When it comes to board games, we usually recall dominoes and cards first as well as chess and checkers. It seems that these games fell from heaven in time immemorial, and before them, humanity has not played anything. Of course, that’s not how it was. The evolution of board games was long and difficult, people went through trial and error methods, creating various gaming systems. Some of them lasted thousands of years and then were lost in the darkness of centuries. Archaeologists find a lot of evidence, descriptions, even details of board games of ancient times. Their story is full of secrets, mysteries, strange coincidences, and amazing discoveries.
Mancala is considered the oldest board game. Strictly speaking, a game with this name does not exist: mancala is a large family of games in which players are moving stones. Its history, according to the most stringent assumptions, dates back to five thousand years, and many scholars say it’s all seven.
Since ancient times, Mancala was popular among nomadic peoples: not need to carry a board and figures with you – just dig a dozen holes in the ground, take a handful of coffee beans, and play. Today, almost all the peoples of Africa and Asia have similar games. In Germany, a children’s version of the game is called Apfelklau (“Steal an Apple”), in the USSR it was called kalah. This game has many names; the number of rows, holes and stones varies, but the basic principles are similar: you need to occupy a hole, which gives you the right to take away stones from the opponent, and as a result accumulate more stones.
In ancient Egypt, Senet was the most popular and important game, reminiscent of modern checkers. It was found in the tombs of the pharaohs, apparently they were left there so that the deceased was not so bored in the kingdom of the dead. The first findings of Senet game sets were among the sensational discoveries of the early 20th century. Then archaeologists discovered mysterious pallets and boxes of stone, wood and ceramics, similar to cosmetic bags. In the era of the New Kingdom, these sets took the canonical form of an elongated oblong box, and the chips from the turrets and cakes became cones and coils. Pharaohs Amenhotep III and Ramses III were passionate lovers of Senet, several sets of amazing preservation were also found in the tomb of young Tutankhamun.
Today, Senet is popular as a developmental game for children, an office accessory, and an original gift, and after the series “Lost,” the broad masses learned about it (in the 6th season it serves as a plot-forming element, dictating the rules of behavior to the heroes).
The Royal Game of Ur (the Game of Ur)
With the advent of the first major cities that became centers of ancient civilization, the first “real” board games with the movement of chips on the board appear. The game is named after the state of the same name, once located on the territory of modern Iraq. The age of game boards found by archaeologists is more than 5000 years. Presumably, the game was popular throughout the Middle East of that time among all segments of the population, and its boards were found even in regions quite remote from Mesopotamia, such as Crete and Sri Lanka.
Over time, the royal game of Ur acquired a connection with religion: it was believed that during the game the players were shown their future or messages from the deities were transmitted. The game was also used for fortune telling (whether the campaign will be successful or not) and part of the warrior’s initiation ritual – after all, backgammon-type games develop thinking and reaction, teach you to make decisions quickly in a rapidly changing environment, and act almost intuitively.
The game got its modern name after its discovery by the English archaeologist Leonard Woolley during excavations of the royal cemetery of Ur (English) in 1922-1934. The goal of the game was to move seven of chips to the other end of the board; in this case, movements were determined by throws of tetrahedral “bones”, in connection with which the game process was based both on strategic thinking and on luck.
As for dominoes, although colored plates with dots appeared in Asia, the game acquired a modern look in Europe, and it got its name in honor of the Dominican monks (by the way, they wore white cloaks with black hoods). They were forbidden to play cards, but dominoes in Catholic monasteries were allowed.
The game found its way to Europe, when the Venetian Marco Polo brought dominoes there. At first, the monks were engaged in this game, then from Italy it migrated to France, and at the end of the 18th century it appeared in England.
Dominoes are small plates, traditionally made of ivory or just bone with small, round ebony inserts. The name “domino” comes from this combination of white and black. Domino is a French word. This is what the Christian priests called the winter garment, which was black on the outside and white on the inside. Dominoes are also a type of mask representing a black and white motif.
In Korea and India, dominoes still serve as an instrument for predicting fate. So initially these knuckles were intended solely for fortune telling and magical ceremonies.
Chinese dominoes eventually evolved into Mahjong, a game that was popular in the United States in the 1920s.
With the transition to European culture, the game partially changed. European kits do not contain any different classes of bones, nor duplicates. Instead, European kits contain seven additional dominoes in which one of the halves is “empty.”
Lotto first appeared in Italy in the 16th century. In 1530, the first game took place in Genoa. A huge number of people loved this new kind of fun. The joy, however, was short, enterprising businessmen began to speculate on tickets, and the Senate was forced to impose a ban on the game, recognizing it as a gamble.
The practice of Italy began to spread rapidly throughout Europe. It was with the help of the lotto game that King of France Francis I decided to correct his deplorable material condition. It was from France that lotto began to spread rapidly throughout Europe. In 1569, lotto became known in England, and in 1612 began to conquer America.
Back then, only the rich played it, ordinary people could not afford it. Since then, more than one hundred years have passed, and the Lotto game has become available to everyone.
At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, mahjong, invented either by officers of the Chinese army or by some nobleman from the vicinity of Shanghai, gained enormous popularity. At first, the game was known only in the suburbs of Beijing, but by 1920 it had gained enormous popularity and became almost a national symbol of Chinese culture, and not only in China but also in Europe and America. The British version of the game is still known under the name Reversi.
In 1934, during the Great Depression, an unemployed man named Charles Darrow from Pennsylvania came up with the famous Monopoly project. Publishers rejected his application, but Darrow did not give up and released the game on his own, making about 5,000 copies. Demand turned out to be incredible – next year Monopoly became the best-selling game in America, and today it entertains a good half a billion people on Earth, including at commercial competitions with impressive prize pools.
From year to year, it changes and comes in various variations, which are no less interesting and exciting.
Scrabble is another game that owes its appearance to the Great Depression. It was invented in 1938 by the unemployed architect Alfred Mosher Butts. Butts decided to create a board game that requires both quick wits and luck, and uses elements of anagrams and crosswords that were popular in those years. Having carefully studied the many editorials of The New York Times, he determined the frequency of use of various letters in the English language. Based on these data, Butts determined how many and what letters should be used in the game, and then assigned letters a different number of points. For example, so that the game was not too simple, he limited the number of letters “S” to four, since with their help it is easy to get the plural form of almost any word.
To date, more than one hundred million copies of the Scrabble game have been sold worldwide. Scrabble, “just another board game,” became a “classic of the genre” and acquired an army of fans around the world.
The “Mafia” game was invented in the spring of 1986 by Dmitry Davydov, a student of the faculty of psychology at Moscow State University, a native of Kamensk-Uralsky. At first it was played in the dormitories, classrooms, and corridors of Moscow State University, but after some university students spent their holidays in summer student camps, where students from other Soviet universities had a rest, the game began to be distributed with other players to other educational institutions of the USSR, and then around the world.
In China, the Mafia is used to treat gambling people from gambling addiction, and in the United States – as a means of re-educating “difficult” teenagers in Christian summer camps. And also, with the help of the game, Japanese high school students are preparing for the role of future jurors.
“Mafia” is recognized as one of the 50 most historically and culturally significant games that have appeared since 1800.
Everyone knows that board games are always fun and exciting. Besides, they are also a magic key to maintaining the activity and health of the mind. In fact, the game process has a beneficial effect on health in various aspects and at any age.