Ancient games


Games have a universal appeal and have been played since earliest times. Many require great skill and ingenuity and have been subjected to much mathematical analysis. Chess and Go are discussed below; here we concentrate on some less familiar games.

Senet is an early form of backgammon and may date back to 3000 BC. A celebrated Egyptian example from 1350 BC was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. The game was played by two players on a 3 ´ 10 board with lion-shaped pieces. The African game of eklan is also played by two players. It consists of a board with 24 holes, arranged in concentric squares into which sticks are inserted. 

Mancala is a count-and-capture board game, played with counters (pebbles or beans) by two players. The board has a number of indentations, generally arranged in two rows, with a larger compartment (the ‘mancala’) at each end. The players place counters into the indentations and move them according to specified rules in order to capture their opponent’s counters. Variations on mancala have appeared in many parts of Africa and Asia. In Indonesia it is known as dakon (or tjongkak), while an early form involving four rows of indentations was played in southern Africa under the name morabaraba.

Baghchal, found in Nepal, is a form of draughts or checkers. It is played on a 5 × 5 board by two players, who move their pieces along the lines and capture their opponent’s pieces by ‘jumping over’ them.

Janggi is a Korean form of chess, played by two people on a 9 × 10 board.

[Botswana 1977; Djibouti 1992; Egypt 1965; Indonesia 1954; Ivory Coast 1984; Korea 1985; Nepal 1974]


Published/edited: 10/09/2015