Historical Board Games

The Lewis Chessmen

Introduction

The Lewis chessmen or Uig chessmen, named after the island or the bay where they were found, are a group of distinctive 12th-century chess pieces, along with other game pieces, most of which are carved from walrus ivory.

The chess pieces were found on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, but it’s not certain where they were from or how they got to the island. However, a popular theory is that they were made in Trondheim in western Norway around 1150–1200.

Number of Pieces & City of Trondheim

The eleven chess pieces on display in the Museum of Scotland were part of a large hoard buried on Lewis. The hoard contained 93 gaming pieces in total, including from at least four chess sets as well as from other games.

The city of Trondheim was founded in 997. It was frequently used as the seat of the king and was capital of Norway until 1217. In the Middle Ages, Trondheim was the site of several battles, including the battle between King Sverre and Erling Skakke, in 1179. The city has experienced several major fires – the most devastating in 1651 and 1681. The 1651 fire destroyed 90% of the buildings in Trondheim, and the 1681 fire led to a total reconstruction of the city.

These small carvings of kings, queens, bishops, knights and rooks made up as viking warriors are far more than just gaming pieces. They are some of the most beloved survivors of the secular medieval world. Every year, millions of visitors admire the artefacts for free at the British Museum in London. Parts of the collection are also often loaned for display in museums around the world.

The pieces were made from whale and walrus teeth. The pieces were discovered in 1831. They were also called Uig Chessmen.

Reference

https://www.nms.ac.uk/explore-our-collections/stories/scottish-history-and-archaeology/lewis-chess-pieces/

The Royal Game Of Ur

Introduction

  • The Royal Game Of Ur Is A Mesopotamian Board Game From 2400 BC.
  • The Royal Game Of Ur Is Not The Board Games Original Name It Was Called This Because It Was Found In The Royal Cemetery Of Ur, Mesopotamia, (Iraq) Between 1922 And 1934
  • Archaeologists Have Even Uncovered The Board, Dice And Pieces And Historians Have Translated The Rules, But The Name Is Nowhere To Be Found And The Original Rules Remain Unknown
  • It Gained Popularity Throughout The Years
  • But At One Point It Lost Popularity And Most Probably Evolved Into Backgammon
  • Before It Lost Popularity It Came To India At Around 1500 And Is Call Pachisi Or Parcheesi Which Is Still Played Today!
  • It Is Also Called The Game Of 20 Squares
  • It Is Well Known In The Middle East

Reference

https://otagomuseum.nz/athome/the-royal-game-of-ur

The Game of the Goose

If you find any difference in rules or look of the game, it is so because there are many versions on the web. I found what I found more prominent and correct.

Introduction

This game was first mentioned in 1480 in Italy. This game soon became popular in the Medici Court of Florence. In the late 16th century, Duke Francesco de Medici gifted this game to King Philip II of Spain.

Adrian Seville notes the earliest known reference to the Game of the Goose is in “an
obscure book of sermons” dated to 1480. The author, Gabriele of Barletta, is a
Dominican priest who is critical of playing cards and tables. (Seville no date, online)

David Parlett suggests The Game of the Goose “usher[s] in [the] modern period of board gaming characterized by the introduction of illustrative and thematic elements”

MEHEN

Introduction

Mehen is an ancient Egyptian board game that was played from the predynastic period to the Old Kingdom (c.3000 – 2181 BCE). It is also called the ‘snake game’ because the board is shaped like a coiled snake. Its name comes from the snake god, called Mehen, who wrapped around Ra, the sun god, to protect him during his nightly journey through the underworld.

The game is for two players; we know this because scenes from the tombs of nobles show people playing mehen and other board games. The boards have sometimes been found with six lion pieces and many marbles.  It is possible that the marbles travelled along the spiral grooves, a hypothesis based on worn paint on some boards. Unfortunately, the rules for the game have been lost over the intervening 4000 years, so instead experts make their best guesses about how they think the game might have worked.

The general form of the board is a spiral track based on a coiled snake with the head at the centre and the tail on the edge. The most important evidence for Mehen is within a painting of three board games found by James Quibell in the tomb of Hesy-Ra, a Dynasty 3 high official, c. 2650 BC. Depicted on a wall scene in his tomb is a large Mehen board together with marbles and lion and lioness game pieces. While a board has never been found with its playing pieces, there are several archaeological finds of lion and lioness figurines with small limestone balls and this is generally accepted as typical equipment for the game. The Fitzwilliam Museum has two such lions (see E.4.1927 and E.5.1927) and the Manchester Museum holds a collection of marbles found by Petrie with five lions in a tomb from Dynasty 1.

It is not known how the game was played but certain aspects have been deduced. Evidence for the game has been found almost entirely in funerary contexts and it has been suggested that it represents the final journey of a dead king into the afterlife. The board depicts the serpent god Mehen encircling the sun god Ra, protecting him against enemies during his nightly journey through the underworld. Mehen’s coils therefore also represent a pathway to reach Ra and Mehen was almost certainly a race game in which marbles or other game pieces representing deceased kings were moved from the tail to the head of the snake. It seems likely that lion and lioness pieces were enemies that attacked enroute and were to be repelled. When a piece reached the middle of the board, the king represented by it would have been understood to have been reborn into the afterlife to reside there for eternity, the ancient Egyptian equivalent of heaven or nirvana.

To play, you will need

  • Two players
  • A snake board – print the one below, or make your own!
  • Four regular counters and one lion counter for each player (10 counters in total)
  • Four throw-sticks or a dice

The rules

  • The rules can also be found in the pdf below.
  • Each player has four counters and a lion counter.
  • The youngest player throws the sticks first. If they throw a two or three, they put a counter onto the first space on the board. If they throw any other number, they miss their go.
  • It is now the other player’s turn. They must also throw a two or three to start. If they throw any other number, they miss their go and play returns to the first player.
  • Keep taking turns until all your own counters (except the lion) are on the first square on the board.
  • Now you can start moving the regular counters towards the snake’s head. You can pick which counter to move on each go. Any number of counters can be on the same space at any time.
  • When each counter reaches the snake’s head, you must turn it over to start its return journey back to the tail.
  • When one of your counters has made it back, you can start your lion counter.
  • Move your lion counter around the snake towards the head like all your other counters, but on the way back, your lion can eat up any of your opponent’s counters that get in its way! To eat an opponent’s counter, your lion must land on the same square. Lions cannot eat each other!
  • Counters that make it back to the start of the board without being eaten are safe and can leave the board.
  • The winner is the person whose lion has eaten the most counters!

Mahjong

Mahjong is a Chinese game invented in 19 century. It is a four player game played in South Korea, Japan, China and other countries in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia.

How to play Mahjong

Mahjong is a four player game with three player variations in parts of Japan, South Korea and China.

It is played with 13 tiles out of which we have to use 12 tiles to make sets of four or three. Then we have to pick up a 14th tile and discard a tile until the 13th and 14th tile make an eye or a pair.