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.


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Making Board Games More Accessible Than Ever!

[Image courtesy of Make Board Game.]

I’m a huge proponent of the idea that there’s a game out there for everybody. Some prefer fun, lighthearted fare. Others like the high-stakes of a winner-take-all scenario. Some thrive in cooperative games where victories are shared and losses softened by camaraderie, while others like one-on-one strategic battles.

But no matter who you are, there’s a game out there for you.

Unfortunately, for colorblind gamers or those dealing with visual impairments, some of the most popular games are less accessible.

[Ticket to Ride remains one of the more colorblind-friendly games on the market today. Image courtesy of Board Game Duel.]

I’ve had several colorblind friends tell me that the color-and-pattern-matching tile game Qwirkle is a no-go, because the game’s colors (as well as the black tiles on which those colored symbols are set) can cause serious confusion that hampers gameplay.

Although there’s no official colorblind-friendly edition of Qwirkle on the market, there is a colorblind-friendly version of the game that has been shared online. The color palette is more accessible, and instead of black tiles, the base tiles are gray.

Other games have also picked up on the need to keep their multicolored games accessible to a broader audience. As mentioned in a recent post on the official Tabletop Day website, the game Lanterns: The Harvest Festival incorporates specific symbols for each of their differently colored cards to make it easier for colorblind players to distinguish them.

And if you’re a visually impaired game enthusiast, there are other companies out there working hard to ensure you have the widest possible range of games to enjoy.

The folks at 64 Oz. Games produce specialty sleeves and other modifications for established board games and card games, allowing visually impaired players to play alongside their sighted pals.

[An image from their successful Kickstarter campaign a few years ago.
Image courtesy of 64 Oz. Games.]

A combination of Braille and clever use of QR codes has opened up games like Munchkin, Cards Against Humanity, Coup, Love Letter, Seven Wonders, King of Tokyo, and numerous roleplaying games to a previously excluded audience.

Add items like their 3D printed Braille roleplaying dice and a touch-based game called Yoink! that is based on tactile gameplay, and you have a wonderful resource for all sorts of game fans.

As we gear up to celebrate a day dedicated to gathering with family and friends to enjoy playing games, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to acknowledge those who are going above and beyond to make sure as many people as possible can participate.

It’s a beautiful thing.


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Apps you can play in a snap!

stopwatch

Last week, I did a rundown of board games and card games you can play in under 15 minutes. Games that were travel-friendly were also highlighted, since they tend to be quick-to-play and easy-to-learn.

But when it comes to quick-play games that are travel-friendly, you can’t get much easier or more accessible than the puzzle and game apps on your phone! Whether you’re stuck in traffic, trapped at the dentist’s office, or hiding in the bathroom during a family gathering, these are always ready to play!

android_zpsc9tsleav

Naturally, we have to start with the Penny Dell Crossword App! Not only do you have smart navigation to move you to partially filled-in entries and dozens upon dozens of the best crosswords around, but there’s the free daily puzzle for all app users! Plus, it’s available for both Android and iOS users!

farkle

For the dice game fans in the readership, Farkle is a quick-play version of Yahtzee. You roll six dice, looking for three of a kind, three pairs, and other key combinations in order to earn points. It’s an easy game to pick up whenever you wish, making it ideal for players on the move.

wordbrain

If you’re a word seek or word search enthusiast, Wordbrain might be right up your alley. This Boggle-style game is all about finding words spelled out in grids. As the grids get bigger, more words are hidden inside, and the difficulty level increases. But when it comes to quick-play games, the early rounds of Wordbrain are tough to match for sheer speed.

[The Boggle variant Ruzzle was also mentioned by several PuzzleNationers.]

7littlewords

7 Little Words is a clued puzzle where you assemble the answers from two- and three-letter chunks in the grid below. It’s a clever variation on crosswords, and it can be surprisingly challenging to cobble together the correct words when you stare at odd letter combinations like NHO or OOV.

minimetro

For a quick-play resource management game, there’s Mini Metro. It’s up to you to construct and maintain a subway line for commuters. The more you can deliver between stations efficiently, the better. It’s a bright, colorful, engaging way to test your puzzly skills.

[Other puzzly building games include Triple Town, where you combining matching items in threes to build up a neighborhood into a town, and City2048, which applies the same tile-matching as the number game 2048, but in order to build a city.]

bejeweled_007

Bejeweled Blitz also got several recommendations from members of the PuzzleNation readership. It offers the same pattern-matching that made Bejeweled and Candy Crush such big hits, but does so with only sixty seconds of gameplay. So if you’re looking for some match-3-style gaming without a big time commitment, this might be the puzzle app for you.

reallybadchess

Finally, we’ve got Really Bad Chess, a puzzly take on the classic game. The main difference? You don’t know what pieces you’re going to end up with until you start a match. It completely upends most of the strategy that goes along with traditional chess, which makes it endlessly replayable.

Honorable mentions go to QuizUp (a Trivial Pursuit-style trivia game) and Joon Pahk’s Guess My Word, as well as all the board game adaptations like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Splendor, that experienced players could play quickly, but don’t necessarily fit the bill.

Are there any favorite quick-play apps of yours that I missed? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!


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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!

100 Games to Know!

PAX East is one of several conventions under the PAX brand, all of which are dedicated to gaming. Created by the folks behind the popular webcomic Penny Arcade, PAX East has become a premier destination for video games, board game creators, and gaming enthusiasts from all walks of life.

One of the panels this year featured prolific puzzler and game creator Mike Selinker, author of The Maze of Games and creator of numerous popular board games and card games, including Unspeakable Words, Pathfinder, and many others.

He hosted a panel entitled 100 Games You Absolutely, Positively Must Know How to Play, and over the course of the hour-long event he ran down 100 board games, card games, and video games that he considers to be essential knowledge for every game fan and game designer.

He stressed that this was not a list of the 100 best, the 100 most important, or the 100 most fun games, and that virtually every person’s opinion would vary.

And then he laid out a fantastic list of games in many styles and formats:

  • Tabletop RPGs (Dungeons & Dragons, Fiasco)
  • Electronic RPGs (The Legend of Zelda, The Secret of Monkey Island)
  • Deduction Games (Clue, Mafia)
  • Tile Games (Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Settlers of Catan)
  • Tabletop puzzle games (Scrabble, Boggle)
  • Electronic puzzle games (Myst, Bejeweled, Portal, You Don’t Know Jack)
  • Platformers (Super Mario Bros. 3, Katamari Damacy, Limbo, Braid)
  • Simulators (Madden NFL, Starcraft, FarmVille, Minecraft)
  • Traditional card games (Fluxx, Gloom, Uno)
  • Deck-construction games (Magic: The Gathering)
  • Electronic action games (Mario Kart 64, Halo, Plants vs. Zombies)
  • Rhythm games (Dance Dance Revolution, Rock Band)
  • Strategy board games (Ticket to Ride, Pandemic)
  • Tabletop war games (Stratego, Axis & Allies)
  • Open world video games (Grand Theft Auto, World of Warcraft)
  • Creative tabletop games (Cards Against Humanity)

Several favorites of mine made the cut — like Mafia, a brilliantly simple murder mystery card game requiring nothing more than a deck of cards — and he had excellent reasons for including every game and excluding others.

Although plenty of worthy games didn’t get mentioned, I can’t come up with any game styles that Selinker missed, nor can I come up with any particular games that were egregiously excluded. I love Qwirkle, Timeline, and Castellan, for instance, but I feel like each of those gaming styles were well represented.

[He was careful to cover his bases.]

Can you think of any that the keen eye of Selinker missed, my fellow puzzlers? Let me know!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!