Best Ancient Strategy Board Games

Ancient strategy board games have captivated and entertained people for centuries, providing a window into the strategic minds of our ancestors. These games were not only sources of leisure and amusement but also served as tools for teaching military tactics, honing problem-solving skills, and fostering social bonds. From ancient Egypt to Mesopotamia, China to Rome, these board games were an integral part of diverse cultures around the world.

In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of ancient strategy board games, exploring their origins, gameplay mechanics, and significance in different civilizations. By understanding these timeless games, we can gain insights into the ingenuity and intellect of our predecessors. Join us on a journey through history as we uncover the secrets behind some of the best ancient strategy board games ever played.

We will start by tracing the origins of ancient strategy board games in order to understand how they came to be such treasured pastimes. From there, we will explore specific examples from different regions and time periods-unveiling Egyptian classics like Senet and Mehen, delving into Mesopotamian marvels such as Royal Game of Ur and Hounds and Jackals, unearthing Chinese pioneers like Go and Xiangqi, examining Roman gems like Ludus Latrunculorum and Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum-and so much more.

Through each examination, we hope to uncover not only the mechanics and rules behind these games but also shed light on their cultural significance and impact. We will examine how they reflected societal values while also serving as outlets for creativity, competition, and intellectual growth.

In this exploration of ancient strategy board games from various corners of the globe, we will discover both differences and commonalities that exist across cultures-a testament to the power of human imagination throughout history. Join us on this journey as we embrace the timelessness of ancient strategy board games.

The Origins of Ancient Strategy Board Games

In order to truly appreciate and understand ancient strategy board games, it is crucial to delve into their origins and trace their historical significance. The origins of these games provide valuable insights into the cultures and civilizations that created them, allowing us to connect with the past in a unique way.

One of the earliest known strategy board games can be traced back to ancient Egypt. Senet is believed to have been played as early as 3100 BCE and was popular throughout Egyptian history. This game involved a grid-like board with squares that players would move their pieces on.

It was not only a form of entertainment but also had significant religious symbolism, often used as a means of communication with the afterlife. Another intriguing Egyptian game is Mehen, which was typically played on a round board shaped like a coiled snake. Mehen’s exact rules are still largely unknown, adding an air of mystery to this ancient game.

Ancient Mesopotamia also contributed remarkable strategy board games to our gaming history. One such game is the Royal Game of Ur, which dates back to around 2600 BCE. The iconic board for this game was discovered at the Royal Cemetery in Ur during archaeological excavations in the 1920s.

The Royal Game of Ur involved dice and strategic movement of pieces across a rectangular board adorned with beautiful designs. Hounds and Jackals, another Mesopotamian marvel, featured a race-style gameplay where players maneuvered their animal-shaped pieces along spiral-shaped tracks.

As we embark on this fascinating journey through history by exploring these ancient strategy board games, we can marvel at the ingenuity and creativity that early civilizations possessed. These games were not merely for entertainment; they served as reflections of societal values, religious beliefs, or military strategies. From Senet’s symbolism in ancient Egypt to the intricate strategies employed in Chaturanga from India, each game carries its own unique story within it.

unordered list:

  • Senet – ancient Egyptian game symbolizing communication with the afterlife.
  • Mehen – mysterious Egyptian game played on a coiled snake-shaped board.
  • Royal Game of Ur – ancient Mesopotamian game discovered at the Royal Cemetery in Ur.
  • Hounds and Jackals – Mesopotamian racing game featuring animal-shaped pieces.

By understanding the origins of these ancient strategy board games, we gain a greater appreciation for their importance and relevance in ancient societies. These games were not only sources of entertainment but also mirrors reflecting the values, beliefs, and strategies of civilizations long gone. The next section will explore the brilliance of Go and Xiangqi from ancient China, shedding light on their enduring legacy and impact.

Ancient Egyptian Strategy Games

Ancient Egypt is well-known for its rich history and remarkable civilization. Among the various aspects of ancient Egyptian culture, board games held a significant place. Senet and Mehen are two ancient Egyptian strategy games that have fascinated archaeologists and historians alike, offering a glimpse into the leisure activities enjoyed by the pharaohs and their subjects.

The Game of Senet

One of the oldest documented board games in history, Senet was popular throughout ancient Egypt for over 2,500 years. The game is believed to have been played as early as 3500 BCE during the Predynastic period. Senet boards have been found in the tombs of many pharaohs, including Tutankhamun.

The game of Senet was played on a rectangular board divided into thirty individual squares or houses. Players used a set of specialized pieces or pawns that were moved across the board based on the roll of four-sided throw sticks known as ‘knucklebones’. The goal was to navigate all of one’s pieces from the starting point at the bottom to the final square at the top.

Senet was not just a game of chance but also involved strategy and skill. The Egyptians believed that playing Senet had religious significance, representing the journey of life and death that each person must undertake. It was also associated with concepts like fate and luck. The game even had specific squares with symbolic meaning, such as House 26 known as “the Way of Horus” which represented rebirth.

The Marvelous Game of Mehen

Another fascinating ancient Egyptian strategy game is Mehen. This game shares its name with a protective deity depicted in mythology as a snake coiled around Ra, the sun god. Mehen can be traced back to around 3100 BCE during the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt.

The Mehen board represents a snake spiraling inward towards its center. The game was usually played by up to six players, each with their own set of lion-shaped tokens. Instead of moving across a pre-defined path, Mehen involved moving the tokens along the serpent’s coils, representing dangerous obstacles and potential traps.

Mehen was likely a symbolic journey through the netherworld, providing an exciting and imaginative escape for the participants. While the exact rules and strategies of Mehen remain somewhat elusive due to limited surviving evidence, its intricate game board and association with spiritual mythology make it a captivating example of ancient Egyptian strategy games.

With these two examples alone, Senet and Mehen, it is clear that ancient Egyptians had a fascination with strategy board games. These games not only provided entertainment but also held deep cultural significance, offering insights into aspects of life and society in ancient Egypt. They continue to captivate us today as we unveil their secrets and explore their unique place in history.

Mesopotamian Marvels

Mesopotamia, a region known for its rich history and contributions to civilization, was also the birthplace of some fascinating ancient strategy board games. Two notable examples are the Royal Game of Ur and Hounds and Jackals. These games provide insights into the strategies, skills, and cultural values of the people in this region during ancient times.

The Royal Game of Ur

The Royal Game of Ur is one of the oldest known board games in history, dating back to around 2600-2400 BCE. This game was discovered in the tomb of an ancient Sumerian royal cemetery by Sir Leonard Woolley in the 1920s. The game consists of a rectangular board with a distinctive set-up featuring a series of square and triangular spaces. The game pieces, made from shell or precious stones, were shaped like cones or figures resembling animals.

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The rules of the Royal Game of Ur are still partially speculative, as no complete set has been found yet. However, based on surviving evidence and historical records, players would roll dice-like objects or throw sticks to determine how far their pieces could move on the board.

The objective was to race one’s own pieces across the board while obstructing opponents’ progress through strategic placement and movement. The discovery of multiple gaming boards among grave goods suggests that this game had both recreational and symbolic significance in Mesopotamian society.

Hounds and Jackals

Hounds and Jackals is another captivating Mesopotamian strategy board game that dates back to approximately 1800 BCE. This ancient game was discovered in several Egyptian tombs but has strong Mesopotamian origins. Hounds and Jackals gets its name from the ornately carved playing pieces shaped like dogs (representing hounds) and long-necked animals resembling jackals.

The game is played on a rectangular board with a series of holes, and players take turns moving their pieces based on the roll of dice or sticks. The goal is to race one’s own pieces from one end of the board to the other, similar to the Royal Game of Ur. Hounds and Jackals provides interesting insights into the cultural exchange and influence between Mesopotamia and Egypt during ancient times.

These two Mesopotamian strategy board games offer not only intellectual challenges but also glimpses into the lives, skills, and values of the ancient people who indulged in them. From the design of the game boards to the stylized game pieces, these games represent a significant part of Mesopotamian history and cultural heritage. They serve as a reminder that entertainment has always been an integral part of human societies, even in ancient times.

Pioneers of Strategy

China, known for its rich history and cultural heritage, has introduced two ancient strategy board games to the world – Go and Xiangqi. These games have not only stood the test of time but continue to captivate players with their complex gameplay and strategic depth.

Go, also known as Weiqi in China, is believed to have originated over 2,500 years ago. It is one of the oldest board games still played today and is considered one of the most challenging strategy games ever created. Played on a grid board with black and white stones, the objective of Go is to surround more territory than your opponent while strategically placing stones to cut off their influence.

Xiangqi, which translates to “elephant game,” is often referred to as Chinese Chess. Dating back over a thousand years, this game showcases military tactics by simulating a battle between two armies – one led by a general and the other by an emperor. The game is played on a rectangular board divided into nine rows and ten columns. The goal is to checkmate your opponent’s general while protecting your own.

These ancient Chinese strategy board games are not only enjoyed for their gameplay but also revered for the philosophy they embody. Both Go and Xiangqi emphasize balance, harmony, patience, and deep strategic thinking. They require players to plan ahead, anticipate their opponent’s moves, adapt quickly to changing situations, make sacrifices when necessary, and seize opportunities when they arise.

GameYear of OriginObjective
Go (Weiqi)Over 2,500 years agoTo surround more territory than the opponent
Xiangqi (Chinese Chess)Over a thousand years agoTo checkmate the opponent’s general while protecting your own

The strategic brilliance of Go and Xiangqi has not only captured the hearts and minds of players in ancient China but has also gained popularity globally. These games have transcended borders and cultures, with international tournaments held regularly to showcase the skills of players from all around the world.

As we delve into the fascinating history of ancient strategy board games, Go and Xiangqi stand out as pioneers in their own right. Their enduring legacy is a testament to their timeless appeal, challenging players both mentally and strategically. By unearthing the brilliance behind these two ancient Chinese strategy board games, we gain insight into the cultural significance and intellectual depth they offer to those who dare to engage in their mastery.

Roman Strategy Games

Ludus Latrunculorum, also known as Latrones or the Game of Robbers, was one of the most popular strategy board games in ancient Rome. This game was played on a square board consisting of equal rows and columns. The objective of the game was to capture all of your opponent’s pieces or immobilize them so they could not make any more moves. Players would take turns moving their pieces orthogonally along the lines of the board, similar to chess.

Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum, on the other hand, was a Roman precursor to modern backgammon. This game was played on a board with three rows of 12 points each and two sets of around 15-16 pieces for each player. The goal was to move all your pieces off the board before your opponent does. Players would roll dice to determine how many points they could move their pieces each turn and strategic blocking and capturing tactics were often employed.

Both Ludus Latrunculorum and Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum were not merely entertainment for the Romans but also served as tools for teaching strategy, logic, and decision-making skills. These games required players to think several steps ahead, plan their moves carefully, and adapt to changing circumstances during gameplay. It is believed that these games were popular among Roman soldiers who sought both physical and mental training.

Roman strategy games like Ludus Latrunculorum and Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum provide valuable insights into the culture and mindset of ancient Romans. They demonstrate how power and intellect were intertwined in Roman society, reflecting their emphasis on both military might and intelligence. These games also highlight the importance of strategy in Roman life, where careful planning and tactical thinking played significant roles not only in warfare but also in politics and everyday decision-making.

Ludus LatrunculorumTo capture all of your opponent’s pieces or immobilize them so they cannot moveMoving pieces orthogonally along the lines of the board
Ludus Duodecim ScriptorumTo move all your pieces off the board before your opponent doesRolling dice to determine how many points to move pieces and using strategic blocking and capturing tactics

The Mystery of Mancala

Mancala is an ancient strategy board game that hails from the continent of Africa. Beloved by pharaohs and sultans, this intriguing game has captured the hearts and minds of players for centuries. In this section, we will delve into the intricacies of Mancala and uncover its enduring appeal.

  1. Origins and Evolution: Mancala’s origins can be traced back thousands of years, with evidence of similar gameplay found in ancient Egypt and other parts of Africa. The game has evolved over time, with different variations played across various regions of the continent. Mancala is known by many names, such as Bao, Omweso, and Kalah, depending on the country or culture in which it is played.
  2. Gameplay Mechanics: Mancala is a two-player game that requires a wooden or stone board with multiple small pits or holes arranged in rows. The objective is to capture more seeds or stones than your opponent.
    Players take turns sowing seeds or stones from one pit to another in a counterclockwise direction, dropping one seed per pit. The strategic challenge lies in deciding which pits to sow from and how to strategically empty certain pits to capture your opponent’s seeds.
  3. Cultural Significance: Mancala holds deep cultural significance in Africa, reflecting various aspects of African life, history, and traditions. The game symbolizes themes like community cooperation, resource management, patience, and strategy – all values held dear in African societies. This cherished pastime not only entertained pharaohs and sultans but also served as a way to pass down oral traditions and teach important life lessons to younger generations.

To fully understand the allure of Mancala and appreciate its historical significance, one must experience the rich tapestry of African culture it represents firsthand. Its widespread influence across the continent speaks volumes about its enduring appeal as one of the best ancient strategy board games ever created.

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Indian Treasures

When it comes to ancient strategy board games, India has left a significant mark with its two iconic games – Chaturanga and Pachisi. These games not only reflect the rich cultural heritage of India but also showcase the complexity and depth of strategic thinking that was present in ancient Indian societies.

Chaturanga, known as the precursor to modern-day chess, originated in northern India around the 6th century CE. The game featured different types of military units, each with its own movement rules. The aim of Chaturanga was to capture the opponent’s king by outmaneuvering their forces on a checkered board.

What made Chaturanga unique was its emphasis on warfare tactics and strategic planning. Players had to carefully consider their moves and anticipate their opponents’ next moves, making it a game that required both analytical skills and foresight.

Another fascinating Indian board game is Pachisi, which dates back over two thousand years. Pachisi is believed to have been created during the Gupta Empire in ancient India. This game is played on a cross-shaped board with four arms and features sixteen pieces for each player.

The objective is to move all one’s pieces around the board and into the center while simultaneously blocking opponents’ pieces from advancing. Pachisi combines luck with strategy, as players roll dice to determine their moves but must also make tactical decisions based on the positions of their own pieces and those of their opponents.

Both Chaturanga and Pachisi not only serve as testaments to India’s intellectual traditions but also offer valuable insights into ancient Indian society. They were more than just pastimes; they were reflections of military strategies employed in battles, political maneuvering within royal courts, or even philosophical concepts like dharma (duty) and karma (actions). These games were seen as tools for training warriors’ minds, honing their strategizing abilities, and instilling values of discipline and determination.

Uniting Cultures

Chess and Shogi are two ancient strategy board games that have transcended time and space, originating from different cultures but sharing undeniable similarities in gameplay. Chess, believed to have its roots in Persia, and Shogi, hailing from Japan, both showcase the brilliance of strategic thinking and test players’ skills in foresight, planning, and decision-making.

Chess, known as “Chaturanga” in ancient India before it reached Persia, has a storied history that dates back nearly 15 centuries. It was introduced to the world by Muslim traders and scholars who had encountered the game during their travels.

Over time, Chess gained popularity across various cultures and nations as it spread through trade routes and conquerors. The game’s objective revolves around capturing the opponent’s king while ensuring the safety of one’s own pieces through intricate moves such as castling, en passant captures, and promotion of pawns.

Shogi, on the other hand, emerged in Japan during the late Heian period (794-1185) under the name “Dai Shogi.” Influenced by Chinese chess variations like Xiangqi and Korean chess variants that were brought to Japan through cultural exchanges and trade routes between East Asia, Shogi evolved into its unique form.

The objective of Shogi is also simple – capturing the opponent’s king – but what sets it apart is a distinguishing feature called “dropping.” This allows captured pieces to be reintroduced onto the board by either player on vacant squares.

Despite their distinct origins and cultural contexts, Chess and Shogi share several fundamental elements that make them quintessential strategy board games. Both games require players to anticipate their opponent’s moves while simultaneously creating strategies of their own. They demand careful analysis of positions on the board, an understanding of piece movements and capabilities, as well as tactical calculations to gain an advantage over one’s adversary.

Chess and Shogi stand as enduring symbols of intellectual challenges and timeless entertainment. They have captivated players for centuries, transcending cultural boundaries, and uniting different civilizations over a shared love of strategy and gameplay. As both ancient strategy board games continue to be played worldwide, they remind us of the universal appeal of intellectual pursuits and the power of games to unite cultures across time and space.


In conclusion, the exploration of ancient strategy board games has allowed us to delve into a rich history and uncover the brilliance of civilizations long gone. These games were more than just forms of entertainment; they represented cultural traditions, strategic thinking, and societal values. Despite being thousands of years old, these games continue to captivate and challenge players today, demonstrating their timeless appeal.

Through the origins of ancient strategy board games, we have gained insight into the societies that created them. From ancient Egypt to Mesopotamia, from China to Rome, each civilization left behind their own unique game that reflected their ingenuity and worldview. These games were often played by royalty and elites, showcasing their importance in society and emphasizing the significance of intellectual prowess.

Additionally, the influence of these ancient strategy board games on modern counterparts cannot be overstated. Chess and shogi from Persia and Japan are direct descendants of ancient Persian royal chess and Chinese xiangqi, respectively. This connection provides a bridge between cultures separated by time and distance, highlighting the power of these games in transcending boundaries.

In embracing the timelessness of ancient strategy board games, we not only appreciate history but also engage in strategic thinking that has stood the test of time. As technology continues to advance rapidly with new forms of entertainment emerging constantly, it is comforting to know that these traditional board games still hold immense value in our modern world.

So let us embrace these ancient treasures and continue to cultivate our strategic minds through the timeless joy of playing strategy board games.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most ancient board game?

The most ancient board game is believed to be “Senet,” which was played in Ancient Egypt around 3100 BCE. Senet was a two-player game that involved moving pieces along a grid of squares based on the roll of dice-like objects.

It had religious significance and was often played in funerary rituals, as it symbolized the journey of the deceased through the afterlife.

What is the most strategic board game in the world?

Chess is widely regarded as one of the most strategic board games in the world. Its origins can be traced back to India in the 6th century, but it has evolved and spread globally, gaining immense popularity because of its depth and complexity.

Chess requires players to think several moves ahead, anticipate their opponent’s strategies, and make calculated decisions to outmaneuver their adversary while protecting their own pieces. It demands careful planning, tactical thinking, and strategic foresight.

What are the most popular strategy board games?

There are several highly popular strategy board games that have captivated players worldwide. One such game is “Settlers of Catan” (now renamed “Catan”), which was first published in 1995 and quickly gained a dedicated fanbase due to its engaging gameplay mechanics involving resource management, negotiation, and expansion on an ever-changing modular board. Another beloved strategy game is “Risk,” first released in 1957, which simulates global domination through military conquests.

Players must devise comprehensive strategies to balance defense, attack opponents’ territories, and manage limited resources effectively. Additionally, “Ticket to Ride” offers an intriguing blend of strategy and competition as players compete to build railway networks across various countries while efficiently managing their resources and blocking off opponents’ routes. These games continue to garner popularity among both casual players and dedicated strategists due to their challenging yet enjoyable gameplay experiences.

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