Board game

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Games

A board game is a game played with counters or pieces that are placed on, removed from, or moved across a "board" (a premarked surface, usually specific to that game). Simple board games often make ideal "family entertainment" since they are often appropriate for all ages. Some board games, such as chess, go/weiqi, xiangqi, shogi, or oware, have intense strategic value and have been classics for centuries.

There are many different types of board games. Many games simulate aspects of real life. Popular games of this type include:

  • Monopoly, which simulates the real estate market
  • Cluedo/Clue, which simulates a murder mystery
  • Risk, which simulates warfare

Other games only loosely, or do not at all, attempt to imitate reality. These include:

  • abstract strategy games like chess, checkers or go
  • word games, like Scrabble
  • trivia games, like Trivial Pursuit.

A new genre of board games, DVD games, was introduced into the marketplace in 2002 with the launch of the first edition of Scene It? (now distributed in the mass market channel by Mattel), and have spawned their own game category.

A shelf full of board games, including Risk, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit.
A shelf full of board games, including Risk, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit.


Senet is believed to be the oldest board game
Senet is believed to be the oldest board game

Board games have been played in most cultures and societies throughout history; some even pre-date literacy skill development in the earliest civilizations. A number of important historical sites, artifacts and documents exist which shed light on early board games. Some of these include:

  • Senet has been found in Predynastic and First Dynasty burials of Egypt, c. 3500 BC and 3100 BC respectively . Senet is the oldest board game known to have existed, having been pictured in a fresco found in Merknera's tomb ( 3300- 2700 BC) .
  • Mehen is another ancient board game from Predynastic Egypt.
  • The Royal Tombs of Ur contained, among others, the Royal Game of Ur. They were excavated by Leonard Woolley, but his books document little on the games found. Most of the games he excavated are now housed in the British Museum in London.
  • Buddha games list is the earliest known list of games.


  • c. 3500 BC - Senet found in Predynastic Egyptian burials; also depicted in the tomb of Merknera.
  • c. 3000 BC - Mehen, board game from Predynastic Egypt, played with lion-shaped game pieces and marbles.
  • c. 3000 BC - Ancient backgammon set, found in the Burnt City in Iran
  • c. 2560 BC - Board of the Royal Game of Ur (found at Ur Tombs)
  • c. 2500 BC - Paintings of senet and han being played made in the tomb of Rashepes
  • c. 2000 BC - Drawing in a tomb at Benihassan depicting two unknown board games being played (depicted in Falkner). It has been suggested that the second of these is tau.
  • c. 1500 BC - Liubo carved on slab of blue stone. Also painting of board game of Knossos.
  • c. 1400 BC - Game boards including alquerque, three men's morris, nine men's morris, and a possible mancala board etched on the roof of the Kurna temple. (Source: Fiske, and Bell)
  • 548 BC The earliest written references to go/weiqi come from the Zuo Zhuan, which describes a man who likes the game.
  • c. 500 BC - The earliest reference to chaturaji or pachisi written in the Mahabharata.
  • c. 500 BC - The Buddha games list mentions several types of board games.
  • c. 200 BC - A Chinese go/weiqi board pre-dating 200 BC was found in 1954 in Wangdu County. This board is now in Beijing Historical Museum. .
  • 116- 27 BC - Marcus Terentius Varro's Lingua Latina X (II, par. 20) contains earliest known reference to latrunculi (often confused with ludus duodecim scriptorum, Ovid's game mentioned below).
  • 79- 8 BC - Liu Xiang's (劉向) Shuo yuan, contains earliest known reference to Xiangqi.
  • 1 BC- 8 AD - Ovid's Ars Amatoria contains earliest known reference to ludus duodecim scriptorum and the smaller merels.
  • 220- 265 - Nard enters China under the name t'shu-p'u (Source: Hun Tsun Sii).
  • c. 400 onwards - Tafl games played in Northern Europe.
  • c. 600 The earliest references to chaturanga written in Subandhu's Vasavadatta and Banabhatta's Harsha Charitha
  • c. 600 - The earliest reference to shatranj written in Karnamak-i-Artakhshatr-i-Papakan.

Board games first became widely popular among the general population early in the 20th century when the rise of the middle class with disposable income and leisure time made them a receptive audience to such games. This popularity expanded after the Second World War, a period from which many classic board games date. Computer games are closely related to board games, and many acclaimed computer games such as Civilization are based upon board games.

Many board games are now available as computer games, including the option to have the computer act as an opponent. The rise of computers has also led to a relative decline in the most complicated board games, as computers require less space, and the games don't have to be set up and cleared away. With the Internet, many board games can now be played online against a computer or other players (like the classic board games available on Yahoo, Lycos and other big Internet sites). Some web sites allow play in real time and immediately show the opponent's moves, while most use e-mail to notify the players after each move (see the links at the end of this article).

The modern board game industry is rife with corporate mergers and acquisitions, with large companies such as Hasbro owning many subsidiaries and selling products under a variety of brand names. It is difficult to successfully market a new board game to the mass market. Retailers tend to be conservative about stocking games of untested popularity, and most large board game companies have established criteria that a game must meet in order to be produced. If, for instance, Monopoly were introduced as a new game today, it might not meet the criteria for production.

Luck, strategy and diplomacy

One way of defining board games are between those based upon luck and strategy. Some games, such as chess, have no luck involved. Children's games tend to be very luck based, with games such as Sorry!, Candy Land and snakes and ladders having virtually no decisions to be made. Most board games have both luck and strategy. A player may be hampered by a few poor rolls of the dice in Risk or Monopoly, but over many games a player with a superior strategy will win more often. While some purists consider luck to not be a desirable component of a game, others counter that elements of luck can make for far more complex and multi-faceted strategies as concepts such as expected value and risk management must be considered. Still most adult game players prefer to make some decisions during play, and find purely luck based games such as Top Trumps quite boring.

The third important factor in a game is diplomacy, or players making deals with each other. A game of solitaire, for obvious reasons, has no player interaction. Two player games usually do not have diplomacy, as cooperation between the two players does not occur. Thus, this generally applies only to games played with three or more people. An important facet of Settlers of Catan, for example, is convincing people to trade with you rather than with other players. In Risk, one example of diplomacy's effectiveness is when two or more players team up against others. Easy diplomacy consists of convincing other players that someone else is winning and should therefore be teamed up against. Difficult diplomacy (such as in the aptly named game Diplomacy) consists of making elaborate plans together, with possibility of betrayal.

Luck is introduced to a game by a number of methods. The most popular is using dice, generally six sided. These can determine everything from how many steps a player moves their token, as in Monopoly, how their forces fare in battle, such as in Risk, or which resources a player gains, such as in Settlers of Catan. Other games such as Sorry! use a deck of special cards that when shuffled create randomness. Scrabble does something similar with randomly picked letters. Other games use spinners, timers of random length, or other sources of randomness. Trivia games have a great deal of randomness based on which question a person gets. German-style board games are notable for often having rather less luck factor than in many North American board games.

Common terms

Carcassonne tokens, or meeples
Carcassonne tokens, or meeples

Although many board games have a jargon all their own, there is a generalized terminology to describe concepts applicable to basic game mechanics and attributes common to nearly all board games.

  • Game board (or board) — the (usually quadrilateral) surface on which one plays a board game; the namesake of the board game, gameboards are a necessary and sufficient condition of the genre
  • Game piece (or token or bit) — a player's representative on the game board. Each player may control one or more game pieces. In some games that involve commanding multiple game pieces, such as chess, certain pieces have unique designations and capabilities within the parameters of the game; in others, such as Go, all pieces controlled by a player have the same essential capabilities.
  • Jump — to bypass one or more game pieces and/or spaces. Depending on the context, jumping may also involve capturing or conquering an opponent's game piece. (See also: Game mechanic: capture)
  • Space (or square) — a physical unit of progress on a gameboard delimited by a distinct border (See also: Game mechanic: Movement)
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