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Great Board Games of the Ancient World

Learn the fascinating origins of some of the world’s most beloved games of luck and strategy with an expert on gaming history.
Great Board Games of the Ancient World is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 17.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding!!! Tristan Donovan covered historical and cultural backgrounds of ancient board games in depth. He provided information on game play and tips as well as various versions of games through history. We thoroughly enjoyed it. Well done.
Date published: 2022-11-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great board games Very interesting, didn't know some games went so far back
Date published: 2022-10-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating history of ancient board games My family have played parchessi for a long time and we have truly enjoyed learning the the history of parchessi and all the other games in this course. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2022-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun course I didn't realize there was so much history packed into board games. Now I have to try every one of the games featured in the course!
Date published: 2022-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course Very interesting. More than adequate depth for a general survey. Very vry well delivered.
Date published: 2022-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful This topic was so interesting that it held my attention the entire series. I love the demonstration of how each game was played. This series has inspired me to go out and learn some new games. Especially the ones that have been around for hundreds of years.
Date published: 2022-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A good overview of ancient board games This course, presented by Tristan Donovan, is a good overview of ancient board games, some of which date back to the Egyptian pharaohs and the Roman emperors. The lectures cover a dozen games, more or less. Although you will not learn to play these games in detail, you will get a lot of history about the games, how they evolved, and how they spread. I greatly enjoyed the lectures and found them to be fascinating.
Date published: 2022-09-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Great content! Technical: color balance and matching-- 0 stars Content: fascinating--5 stars Presenter: Speaks Brit English and historic languages. Good ear training!--5 stars Staging: Static--2 stars Photos:fantastic--5 stars CG visual aids-- godawful, could not follow as colors ran together-- minus 5 stars
Date published: 2022-09-05
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Overview

Are you among the tens of millions who play chess or checkers? Do you have great memories of playing Chutes and Ladders as a child? While the games themselves provide hours of challenge and enjoyment, their storied history can be even more fascinating. In Great Board Games of the Ancient World, your expert Tristan Donovan takes you on a journey into thousands of years of ancient cultures and intrigue as you learn how to play (and win!) more than a dozen ancient games in 12 fascinating lessons.

About

Tristan Donovan

The games of our ancestors help us to understand how they lived and how they saw the world around them. Board games are a window on our past, a time capsule providing insights into long-lost civilizations.

Tristan Donovan is a journalist, nonfiction writer, and gaming enthusiast. His books include Replay: The History of Video Games; It’s All a Game: A Short History of Board Games; Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World; and Feral Cities: Adventures with Animals in the Urban Jungle. He also contributed to the Encyclopedia of Video Games and Video Games around the World. He is a member of the judging panel of The Strong National Museum of Play’s World Video Game Hall of Fame and has peer-reviewed papers on video games for the Digital Games Research Association and MIT Press. As a journalist, he has contributed to the BBC, The Times, Eurogamer, and The Guardian, among other outlets.

By This Expert

Great Board Games of the Ancient World
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Great Board Games of the Ancient World

Trailer

Bearing Off: The Story of Backgammon

01: Bearing Off: The Story of Backgammon

During the Third Crusade, the soldiers of France and England had to wait out the winter before they could travel further into the Middle East. What did the men do? They drank and played a gambling game called tables, a game that had been around for almost four millennia by that time. Learn how to play this ancient game—which you know as backgammon—and discover why a 20th-century innovation has made all the difference.

32 min
Senet: Egypt’s Game of the Afterlife

02: Senet: Egypt’s Game of the Afterlife

The 5,000 artifacts discovered in the tomb of Egyptian King Tutankhamun included magnificent gold statues, iron blades, and four boards for the game senet—a game played by royalty and commoners alike during the entire 3,000-year lifespan of the Egyptian civilization. Discover what historians have learned from the game boards’ hieroglyphs and why senet disappeared so abruptly.

32 min
Chess: The Evolution of a Strategy Icon

03: Chess: The Evolution of a Strategy Icon

In the waning years of the Indian Gupta Empire, 6th century CE, a board game was developed called chaturanga. This game of tabletop warfare starred the soldiers, elephants, horse riders, and chariots that had helped the Gupta rajas create their kingdom years earlier. Discover how this ancient game of strategy wound its way westward to eventually become the enduringly popular game we know as chess.

33 min
Chess’s Eastern Cousins: Shogi and Xiangqi

04: Chess’s Eastern Cousins: Shogi and Xiangqi

While the westward development of chaturanga into chess is fairly well documented, its eastward route is somewhat murky. Explore a Chinese game called xiangqi, and a Japanese game called shogi. Are these two games of tabletop warfare closer to each other in play than they are to chess? Or do they both have a definite lineage from chaturanga?

34 min
Go: A Game of Near-Infinite Complexity

05: Go: A Game of Near-Infinite Complexity

In much of the world, chess is considered the ultimate strategy game, with an average of 35 possible moves to choose from in any given situation. But in Eastern Asia, that exalted status belongs to go, with its average of 250 possible next moves. Explore the fascinating play of this unique game that is so easy to learn and so very difficult to master.

33 min
Sowing Seeds: Africa’s Mancala Family

06: Sowing Seeds: Africa’s Mancala Family

Mancala might be the most ancient family of games, with mancala-style pits having been dated back to the Neolithic period, more than 7,000 years ago. Learn how to play awari, one of the simplest mancala games, thought to have originated in the area of modern-day Ghana. You’ll also explore the play of one of the most complex, bao, from eastern Africa.

33 min
Decoding the Past: The Royal Game of Ur

07: Decoding the Past: The Royal Game of Ur

Similar to senet, the Royal Game of Ur was played by people from all walks of life for thousands of years. Although it was eventually cast aside in favor of other games, archaeologists discovered its game boards and, much later, the cuneiform tablet that explained its rules. Learn what we know today about this ancient Sumerian game that has been resurrected from the dead.

28 min
Pachisi: India’s Iconic Racing Game

08: Pachisi: India’s Iconic Racing Game

In the late 16th century, Akbar the Great of the Mughal Empire built an enormous “game board” on his palace courtyard. While few had ever seen a game at such scale, the cruciform shape was easily recognized as pachisi, a game that had been played for hundreds of years. Discover how the game is played and which of its many variants you might have in your home today.

31 min
Patolli: The Lost Game of the Aztecs

09: Patolli: The Lost Game of the Aztecs

When the Spanish decided to “save” all Aztec souls by destroying their culture and forcibly converting everyone to Catholicism, the board game known as patolli was lost along with everything else. Consequently, while we know it played a major role in Aztec life, we know very little about the game itself. Learn why the Spanish felt so threatened by patolli that they went to war against it.

30 min
All in a Row: Men’s Morris to Tic-Tac-Toe

10: All in a Row: Men’s Morris to Tic-Tac-Toe

Nine Men’s Morris is a game that dates back at least to the times of the Roman Empire, and in Europe’s Middle Ages it even rivalled chess in popularity. Explore the larger family of games called merels that it belongs to and learn about their historical importance. Chances are the very first game you ever played was a merel—tic-tac-toe.

31 min
King Me! Alquerque and Checkers

11: King Me! Alquerque and Checkers

Libro de los Juegos stands as the most important book on board games created during Europe’s Middle Ages. Almost as an afterthought, the book discusses several games it describes as alquerque games. Learn to play one specific alquerque game, uncover its fascinating history, and trace the journey it took to become the game we know today as checkers.

31 min
Morality Play: Snakes, Ladders, and Geese

12: Morality Play: Snakes, Ladders, and Geese

Who created the game we know today as snakes and ladders? Was a Hindu saint, a Jain monk, or a different person from the 2nd century BCE? Whoever invented the game, it is unquestionably a game about religion. Sometimes called a playable sermon, the goal of the game is to teach people the correct road to enlightenment and to teach children the difference between right and wrong.

33 min