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Best Board Games of the Ancient World

Humans are curious creatures and our large brains have given us over to numerous activities that other species do not engage in. Games and logic puzzles are some of the most common ways people chose to entertain themselves and board games have existed for millennia. Today, board games are played for entertainment purposes, but in ancient times these games often had additional religious significance. 

Through this list, we will be examining the precursors to today’s modern games and catch glimpses of how they came to be. Some games are eerily similar to what we play today and help us connect with our ancient ancestors. Now sit back and let’s explore the best board games of the ancient world! 

🏆 Our Top Picks for Best Board Games of the Ancient World

In a hurry? Take a quick peek before you go.

Best Dice

Snakes & Ladders 13.5”x13.5” Board Game
  • Wood Art plastic bingo cards
  • Ages 6+
  • Cardinal traditions wood snakes and ladders game

Best Logic

Regal Games Foldable Wooden Mancala Board Game with 48 Glass Stones, for Ages 8 to Adult
  • ALL IN ONE SET: The Regal Games Mancala Board Game comes with...
  • DURABLE & COLORFUL: The solid wood construction of the mancala...
  • CLASSIC & TIMELESS GAME: Mancala has been a classic game for...

Best Overall

Yellow Mountain Imports Medium Magnetic 19x19 Go Game Set Board (11-Inch) with Single Convex Plastic Go Stones - Folding, Portable & Travel-Size Set
  • HANDY MEDIUM GO SET: Grab and go with this foldable and...
  • PERFECT BEGINNER OR TRAVEL SET: High-quality plastic with durable...
  • MAGNETIC SINGLE CONVEX STONES: 181 black magnetic and 180 white...

#1. Senet

Dating back as early as 3100 BCE, Senet was a game played by ancient Egyptians of all social classes although their boards differed greatly. Egyptian aristocracy played on intricately carved boards with beautiful designs and dazzling colors. Lower classes without many financial resources played on any surface that could be carved upon, from the ground to tables to stone surfaces.

The board consists of a grid of ten squares by three squares, with the rows running parallel to each other. Some squares had special symbols that triggered special events during gameplay.

Players would move by using casting sticks or bones showing how far the player could move. If the player landed on a special square, such as square 27, known as the “waters of chaos”, it would trigger the player to move back to square 15, erasing that player’s progress. 

Senet began as a secular game and over time evolved into one with deep religious meaning. The board itself contained a number of religious symbols carved into it and the journey of the players symbolized the journey of the soul into the afterlife.  

WE Games Wood Senet Game - an Ancient Egyptian Board Game
  • ANCIENT EGYPTIAN JOURNEY GAME: The senet Egyptian board game is a...
  • WELL MADE: Wooden board measures 16 inches x 5 inches x 2 inches....
  • STORAGE DRAWER: Includes a pullout drawer for storing all pieces....

#2. Royal Game of Ur

Dating from 2600-2400 BCE, the Royal Game of Ur originated in ancient Mesopotamia and was popular for centuries across the Middle East. The game board consists of 20 squares in a configuration of two grids, one four by three squares and the other two by three, connected by a bridge of two squares. 

The game was played by rolling knucklebone dice that determined how far a player could move across the board. Some squares on the board were lucky and helped the player retain pieces or be sent back. Many Senet boards were found in Egypt with variations of the Royal Game of Ur on the back, indicating they were both popular in the ancient world. 

WE Games The Game of UR
  • ANTIQUITY GAME: UR is a 5,000 year old game that fascinates and...
  • EXPAND YOUR MIND: A race game for children and a strategy game...
  • GIFT QUALITY: Give something out of the ordinary for an upcoming...

#3. Chaturanga 

Chaturanga is hailed as the ancestor of the modern game of Chess and looking at the board it appears to be true. The pieces resembled the era they were created in, portraying the Gupta Empire’s military with infantry, chariots, cavalry, and battle elephants being represented.

Some figures on the board had specific movements they could make, whereas others were determined by casting sticks. Much is still unknown about how the game worked, but the board was a grid of squares eight by eight, just like modern Chess. 

A History of Chess: From Chaturanga to the Present Day
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Averbakh, Yuri (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

#4. Mehen 

Also known as the “game of the snake,” Mehen is another game that traces its origin to ancient Egypt. In Egyptian religion, Mehen was a snake-like deity that protected Ra as he traveled through the night. The board for Mehen resembles a coiled object, much like a snake. 

The rules of the game have been largely lost to time as the game fell out of popularity around 2300 BCE. Historians conjecture that the point of the game was to travel around the coils into the center of the spiral, toward the head of the serpent. It almost appears to be an ancient version of Sorry

Masters Traditional Games Replica Mehen Game - Ancient Egyptian Game of The Serpent - Replica of The Oldest Board Game in World
  • Replica Mehen game with a resin board, lions, lionesses and...
  • Probably the oldest board game in the world - board and lion...
  • Mehen is a strategic race game for 2 - 4 players using a unique...

#5. Ludus Latrunculorum 

Referred to in English as “Game of Mercenaries,” Ludus was a favorite game of Roman soldiers and many others across that grand empire. Although ancient authors wrote about the game, the exact way to play the game is a bit unclear. 

Modern theorists postulate that players moved their pieces across the board and attempted to take over isolated pieces from others. Captured tokens would be collected by the victorious player and held in a special bag of stones or colored glass pieces. 

Masters Traditional Games Roman Ludus Latrunculi (Cloth Board Game in Box)
  • Classic Roman board games found at dozens of ancient Roman sites...
  • A straight-forward strategic war-game. Easy to learn but with...
  • Great fun while also helping teach history and strategy

#6. Mahjong or Mah Jongg

Mahjong was developed in China and has since spread around the world. Mahjong is played with a stunning set of 144 tiles with Chinese characters and symbols inscribed on them. Due to the scope of the Chinese diaspora, the game has many regional variations that may confuse new players.

Mahjong is typically played by groups of 4 players and resembles a type of Rummy. Players attempt to assemble groups of the same tiles and connect them with a so-called eye in the middle. 

Legacy Deluxe Mah Jong Classic Game with Two-Toned Tiles and Lined Wood Storage Case, Family Game for 4 Players Ages 8 and up
  • BEAUTIFUL WESTERN MAHJONG SET: Bring a new level of elegance to...
  • TWO-TONE TILES & LINED WOOD CASE: With just the right amount of...
  • PART OF OUR LEGACY COLLECTION: Crafted from wood and featuring...

#7. Snakes & Ladders: An Indian Game of Good & Evil

Snakes and Ladders originated in ancient India around 200BCE, under the name Moksha Patam, and is known to the modern world as Chutes and Ladders. Players navigate a board by rolling dice from the bottom to the top by climbing ladders and potentially losing ground by falling down snakes. 

The game represents ideas from Hindu religion, highlighting the concepts of dharma and moksha. Later introduced in Victorian England, through the British colonization of the Indian subcontinent, Victorians assigned special meanings to gameplay. Ladders represented virtues that could elevate someone in the eyes of Victorians, whereas snakes represented vices that could see someone fall from favor. 

Snakes & Ladders 13.5”x13.5” Board Game
  • Wood Art plastic bingo cards
  • Ages 6+
  • Cardinal traditions wood snakes and ladders game

#8. Backgammon, or Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum

The origins of Backgammon remain shrouded in mystery, however, elements of it can be found in games from across the ancient world, such as The Royal Game of Ur, Nardi, Senet, and Pachisi. The game is also linked to the ancient Roman game ludus duodecim scriptorum or game of twelve markings. 

Modern Backgammon seems to originate in England and consists of a board of two sides with twelve long triangles across them. Players’ main goal is to move their pieces or men off the board. Players move their pieces by rolling pairs of dice and the game is famous for its mix of skill and luck in succeeding. 

Crazy Games Backgammon Set - Classic Backgammon Sets for Adults Board Game with Premium Leather Case - Best Strategy & Tip Guide (Brown, Medium)
  • CLASSIC BOARD GAME: This classic backgammon game is the perfect...
  • FELT INTERIOR: Plush Playing Surface: The backgammon board game...
  • FULL SIZED BACKGAMMON GAME - Yet Portable: The Multiple Sizes to...

#9. The Aztec game of Patolli (Patole)

Patolli seems to be the game with the highest stakes included in this list. The game was famous in the Aztec empire and was first played by residents of Teotihuacan in 200 BCE. The game then spread across the various iterations of Aztec civilization until the Spanish Conquest around 1521. The game is played by moving pebbles from one end of the cross-shaped board to the other by using drilled beans as dice. 

Reports from Spanish missionaries who accompanied the conquistadors say that players would wager material goods even sometimes their own lives on the game. The Aztecs are known for their interest in human sacrifice, so it seems to make sense that even their board games would include it.

Slightly less serious, players could also wager their freedom and essentially sell themselves into slavery by losing. 

#10. Go or Weiqi

Go is a classic game of ancient China and is played by placing stones on a board of squares 19×19 across. The goal is to capture enemy squares and thereby conquer the most territory. Go is essentially a precursor to Risk in that players are trying to conquer the known world of the gameboard. 

Chess can be viewed as a single battle, but Go features numerous battles of smaller territories on a huge board. In that way, Go resembles an entire war, whereas chess is merely a subsection of a war.

Those who play Go and succeed must have the mind and scope of a general to plan and execute the right moves for domination. The ancient Chinese believed success at Go signaled the players’ aptitude and military prowess, much in the same way that Chess has been viewed by Western nations. 

Yellow Mountain Imports Medium Magnetic 19x19 Go Game Set Board (11-Inch) with Single Convex Plastic Go Stones - Folding, Portable & Travel-Size Set
  • HANDY MEDIUM GO SET: Grab and go with this foldable and...
  • PERFECT BEGINNER OR TRAVEL SET: High-quality plastic with durable...
  • MAGNETIC SINGLE CONVEX STONES: 181 black magnetic and 180 white...

#10. Mancala

Mancala appears to be the most ancient game on the list and evidence of its existence has been found across the known world. The game (or truly group of games) called Mancala, seem to have many variants but is typified by moving seeds or beans across a board made up of holes carved into a flat surface. 

The goal of Mancala is to capture the most tokens by using well-thought-out moves. Even the determination of winning gameplay is different across the many versions of the game.

In the North American variant of Mancala, known simply as Kala, players get a chance to get extra turns, increasing the length of the game and keeping it going longer if played correctly. 

One of the most famous versions of Mancala is the Nigerian version called Oware. In this version, players use seeds and sow them into the pits on the board. Oware can be viewed as a game for diplomats or those who value genteel manners. If one player loses all of their seeds, the opposing player must help them to stay in the game by purposefully making plays to gain them seeds. 

Regal Games Foldable Wooden Mancala Board Game with 48 Glass Stones, for Ages 8 to Adult
  • ALL IN ONE SET: The Regal Games Mancala Board Game comes with...
  • DURABLE & COLORFUL: The solid wood construction of the mancala...
  • CLASSIC & TIMELESS GAME: Mancala has been a classic game for...

Wrap-Up

We hope you enjoyed our list of the best board games of the ancient world! Through this list, you can see the evolution of ancient games to our modern-day renditions of games of strategy, logic, dice, and entertainment. If you love historical board games, be sure to check out the History of Board Games too!

Have you tried any of the games on this list? Do you know of any other ancient board games that we missed? Are there any games that have a modern analog you love? Drop a comment below and let us know what you think! We’d love to hear from you.

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