The Curious World of Ancient Board Games

A few weeks ago, we delved into the surprisingly deep history behind games still commonly played today, like Go, chess, and various dice games. But we barely scratched the surface when it comes to ancient gaming. There are numerous games that fell out of favor centuries ago, only to be resurrected in the modern day by game enthusiasts and historians.

In today’s blog post, I’d like to dust off a few of these ancient games and briefly discuss what we know about them. It’s game history time!

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

A popular Viking game whose heyday was between the fourth and twelfth centuries, Hnefatafl was a popular game throughout Scandinavia. This mouthful of a game — sometimes called Viking chess by modern game fans — was so ubiquitous back then that it was mentioned in several of the Norse Sagas.

Amazingly, although game pieces and fragments of game boards have been recovered, no one is entirely sure how the game is played, so rules have been reconstructed based on a similar game called Tablut.

Translated as “board game of the fist,” Hnefatafl is part of a family of games called Tafl games, all of which take place on a checkerboard-style play space with an uneven number of game pieces.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

Unlike Hnefatafl, the Royal Game of Ur has survived the centuries pretty much unscathed, thanks to a copy of the rules recorded on a Babylonian tablet. Played in the Middle East centuries ago — in places like Syria and Iran — the Royal Game of Ur was clearly popular, as evidence of the game has been found as far away from the Middle East as Crete and Sri Lanka.

The game and its trappings penetrated deep into Middle Eastern society. An Ur game board was carved like graffiti into a wall in the palace of Sargon II (dating back to the 700s BC). The Babylonian tablet indicates that certain game spaces were believed to be good omens, and could be interpreted as messages from the beyond.

The game was eventually either supplanted by backgammon or evolved into a version of backgammon, depending upon different historical accounts.

[Image courtesy of Chess Variants.com.]

Tori Shogi dates back to 1799 in Japan. Also known as Bird chess — thanks to game tiles named after phoenixes, cranes, and swallows — Shogi is played on a board seven squares wide and seven squares deep.

Unlike many chess variants, Tori Shogi allows for captured pieces to return to play, a nice twist that deepens the familiar gameplay style.

[Image courtesy of Bodleian Libraries.]

But chess and backgammon aren’t the only games with centuries-old precursors. The geographical game Ticket to Ride also has an aged forebearer in Binko’s Registered Railway Game, which was built around a map of the United Kingdom.

An educational game about placing trains on the map and determining how far they travel, this game has survived the decades relatively unscathed by time.


Those are just four examples of games that were either lost and then rediscovered, or games that fell out of favor, only to be resurrected by curious modern players.

And once again, these games are just the tip of the iceberg. There are centuries-old versions of The Game of Life, Parcheesi, a dating game, checkers, and more when you start digging!

As you can see, games have been a part of human civilization dating back millennia. We were always meant to play puzzles and games, it seems.


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

The Labyrinth? Why, you must be mythtaken!

Oh yes, it’s that time again! It’s to unleash our puzzly and punny imaginations and engage in a bit of sparkling wordplay!

You may be familiar with the board game Schmovie, hashtag games on Twitter, or @midnight’s Hashtag Wars segment on Comedy Central.

For years now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzleMyth, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles with anything and everything mythological! Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Celtic, Norse, whatever!

Examples include: Helen of Troy-Angles, Odin and Around, and Heads and Heads and Heads and Heads and Heads and Heads and Heads and Heads and Heads and Tails (because it’s a hydra).

So, without further ado, check out what the puzzlers at PuzzleNation and Penny Dell Puzzles came up with!


Greek Puzzle Myths!

Homer Runs

Odyssey It Again

Odysseycret Word

Letter Illiaddition / Iliadd One

Midas Touch Tank

Crostyx

Dionysuspended sentence / Pegasuspended Centaurence

Dionysus Fill-In

Places, Pleiades

Hera and Theras / Hera & Thor

Roll of the Diana

Kraken-jacks

Krak-uro

Animal Krakens

Seven-Up Against Thebes

Roll of the Eurydice

Psycheword

Minotaur-Crosswords

Muse Calling

Nemean Lion ‘Em Up

Pandora’s Boxes

Janus Face to Face

Square Nine Muses

Cerberus in the Square

Face to Face to Stone

Math Maze/Labyrinth: Plus and Minotaurus

Apollo to Zeus Maze

Minotaur’s-Eye Spiral

Hecuba Match


Norse Puzzle Myths!

Bricks and Thor-tor

Thor ‘n’ Aft

Freya Know the Odds

Frigg-erits!

Frigg-zag

Frigg-saw Squares

Mimir Mimir

Mimir Image

Annar-gram Magic Square

Tyr-Angles

Tyr-amid Words

Buri Treasure

Loki Score

Loki Star

Lokiword

Loki Double Cross

Exchange Borr

Quo-Dagr-ams

Fulla Circle


Egyptian Puzzle Myths!

Sphinx’s Riddle Me This

Picking up Osiris Piece by Piece

Horus and There

Shu-doku

Khepri It Moving

Pyramiddle of the Road

Hierocryptics


Crypto Puzzle Myths!

Mega Sudoku

Nessie Solitaire

Mathsquatch

Anagram Mongolian Death Word

Chupacommon Combos


There were a few submissions that deserve their own section, as several of our intrepid puzzlers went above and beyond.

Grand Minotaur (obviously in the Labyrinth, son of the Cretan Bull’s-eye Spiral and killed by Theseus Three)

Siren Says “Come down from that Mast-to-hear-our-words” You know the Odysseus… facing yet another Dilemma. Sailors have him Family Tied and only bind him tighter. I’m sure he has A Few Choice Words for them. 😉

Roll the Dionysus before he Looses his Tiles! He had Two at a Time all night!

Riddle Me This in the Middle of the Road: “Which creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?” asks the Sphinx guarding the route to the city of Thebe.

Spell and Score: In retribution for Minos the King of Crete’s failure to sacrifice a white bull Poseidon sent him, Poseidon ordered Aphrodite to cast a spell on Minos’ wife, Pasiphae, to fall in love with the Cretan bull; they mated, and their offspring was Minotaur.


Have you come up with any Penny Dell Puzzle Myths entries of your own? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!