians are confused whether the game led to the myth of the deity or the deity came before the game. Such is the craze for a good tabletop game!
The Arabs had a similar structure for a game, which has been dubbed The Hyena Game. So today, the game of Mehen and the Hyena Game have been merged due to their similar characteristics to give birth to a completely new game which has players with six marbles playing from one point of the snake’s tail to its head and back. There is a lion piece with the game, which is used as a predatory element to capture the marbles of the opponent.
The Royal Game of Ur
The longest running board game in history is the Royal Game of Ur. The game was thought to be superseded by the more modern Backgammon, which has almost identical playing characteristics to the game of UR. However, Irving Finkel (Game historian) discovered the rules of game of Ur had been carved on to an ancient tablet that was dated at 2650 B.C. Finkel also traced back the most recently played version of the game to a retired schoolteacher who claimed to have played the game as a child. So, the Royal Game of Ur wins hands down as the longest running game since the history of time! No wonder there was a set of the game even in the royal Tomb of Tutankhamen.
Board Games Inspired by Military Strategies
The game of Ludus Latrunculorum can be traced back to the 1300 B.C. Roman Empire. Two opponent players played the game and while the exact game rules have not been deciphered, it is still clear that the game was about designing military strategies. Modern day chess can be traced back to the concept of Ludus. The perception that Ludus Latrunculorum was a war strategy game is not hard to understand considering the major lifestyle of the Roman Empire in that era was around continuous wars.
Board Games Emerging from the East
Most board games in the world by 400 B.C were derivatives of the games evolved in the Middle Eastern culture. The game of Liubo broke this pattern as the first game emerging from the East. It was a two-player game with six game pieces on each side and a dice throw determining the moves on the board. The game was at its peak during the Han Dynasty. The boards and pieces of the games were commonly found in the tombs of the Royals of the Han Dynasty. Most of these boards were not found in any intact shape and the pieces would often be missing. However, more recently, in 1973, a completely preserved Liubo board set was discovered with a lacquered wood board and elaborate ivory game pieces.
The look through the evolution of the board game gives us a direct glimpse of how the evolution of humanity has literally been mirrored on the boards of these games. Here is a look at five of the most popular Board Games in human history.
5 of the Most important Board Games in World History
The game can be traced back to the Viking era; it is one of the major precursors to chess. The game is a two-player strategy where each player strives to get their king from the centre of the board to the edge of it, without being captured in the way. Tafl also led to the evolution of Chaturanga in India and Shatranj of Middle East, which arrived to the modern concept of chess with time.
Nine Men’s Morris
This game led to the evolution of modern Tic-Tac-Toe. In Nine Men’s Morris, there is a grid with counters to create a three-lined pattern. The aim is to create a row of three with your counters so you can remove one of the counters of the opponents. Simplest of the board games ever evolved, Nine Men’s Morris has seen the cultural transitions and evidence of the game have been traced back to 1440 B.C. with symbols showing up all over the world including Sri Lanka, Ireland, and United States.
Mancala is based on the concept of really fast counting. The objective of the game is to count the seeds or counters placed along the board so you can capture your opponents’ game pieces. Now, there is some confusion and particular groups of historians have stated that Mancala is in fact the oldest board game predating it even ahead of Senet. However, evidence for this theory is quite slim.
Chaupat is one of the most famous board games of India, finding its way in too many popular historical literatures. The rules of the game are very well known and the game has led to evolution of Pachisi and the modern day Ludo. Cowry shells were used as dice for the game and the counters were made of brass, bronze, gold, silver, or Ivory. Chaupath is one of the most decadent and widely popular games of Indian history.
The Landlord’s game
The Landlord’s Game is one of the most recently developed games when compared to all the other games mentioned in this article. Lizzi Maggie, an actress from Maryland, invented the game. The board consisted of a square track design and a row going outside the track with properties that the players could purchase during the game. The game also had a jail, railroads, and a special corner, which paid up 100 dollars every time a player passed through it. This game was the precursor to modern day Monopoly.
Tabletop – YouTube Series
The evolution of the board games still received a hefty setback as people moved to the novelty of screen games. For quite some time the term gamers referred to video game enthusiasts alone. Over time the gradual interest in the board games started to make a comeback and enthusiasts around the world continued to have small events to celebrate the spirit. However, the explosion of popularity for board games can be rightfully dedicated to the unique web series TableTop. Jennifer Arnold directs the series and the episodes are published on Geek & Sundry, which is Felecia Day’s official YouTube channel.
The series is co-created and hosted by Will Wheaton. Wheaton invites celebrity guests on to the series and plays the featured game with them. Each episode of the series has meteorically risen in popularity and even older episodes continue to get intense number of views per day.
With 2015, TableTop wound up their third season and it was crowd funded via Indiegogo during the initiative taken by Wheaton in May of 2014. The initiative broke the collection record, registering at a much higher amount than the perceived goal. The series has also announced its fourth season, which is supposed to be aired in 2016. A list of the featured games has already been announced on the channel on 22nd April 2016.
International Table Top Day
The International table Top Day was founded by Boyan Radakovich and it has been heavily inspired by the fan outreach of the TableTop web series. The first International Table Top day was live streamed from the main venue on to the Geek and Sundry Channel on 30th march 2013. Will Wheaton and Felicia Day hosted the event, with events being held in over 64 countries independently. The guests from the first season of the series made a comeback for the event. There was also a wrap up episode, which featured the follow up to the event on the YouTube channel.
The second International Table Top Day was commenced on 5th April 2014 and was held through 80 countries independently. The third event was on 11th April 2015 and Saturday 30th April 2016 was the date of the 4th Annual International TableTop Day. Zombie Gaming was hosting the games for 24 hours starting at 10 am on Saturday! Other Gaming companies participating in the event for the opening games are Foam Brain Games, Puzzle Bakery & Café and Vortex Video games.
The Future of Board Games
The future of board games is solidly enmeshed in both online and offline worlds. The popularity of each disjointed segment of the Board Game culture continues to spark the interest of fans in the individual boards. Today, events like The International Tabletop Day have been derived as an offshoot of a YouTube Web series. Games featured in each episode of the series get significant sales boost in the retail market proving the trend of online to offline interest shift for board games.
Today, Board Game enthusiasts can look forward to events like Spiel des Jahres that is German for Game of The Year. It is equivalent to the Oscars of Board Games, further proving that Board Games have now their very own segment and no longer considered a run-off for video games.
Board Game Cafes
The future of the Board games is further glorified in the rising trend of Board Game Cafes, popping up all over the globe with very popular franchises in North America, Galveston, and Beijing. The cafes combine the enthusiasm of board games with food, drinks, and the obvious café culture. It is a glimpse in to what the future holds in terms of the rise of the Board Games! It has all the indications of evolving into its own from the tag of a gaming sub-culture.