In my home, Christmastime means digging out the family board games and playing for hours and hours; everything from aggravation to Monopoly and dozens in between. As it turns out, playing games and specifically board games, has been done since ancient civilization. Even more than that, some of the games we play today are based on and still use similar pieces to what was used thousands of years ago. When I think of playing “old” games I think of Monopoly or Chess. As it turns out while Chess may have its roots in the ancients, Monopoly is, comparatively speaking, a baby by gaming standards. Who knew we would be playing games today that were invented before written languages and nearly at the beginning of civilization.
Senet (or S’n’t) was a game known to be played by the ancient Egyptians around 3000 BC. Senet was found in many tombs in Egypt. As well there are well preserved hieroglyphs representing the Senet game dating back to 3100 BC which would evidence that the game had been in play well before that time. It was a highly valued game as indicated by the inclusion in burial tombs and as reference in Egyptian literature. Senet is thought to be a predecessor of Backgammon. Although Backgammon‘s origins date it to around 2000 BC. It was called Ludus at the time and its history starts during the time of the Roman Empire, although there are records of the game in India as well at this same time.
One of the oldest games known to date is called “The Royal Game of Ur”. It was found in a Tomb in Iran and dates from 2500 BC. The name originates from the ancient city in which it was found, Ur. The ruins of the city of Ur could very well be the same place that Abraham of the Bible lived about 400 years later. This game again was found in the tombs of the ancients. A recent discovery of a nearly identical game board in use in modern India makes this game one of longest, if not the longest, played game in history.
Another of the ancient games we still play is called Go or Wei-qi. Its roots can be traced back to China as far back as 2300 BC. From there it went to Korea and then on to Japan by 700 AD. Interestingly enough the rules of the game have changed very little since that time.
Mancala is another game from history, but not quite as old as the rest as it likely originated around 700 AD. It is believed that this game was likely played by digging shallow holes into dirt to create two rows of holes each holding either seeds or beans which was used the play the game. Mancala appears in ancient artifacts of the Egyptians and at nearly the same time it also appears in Kenya. We continue to play Mancala to this day, however, we usually play it indoors on a board or online.
Chess appears on the scene around 400 BC in China and from there it spread to India and Central Asia and from there to Africa. It took over a century for Chess to migrate from North Africa to Europe, however by the middle ages it was well established in Europe and around 1500 Chess was brought to North America.
Ever heard of a game called The Landlord’s Game? It was created in 1903 by American, Lizzi Magie. Lizzi wanted the game to show the effects of land grabbing and the consequences of landlords owning land and acquiring more and more land and tenants paying rents and becoming less and less able to afford the rents. The game was based on the Georgism economic principles and sought to demonstrate to people how this economic system worked. The game was later sold to Parker Brothers in 1935 and it was repackaged and sold to great success as Monopoly.
Another more modern game, Catan, was invented in the 1980s by a dental technician in Germany. He created the game in his basement in his spare time. The game came to North America in 1995 and has been selling millions of copies ever since.
While games themselves are not representative of the Christmas season, they are for some a tradition which unites family and friends together in a time of cheerful competition and fun. In a season of reflection and meditation, moments of joy and laughter are also appropriate. You will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at His birth (Lk 1.14). Laughter is so important to brighten our days and lift our souls. Our laughter mixes with the praises of heaven and just as a father delights in hearing his children laugh and sing so does the One above rejoice as we surrender our cares and trust enough to enjoy the life we have been given and His presence surrounding us.
RELAX, know that I am with you.
A HAPPY HEART is good medicine;
A JOYFUL MIND causes healing.
Ps 46.10; Matt 1.23; Prov 17.22