Last Updated on February 6, 2023 by Jella Erhard
12 Ancient Board Games From Around The World
Explore ancient board games from around the world and learn about the oldest board games still played today. We wanted to create a list with the oldest board games for curious gamers who want to know the history behind their favorite board game.
You probably heard and even played with Go, Mancala, Chess, and Snakes & Ladders but do you know how far their history goes back? You’ll read about ancient Egyptian board games, Viking chess, ancient Roman board games, ancient Chinese board games as well as lesser-known but historically important and fascinating board games from other parts of our planet.
While getting to know the known oldest board games in the world you will gain a new appreciation for your favorite board games.
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Explore the oldest board games in the world
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12| Tafl or Hnefatafl ancient Nordic and Celtic strategy board game | Earliest mention 400 AD
A surely exciting abstract strategy board game that was the most popular game for eight centuries until chess took over in the 12th.
Hnefatafl also known as Tafl is one of the many ancient Nordic and Celtic board games that soldiers and scholars played. There are some theories that it’s actually based on the ancient Roman board game Latrunculi.
Tafl is a bit more complex and the appearance is much more evolved as well. Naturally, it depended on whose board was it, a chief or royalty owned one, without a doubt they were beautifully crafted.
The game has a number of different variations depending on which region it was played in, the board’s size varied from 7X7, 9X9, or 18X18 with a different layout of the figures.
The main goal is for one player to get the king out from the center to the edge of the board, while the other has to capture it.
It isn’t just fun to play but incredibly beautiful as well, which makes it a great piece of decoration.
If you are looking to create your own oldest board games collection, then do not miss this fantastic game.
11| Ludus latrunculorum Ancient Roman Empire abstract strategy board game | Earliest Mention 116–27 B.C.
Latrunculi is definitely among the oldest board games in the world as it dates back at least to the second century BCE.
As it is not completely known where it comes from, we have to rely on data gathered from old writings and excavations.
There are mentions of a similar game in Greek and Egyptian books, however, thanks to British archeologists a board was found so we only have solid proof of Roman origins.
The point of the game is to take off all the opponent’s pieces after finishing turns of placing them on the board. To take off a piece you have to surround it with two of yours on each side.
You can either leave the opponent’s piece, which cannot be moved until your pieces are free surrounding it. Otherwise, you have to use up your turn to take it off.
Ludus latrunculorum is among the very few ancient Roman board games to survive so we can play as well.
10| Ban-sugoroku ancient Japanese Board Game | Earliest Mention 500 AD
If you are looking for ancient board games from around the world with an interesting story, we have one for you from the beautiful continent of Asia.
The earliest mentions of Ban-sugorokuis are from 6th century Japan, however, the almost completely identical Chinese board game Shuanglu is thought to be around 2000 years old.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much to go on with Shuanglu as it is nearly impossible to find any documentation on it, so we decided to include the Japanese version.
The Backgammon-like game is one of the oldest board games still played in Asia. Since it is a fairly simple, yet engaging game, the whole family could sit down and play together.
Over the centuries the game has evolved and at least a dozen versions of the game have been invented, you can still come across the traditional Chinese and Japanese board games in both countries.
9| Mancala ancient Egyptian strategy board game | Earliest evidence 1000 B.C.
Mancala may be the oldest board game in the world as archaeologists found evidence of it dating as far back as 6000 years before the common era. Making Mancala and its versions probably the oldest board games ever.
Though it was found in Jordan, the game is very popular in Africa, some findings in Egypt and Ethiopia suggest the game spreading in the continent around the 11th century BCE.
So if you are looking to add ancient Egyptian board games to your collection, Mancala would make a great addition.
The rules are fairly simple, usually, there are five holes in front of each player and one bigger one on the right-hand side. With four pebbles in the small holes, you have to empty each hole going clockwise.
You always put one in the big one to your right, but never in the opponent’s.
As you go around, your points are the number of pebbles in the big hole, so have to play smart, while making life difficult for your opponent.
8| Patolli ancient Mesoamerican board game | Earliest evidence 200 B.C.
Patolli Small Handmade Board Game- Ancient Mayan Race Boardgame on Etsy.
Documentations suggest that Patolli was first played by the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican Teotihuacanos people around the 2nd century BCE.
It remained alive up until the conquistadors set foot on the continent nearing the end of the Aztec civilization’s rise.
Without a doubt, Patolli is among the oldest board games known to be still played.
It is a mixture of tactics and luck, therefore, being the smarter player doesn’t guarantee a win. It was common to raise the stake by betting valuables on the game, each player having to offer something of value as per agreement.
There are 52 squares laid out in a shape of an X and players have to toss beans (nowadays some play with dice) to determine the number of squares to move.
We love traditional board games and this ancient American one is surely on the top of our favorites list.
7| Snakes and Ladders ancient Indian board game | Earliest evidence 100 AD
This ancient Indian board game is definitely among the most famous board games as its versions have spread around the world known as chutes and ladders.
Thanks to its simplicity and reliance on luck, Snakes and Ladders was and still is rather played by children.
Evidence shows to have appeared in the second century and became widely popular around Ancient India.
It aimed to teach young ones the values that are still relevant in the 21st century.
The ladders that helped you skip forward are positive traits, which are encouraged, such as generosity and courage while the snakes represent all the morally unacceptable qualities that will set you back in the game.
Snakes and Ladders or Moksha Patam is definitely one of the most popular ancient board games still played around the world, so, you can easily buy one for yourself. You can go for beautiful handmade versions on Etsy or buy the more traditional board games on Amazon.
6| Backgammon ancient Mesopotamian board game | Earliest evidence 3000 B.C.
Backgammon is a fantastic strategy game that can teach a lot to children and keep adults sharp. It is amid the oldest board games known that are still played all over the world.
Thanks to it being fairly easy to grasp, almost all age groups can play and even if you don’t have a board, it is simple to recreate one at home.
There are a number of versions, but the original one is very popular all around the world.
Excavations indicate the game’s invention dates back as far as 3000 BCE in Mesopotamia (Iraq) earning the acknowledgment as one of the oldest board games known in the world.
It teaches tactics, a little counting, and surely is quite exciting to play with a friend or family member.
Without a doubt, Backgammon is one of the best board games for two players in all age groups.
5| Checkers (Draughts) Ancient Mesopotamian strategy board games | Earliest Evidence 3000 B.C.
Checkers (draughts in Britain) is one of the most popular abstract strategy games in the world.
Whoever you ask, they heard about it and very likely to have played at least once as well. But did you know Checkers is actually among the oldest ancient board games? Well, it is.
A version of the game was unearthed in the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur (Iraq), suggesting the game to be as old as 5000 years old.
Over the millennia the game has changed a little, but the general rules are the same. It is said that the crowning rule first appeared in the 13th century, so if you want to play the ancient version, just forget about that extra.
4| Chess Abstract strategy game board game | Earliest evidence 500 AD
Chess needs no introduction, this remarkable abstract strategy game has been an important part of our history.
Even lives revolve around the game but have you ever wondered how old is it and where it originates from?
The exact date of the birth of chess is still a question mark, however, we can find documentation of people playing it from the 6th century.
India is mentioned as the origin country and it spread over to Persia in the following centuries.
The name chess comes from the Persian word “Shah” which means king. Also, the piece rook got its name from the Persian word for tower (rukh).
There are theories of Chess coming from Ancient China, but unfortunately, there are no proving documents or findings as of yet.
3| Royal Game of Ur ancient Mesopotamian race board game | Earliest Evidence 2400 B.C.
If you are in search of fun ancient race board games, then the Royal Game of Ur is definitely a superb pick. You can find some astonishingly beautiful boards so they make a great decoration in your study as well.
Thanks to archaeological discoveries in the past century, we can confidently say this board game dates back to around 2600 – 2400 BCE Mesopotamia.
It gained such popularity in the Middle East, there was a variation of the game found even in Cyprus, Crete and spread as far as Sri Lanka.
The Royal Game of Ur is pretty straight forward, you have to move your pieces to one end of the board. Using four-sided dice, two of each die’s side is unmarked, so there is a 50% chance of rolling a value that allows you to move.
With luck and strategy involved, it is a fun and exciting ancient board game.
This is a pretty fun, less than half an hour video created by The British Museum in which Dr. Irving Finkel and Tom Scott are playing the Royal Game of Ur.
You’ll also learn more about this fascinating ancient tabletop game from Dr. Finkel who is a British philologist and Assyriologist and is the curator of cuneiform at The British Museum.
He has some truly entertaining and educating videos on The British Museum’s Youtube channel not only on ancient board games but ancient demons, necromancy, ghostbusting, and of course cuneiform.
2| Go ancient Chinese abstract strategy board game | Earliest evidence 2000 B.C.
China’s rich and colorful history has brought many things into our lives and Go is among the ancient Chinese board games that spread all around the world.
There is even a famous saying “If you want to become a successful war general, then you have to master Go”.
Even if you do not have any intentions of conquering the world, you are still going to benefit from becoming skilled in this remarkable abstract strategy game.
Go used to be the most precious of all traditional Chinese board games as it was usually played by scholars and intellectuals.
From the written documents we can place the birth of Go to between the 24th and 20th centuries BCE, however, it is difficult to tell because of the size of China and the lack of written documents available.
1| Senet ancient Egyptian board game | Earliest Evidence 3100 B.C.
Speaking of the oldest board games ever, Senet is very likely to be on top of the list.
There have been hieroglyphs and drawings referring to the ancient board game found in tombs dating back to the third millennium BCE.
It seems to have been a popular game in ancient Egypt among all people, common and rulers as well.
There have been a few mentions of other ancient Egyptian board games, but most commonly Senet was mentioned both in the Predynastic and the Dynastic periods.
The game itself is actually a great traveling game, you can fit a board easily in a backpack and play even on the train. The board has thirty squares arranged in three rows of ten.
There are various assumptions of the rules, unfortunately, we cannot be sure what the original rule was of one of the oldest board games in the world.
Thank you for reading!