Board games are tabletop games that typically use pieces moved or placed on a pre-marked board (playing surface) and often include elements of table, card, role-playing, and miniatures games as well.
Some games, such as chess, depend completely on player skill, while many children’s games such as Candy Land and Snakes and Ladders require no decisions by the players and are decided purely by luck.
Many games require some level of both skill and luck. A player may be hampered by bad luck in backgammon, Monopoly, or Risk – but over many games a skilled player will win more often. The elements of luck can also make for more excitement at times, and allow for more diverse and multifaceted strategies, as concepts such as expected value and risk management must be considered.
Board games have been played, traveled, and evolved in most cultures and societies throughout history. A number of important historical sites, artifacts and documents shed light on early board games such as Jirof civilization gameboards in Iran. Senet, found in Predynastic and First Dynasty burials of Egypt, c. 3500 BC and 3100 BC respectively, is the oldest board game known to have existed. Senet was pictured in a fresco found in Merknera’s tomb (3300–2700 BC). Also from predynastic Egypt is Mehen.
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, upper-class members of Egyptian society played Senet using ornate game boards, examples of which still survive today. Those with fewer resources at their disposal made do with grids scratched on stone surfaces, tables or the floor.
Hounds and Jackals, another ancient Egyptian board game, appeared around 2000 BC. The first complete set of this game was discovered from a Theban tomb that dates to the 13th dynasty.
Backgammon originated in ancient Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago. Ashtapada, Chess, Pachisi and Chaupar originated in India. Go and Liubo originated in China.
The Royal Game of Ur is the oldest playable boardgame in the world, originating around 4,600 years ago inancient Mesopotamia. The game’s rules were written on a cuneiform tablet by a Babylonian astronomer in 177 BC. From this, curator Irving Finkel was able to decipher the rules – two players compete to race their pieces from one end of the board to the other. The central squares were also used for fortune telling.
The oldest records of board gaming in Europe date back to Homer’s Iliad (written in the 8th century BC), in which he mentions the Ancient Greek game of Petteia. This game of petteia would later evolve into the Roman Ludus Latrunculorum. The name translates as “game of twelve markings”, likely referring to the three rows of 12 markings found on surviving boards. The game tabula is thought to be a descendant of this game, and both are similar to modern backgammon.
Many believe that Ludus Latrunculorum was further refined to a simpler version of what we know now as Chess. The games appear to be using similar board, concept and pawn pieces. At the same time, no solid proof exists and some see both games as not related.
In ancient Ireland, the game of Fidchell or Ficheall, is said to date back to at least 144 AD, though this is likely an anachronism. A fidchell board dating from the 10th century has been uncovered in Co. Westmeath, Ireland.
The earliest commercially produced board game, the Game of the Goose is a game of chance and luck, involving no strategy at all. Duke Francesco de Medici first gifted the game, then called Gioco dell’Oca to Philip II of Spain between 1574 and 1587, and the pastime quickly spread in popularity throughout Europe. These examples dating from 1774 to the late 19th century include the rules in French, German and Italian.
Early board game producers in the second half of the eighteenth century were mapmakers. The global popularization of Board Games, with special themes and branding, coincided with the formation of the global dominance of the British Empire. John Wallis was an English board game publisher, bookseller, map/chart seller, printseller, music seller, and cartographer. With his sons John Wallis Jr. and Edward Wallis, he was one of the most prolific publishers of board games of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. John Betts’ A Tour of the British Colonies and Foreign Possessions and William Spooner’s A Voyage of Discovery were popular in the British empire. Kriegsspiel is a genre of wargaming developed in 19th century Prussia to teach battle tactics to officers.
In the second half of the 19th century, modern chess tournament play began, and the first official World Chess Championship was held in 1886.
The earliest known version of Monopoly, known as The Landlord’s Game, was designed by an American, Elizabeth Magie, and first patented in 1904 but existed as early as 1902.
Scrabble was conceived during the Great Depression by an unemployed New York architect named Alfred Mosher Butts, who figured Americans could use a bit of distraction during the bleak economic times.
Risk was invented by French film director Albert Lamorisse and originally released in 1957 as La Conquête du Monde (The Conquest of the World) in France.
In the eighties, Klaus Teuber was working as a dental technician outside the industrial city of Darmstadt, Germany. When Klaus Teuber developed The Settlers of Catan in the 1990s, board game design was just a side hobby for him.
An exclusive $2 million (£1.4 million) Monopoly set was created by the jeweller Sidney Mobell, San Francisco, USA in 1988. The board is made from 23 carat gold, rubies and sapphires top the chimneys of the solid gold houses and hotels and the dice have 42 full cut diamonds for spots.
The world’s most expensive chess set is valued at over 9.8 Million Dollars. This is the Jewel Royale Chess Set which was created in Great Britain and commisioned by the Royale Jewel Company.