What Are the Oldest Board Games?

For almost as long as people have been building civilizations, we’ve also been playing games. The oldest board games are believed to be over 5,000 years old!  As the ultimate board game nerds, we pride ourselves on our knowledge of all things board game. But we recently realized that we need to brush up on our history! 

After all, if history repeats itself, don’t all games owe their origins to the first that were invented? We’d like to understand those games and give them the respect they deserve for starting us on the inevitable journey to conceiving of and creating the ultimate gaming store. 

Nearly all of the games on this list were played by ancient civilizations – the Sumerians, Ancient Egyptians, and Mayans. Although we can’t be sure of the original rules (many of there games existed long before writing and record-keeping), historians have reconstructed the gameplay based on clues and current rules so that you can play them today!

 

1. Chess

Chess was invented around 600 AD in India (or possibly China, depending on which scholar you ask). Although something about chess just feels ancient (The strategy of war! The game of generals and kings!) it’s actually a youngster compared to the other games on this list. While its exact origins are unknown, a majority of historians believe it was invented in India during the Gupta Empire. 

Back in 600 AD, chess was called “chaturanga.” It featured pieces from the four divisions of the military – infantry, cavalry, chariotry, and elephantry (!). Eventually, the game was modified and evolved into the modern-day pieces we know and recognize – knights, pawns, bishops, rooks, king and queen, etc. 

As with almost all early games, the rules changed and evolved as it spread to new countries. The modern rules of chess were formed in Europe in the 15th century – basically, yesterday compared to the oldest board games on this list!

 

2. Nine Men’s Morris 

Nine Men’s Morris is a little more mysterious than chess. Scholars believe that it was possibly invented in 1400 BCE and possibly invented by the Ancient Egyptians. It is also known as Mills, Nine Man Morris, The Mill Game, Merels, Merrills, or (our personal favorite) Cowboy Checkers. 

While we’re unsure about how long the game has been around, the first known board for Nine Man’s Morris was found “cut into the roofing slabs of the temple at Kurna in Egypt.” It dates to about 1400 BCE. The game is played by two people (traditionally with black and white markers) and is a strategy game somewhat similar to checkers. The players try to form “mills” or groups of three, which removes a piece from the other player. When someone is down to two pieces, they lose the game. 

Nine Men’s Morris was extremely popular in Ancient Rome. There are boards carved into buildings all over Rome, but those are often hard to date because of exposure to the elements. The game spread across Europe and became especially popular with monks and priests (possibly because they were some of the only people who were both educated and had free time). The rules haven’t changed much since they were first recorded and you can play it yourself today!

 

3. Go

If you love strategy board games, you’ve likely heard of Go at one point or another. There are still Go tournaments all over the world and the champions are held in high esteem. Invented around 2000 BCE in Ancient China, it is also sometimes called Weiqi, Igo, Paduk, or Baduk. 

This is one of the oldest games in the world that is still popular and regularly played just as it was in ancient times. According to legend, Go was invented by Chinese Emperor Yao to teach his son Danshu strategy, concentration, and discipline. 

“Go” is actually the Japanese name for the game (in China it is called Weiqi).  In the late 1600s, it became incredibly popular in Japan and the gameplay made significant advances popularizing it worldwide in centuries after.

This is a two-person game of strategy played (again!) with white and black stones traditionally. Stones are placed on the board. They are not moved unless they are “captured” by the opponent and then they are removed from the board. The winner is the one with the most territory (minus their captured pieces) so it rewards a balanced strategy of advancement and risk aversion. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the oldest board games in the world – or in playing some of their descendants! – stop by Game Goblins and have a chat with our game nerds! We can help you find a similar game to test your strategy skills and expand your gaming repertoire. 

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