Oldest board game

The Royal Game of Ur is the oldest board game for which we have a near-complete set of rules. People were playing it five thousand years ago, and it is still played today.

Royal Game of Ur
British Museum [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
The game was popular throughout the Middle East and India. The earliest boards date back to 3000 BCE, dug up from the Royal Cemetery at Ur – hence the game’s name – and are now housed at the British Museum. That’s roughly as old as one of the other contenders for oldest game: Senet. But we’re not entirely sure of the original rules to play Senet. We know the rules of the Royal Game of Ur because a Babylonian scribe named Itti-Marduk-Balāṭu wrote them down around 177 BCE.

The game plays like backgammon but with four-sided dice. You can see an example of the gameplay in the video below. Two players race their pieces around a track, bumping each other back to the start and trying to be the first to get all their pieces to the end. Thanks Itti-Marduk-Balāṭu, for being the first rulebook editor in history!

2 Replies to “Oldest board game”

  1. Played as late as the 1950s among the Jewish population of Malabar, Wikipedia tells me.

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