Ancient Board Games: Senet and the Royal Game of Ur

Geek Culture

A senet game board and pieces, from the Ancien...A senet game board and pieces, from the Ancien...
Senet: Image via Wikipedia

Our history studies in homeschooling come in four year cycles, which breaks up recorded time into ancient, medieval, early modern and late modern times. Since I’ve been teaching my kids for four years now, we have swung back around to ancient history. Because my daughter is considerably older than the last time we studied ancient civilizations such as Sumer and Egypt, we’re diving in deeper, learning about more of the details of life and advances in technology.

One fun aspect of ancient life that we came across is board games. Perhaps these civilizations played more games than have been found, but the few that have been discovered are still great fun to play. It should be noted that historians aren’t completely sure about the rules of these games, but have pieced together instructions as best they could.

The Royal Game of Ur. (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)

The Royal Game of Ur (for lack of a better name) was discovered in a tomb in Ur, an ancient city in Sumer, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in modern day Iraq. To play, you roll dice and try to move your pieces around the board faster than your opponent can move theirs, all while trying to thwart their advancement. You and your opponent are racing on slightly different game paths.

Senet is an ancient Egyptian game where you also are racing against your opponent to get pieces off of the board. Your paths are identical, however, and there does seem to be more strategy involved with this one. But instead of rolling dice, you toss sticks that have a light side and a dark side. There are also more complicated rules that add a decent amount of strategy to the luck of the toss.

Both games have entertained us over and over, but Senet seems to have captured more of our attention. Give both games a try. You can play Senet and The Royal Game of Ur online for free, and you’ll get to experience a bit of life from thousands of years ago. You can also buy reproductions of both games online.

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