If you ever assumed that loud, fast-paced video games were going to make board games into relics of the past, found only in garage sales and grandma’s closet, today’s booming board game market has popped back to life in a big way. Today’s best cooperative board games, brand-new games, and classic board games from years past are back on kitchen tables around the world.
With more time at home during the pandemic, many of us realized we needed a break from binge-watching and video gaming and turned back to board games for the original gaming experiences we once enjoyed so much. While we still love our favorite video games, there’s nothing like the tactile satisfaction of playing with cards, boards, dice, and tokens. You can share those games with family and friends in a way that doesn’t work with video games. And what’s really fascinating — a quick look back in history reveals that humans have enjoyed board games for literally thousands of years!
Burial Mound Board Games
One mark of a successful civilization is where people aren’t toiling away night and day, barely scraping out a living on the land, but one in which citizens have time to create art, make music, and play games. Archeological history shows us that ancient people played board games long before written history. A 5,000-year-old burial mound unearthed evidence of board game play in ancient Turkey. While we can’t possibly know how they played the game, archeologists found tiny, hand-carved stone tokens in the shapes of animals, disc-like game pieces made of shells, and carved dice that are remarkably similar to those still used in some of the best cooperative board games today.
Cleopatra and Queen Nefertiti, like most wealthy Egyptians, enjoyed enough leisure time to play a board game called Senet. Archeologists found Senet games in Egyptian tombs along with other treasures intended to accompany royal spirits to the other side. Five of the board game boxes were found buried with teen King Tut, showing that gaming has always been a favorite teenage pastime.
A Senet game was a hand-made box with a drawer to store game pieces shaped like cones and spools, and a grid of tiles inlaid into the top of the box to form the game board. Knowledgeable historians — with the help of gaming geeks — made educated guesses about the rules of Senet gameplay and recreated the game for today’s market.
Backgammon is a board game still played today that had its beginnings as far back as 17th century England — and historians believe earlier versions of the game may date back almost as far as Senet, to 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and ancient Persia.
Board Games We Know and Love
While some board games, like the Game of the Goose, came into popularity during the 18th century when popular board designs circulated and the boards and pieces were handmade, it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that new printing techniques made it possible to mass-produce board games, launching a new industry and the beginning of the familiar legacy board games we’ve all come to know and love.
By the 1950s, some classic titles we still know and love today came onto the kitchen table scene, including Yahtzee, Scrabble, Risk, Chutes and Ladders, Mystery Date, and Candy Land.
Candy Land’s creator, Eleanor Abbott, designed the game in the 1940s during the polio epidemic. After suffering the dreaded disease herself, she understood the boredom of long periods of illness and recovery. She designed and created the beloved game of sweet treats to entertain children in the polio ward of her local San Diego hospital. Eleanor went on to send the design to Milton Bradley who marketed the colorful candy game, but she donated her royalties to children’s hospitals and schools.
In 1984, Hasbro bought out Milton Bradley and breathed a second wind into Candy Land by adding new characters and a storyline to the board and game box including Queen Frostine, King Candy, and Gramma Nutt.
From everyone’s first favorite board games filled with chutes, ladders, and peppermint forests, to epic sessions of driving friends and family into bankruptcy with Monopoly or conquering whole continents with Risk — game night memories are forever.