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Board games have been a part of human history for thousands of years, providing entertainment and intellectual stimulation for people of all ages. From the earliest known games played with dice and stones to the more complex strategy games like chess and backgammon, board games have evolved over time to become a staple in many cultures around the world. The popularity of board games has only continued to grow, with the global board game market predicted to exceed $12 billion by 2023! Now that’s a lot of gameboards. But how did these games ever come about in the first place? In this article, we will explore the rich history and timeline of board games and their impact on human culture and society.
Board Games Throughout History
Throughout history, individuals have been engaging in board games for thousands of years. These games have evolved over time, from ancient civilizations to present day, and include the use of dice, boards, and markers. They’ve played a significant role in American history, as well as multiple other nations and cultures around the world. Board games have evolved over time, but their enduring popularity is a testament to their ability to bring people together and provide hours of entertainment, wherever and whenever they are played.
Board Games Historical Timeline
Check out our historical timeline of board games below:
🐢 – 5000 BCE: Let’s take a journey back in time to discover the roots of tabletop games. The humble dice was the OG gaming piece, with 49 small carved painted stones dating back to 5000 BCE discovered in southeast Turkey. But the Mesopotamians took it up a notch and used knuckle bones, wood, painted stones, and even turtle shells as gaming pieces. Who needs fancy graphics when you can game like a true ancient badass?
🏯 – 4000 BCE: One of the longest games known to us is still being played. Originating in China in the 4th century BCE, Go has a long and fascinating history. Despite being slow to spread to the West, it eventually made its way to Europe and the United States, where it has continued to gain popularity. Today, the International Go Federation boasts 75 member countries, and even NASA astronauts have played the game in space. So why not give it a try and see if you have what it takes to master this ancient strategy game?
🐪 – 3100 BCE: Ancient Egyptians not only built the pyramids but also played one of the oldest known board games, Senet. This game, dating back to 3100 BCE, was not just a way to pass the time but had religious significance, representing the soul’s journey through the underworld to reach the afterlife. And if King Tutankhamun could stash four Senet boards made of ebony wood and ivory in his tomb, you could at least give it a shot.
☪️ – 3000 BCE: Backgammon is an ancient game that’s been around for over 5,000 years, but it’s still popular today. The game originated in Mesopotamia and Persia, and has gone through numerous changes over the years. Today, backgammon is a game of skill, tactics, and a bit of luck that’s enjoyed by people all over the world. So, grab a board and some dice, and get ready for some classic fun!
➕ – 2600-2400 BCE: Step aside, Monopoly and Scrabble, The Royal Game of Ur is here to reign as the OG board game. This ancient game dates back to the early third millennium BCE in Mesopotamia and was played by people of all social classes. It’s so old that even the British Museum has one of the oldest game boards in the world dated from 2600-2400 BCE. Players believed the game could predict their future and even convey messages from the gods.
♟️ – 300 CE: From Ludus Latrunculorum to modern-day chess, the evolution of this timeless classic is a must-read for any true gamer. Traced back to the Roman Empire, Ludus Latrunculorum was the OG chess, and over time, it evolved into the game we know today. With no hidden information, cards, or dice, it’s a pure strategy game that will test your mind and your opponent’s nerves. But watch out, today’s chess engines are smarter than you, and they’re taking over the game!
🐍 – 1600 CE: Get ready to roll the dice and climb to victory with Snakes and Ladders! Did you know this classic board game actually originated in ancient India as Moksha Patam? It was designed to teach kids about morality and the ups and downs of life, with ladders representing virtues and snakes representing vices. The game was later introduced to the UK in the 1890s as Snakes and Ladders, and in the US as Chutes and Ladders. It’s a simple game of luck, but watch out, one wrong move and you could end up sliding all the way back down.
🏰 – 1700-1900 CE: If you were a nobleman during the Tudor period, you were probably all about chess and backgammon, making them the pastime of choice for the upper crust. Meanwhile, poor folks were stuck with Nine Men’s Morris, a simple game where you had to get three in a row before your opponent. But things got even more exciting in the 17th century when new games like draughts and fox and geese came onto the scene. Traditional board games continued to be popular in the 18th century, with Ludo, snakes and ladders, and steeplechase introduced in the 19th century.
💵 – 20th Century to Present: From the sophisticated games of chess, backgammon, and checkers played by the elites in the 18th century to the accessible and family-friendly games like Ludo and snakes and ladders of the 19th century, board games have been a favorite pastime for centuries. But it was the 20th century that brought us the iconic board games that we all know and love like Monopoly, Cluedo, and Trivial Pursuit. So gather your friends and family, roll the dice, and let the games begin!
The First Board Games
Board games have a rich and fascinating history that dates back to ancient times. They’ve entertained our ancestors for years upon years, with no signs of waning. These ancient games provide a glimpse into the past and show how games have been a part of human culture for thousands of years.
The past of tabletop games is an intriguing expedition through history, and it all started with the modest dice. In reality, the earliest gaming pieces ever discovered were a sequence of 49 small carved painted stones discovered in southeast Turkey. These stones date back to around 5000 BCE.
However, dice weren’t the only gaming pieces utilized in ancient times. Mesopotamian dice were created from a range of materials, including carved knuckle bones, wood, painted stones, and even turtle shells.
Nonetheless, it wasn’t until the Fertile Crescent that tabletop games as we know them today started to emerge. This region, which spans from the Nile River in Egypt to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia, was responsible for inventing many things that we still use today, including alcohol, papyrus, breath mints, and calendars. It’s no wonder, then, that tabletop games also originated in this region.
The earliest tabletop games were simple affairs, consisting of a game board and a set of gaming pieces. These games were often played for amusement, but they also had a religious and spiritual significance. For instance, the game of “Mehen,” which was played in ancient Egypt, was believed to represent the journey of the sun god Ra through the underworld. These games were played for amusement, but they also had a deeper spiritual significance. It’s definitely captivating to see how these games have evolved over time!
Board games in Eastern Culture
For thousands of years, people all over the world have enjoyed playing board games, including those in the Eastern world. One of the earliest board games created in the East was called Liubo, which involved two players moving six game pieces around a square board with a symmetrical pattern.
During the Han Dynasty, Liubo became extremely popular and was played by people from all walks of life, including the emperor himself, who was known to be skilled at the game. However, its popularity declined quickly after the Han Dynasty, possibly due to the increasing popularity of Go.
Despite its waning popularity, Liubo still holds a significant place in Eastern history and culture. It is often found as a burial item in tombs from the Han Dynasty, indicating its importance and popularity during that time.
In summary, Liubo was the first board game developed in the Eastern world and played a crucial role in the history and culture of the region. Although it lost popularity over time, its legacy lives on through the artifacts left behind by its players.
Board games in Tudor and 17th century
Throughout the Tudor era and 17th century, board games were a popular pastime for all members of society. The affluent enjoyed playing games such as chess and backgammon, while the less fortunate played simpler games like Nine Men’s Morris. Over time, new games came into existence, including draughts and fox and geese.
Chess and backgammon were favored by the wealthy during the Tudor period. These games required strategic thinking, making them a preferred leisure activity for the educated nobility. Chess was considered a game of intellect and was often played to showcase one’s intelligence and social status. Backgammon, however, was a game of chance and skill that was enjoyed by both the upper and middle classes and was frequently used for gambling.
On the other hand there was Nine Men’s Morris, also known as Merrills, which was a game played by the less fortunate. Shepherds and farmers often played it during their free time. It was similar to modern-day noughts and crosses, where the objective was to create a line of three with your colored counters and prevent your opponent from doing so. Fox and geese, also known as fox and hounds, was another popular game among the less fortunate. One player would play as the fox and have only one counter, while their opponent would play as the geese and have 13 counters. The person playing as the geese would try to surround the fox with its counters, and the fox would try to catch as many of the geese as possible.
As the 17th century progressed, new games emerged and were often played in taverns and coffeehouses. Draughts, also known as checkers, was a game played on a board with 64 squares and required players to move their pieces strategically to capture their opponent’s pieces. Fox and geese continued to be popular, with the addition of new rules and variations. The game was played on a board with 33 squares and required players to move their pieces strategically to either capture their opponent’s pieces or block their movements.
New board games in the 18th to 20th centuries
As time passed, so did man’s enthusiasm for gameboards. European settlers brought board games across the pond, and they swiftly became a trendy pastime. Many of these games were handmade, and some were even crafted from wood by skilled artisans. As time passed, board games became more accessible to the general public. The emergence of the middle class meant that more people had the time and resources to devote to leisure activities, and board games were always a popular option.
A new game called “A Journey Through Europe” was introduced in 1759, which allowed players to travel through different European cities and learn about their cultures and customs. It is believed to be the first board game in the English-speaking world that can be attributed to a specific designer. The Mansion of Happiness, produced in England in 1800, was the first commercially successful board game.
In the 19th century, simpler games like Ludo, snakes and ladders, and steeplechase were created and became popular with children and families. Ludo, also known as Pachisi, originated in India and was brought to England in the late 1800s. It involves rolling dice and moving pieces around a board to reach the finish line. Steeplechase, a horse racing game, was invented in the United States in the late 1800s.
The 20th century was a time of innovation in board game design, with iconic games like Monopoly, Cluedo, and Trivial Pursuit being created. Monopoly, first produced in 1933, challenges players to buy and sell properties while trying to bankrupt their opponents. Cluedo, published in 1949, is a murder mystery game where players gather clues to solve a crime. Trivial Pursuit, invented in 1979, tests players’ knowledge in various categories. Many of these timeless board games have become so popular that they are still currently sold worldwide.
The rise of television and video games resulted in a decline in the popularity of board games, but the industry has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Today, board games are more popular than ever, with a wide variety of games available to suit every taste and interest.
The history of game boards is captivating and goes back to the earliest games played by people. As humans have always had a natural inclination to play games, board games have evolved over time. From a 3,000 years old set of dice, to the oldest game in world history, to the popularity of Ludus latrunculorum throughout the Roman Empire, and Liubo being the first board game developed by the Eastern world, gameboards have undeniably influenced our human existence. Today, board games continue to have a lasting impact on our lives and are still enjoyed by people of all ages and cultures as a modern pastime. This is fantastic news for all you board game fanatics out there! Play on!