Games History

The history of games dates to the ancient past.[1] Games are an integral part of all societies. Like work and relationships, they are an expression of some basic part of the human nature. Games are formalized expressions of play which allow people to go beyond immediate imagination and direct physical activity. Games capture the ideas and behaviors of people at one period of time and carry that through time to their descendants. Games like liubo, xiangqi, and go illustrate the thinking of the military leaders who employed them centuries ago. When archaeologists excavate an ancient society they find artefacts related to living, working, family and social activities, games often become an archival record of how individuals and groups played in earlier times.

Dice games

Dice appear to be among the earliest pieces of specialised gaming equipment used by humans, having been used throughout Asia since before recorded history, the oldest known examples being a 3000-year-old set unearthed at an archaeological site in southeasternIran.[2] Notable dice games have included Hazard, a game popular in Europe from the 14th through the 18th centuries, Chuck-a-luck, a related game also known as birdcage, Craps, which replaced Hazard in popularity during the 19th century, and Sic bo, a Far Eastern Chuck-a-luck variant which evolved into a popular casino game in the 20th century. Toy

Tile games

What appear to have been the earliest references to gaming tiles are mentions of kwat pai, or “bone tiles”, used in gambling, in Chinese writings no later than 900 CE.[3] The earliest definite references to Chinese dominoes are found in the literature of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), while Western-style dominoes are a more recent variation, with the earliest examples being of early-18th century Italian design.[4] The tile game Mahjong, also of Chinese origin, first appears in the written record in the mid-19th century, and was first mentioned in a publication written in a language other than Chinese in 1895.

Board games

Extinct board games

Among the earliest board games discovered by archaeologists and historians are a number of games the exact rules of which have been forgotten, with rules sometimes being completely unknown today and sometimes being only partially understood, although in many cases proposed or theorised rulesets for these games have been offered by historians and board game manufacturers. Among the earliest examples of board games whose rules have been lost is senet, a game found in Predynastic and First Dynasty burial sites inEgypt (circa 3500 BCE and 3100 BCE, respectively) and in hieroglyphs dating to around 3100 BCE.[5]

The extinct Chinese board game liubo was immensely popular during the Han Dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE). Early Chinese records indicate that liubo was already a popular game by the Warring States Period (476 BCE – 221 BCE).[6][7] Although the game’s rules have been lost, gameplay was apparently not unlike Senet in that playing pieces were moved about a board using sticks thrown to determine movements.

The Tafl games were a family of ancient Germanic and Celtic board games played across much of Northern Europe from earlier than 400 CE until the 12th century,[8] although the rules of the games were never explicitly recorded and are only partially understood today.[9]

Ancient board games

The Royal Game of Ur, or Game of Twenty Squares, dated from the First Dynasty of Ur, before 2600 BCE, has been documented as still being played in Iraq.[10]

Go, also known as WeiqiIgo, or Baduk (in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, respectively), has been evident in the archaeological record as far back as 200 BCE – 200 CE, with the earliest definite literary references dating to the 4th century BCE,[11] and possible references occurring earlier. Go is played by an estimated 27 million people throughout the world today, professionally in many countries.

Backgammon, which came into its current form in the 6th or 7th century CE, is closely related to similar games dating back even further, excavations at Shahr-e Sokhteh in Iran having shown examples of such games dated as early as 3000 BCE.

The earliest evidence of Mancala consists of fragments of pottery boards and several rock cuts found in Aksumite in Ethiopia, Matara(now in Eritrea), and Yeha (also in Ethiopia), which have been dated by archaeologists to between the 6th and 7th century CE. The game is today played worldwide, with many distinct variants representing different regions of the Third World.

Nine Men’s Morris and its variants, which likely emerged from the Roman Empire,[12] peaked in popularity in medieval England.[13]Along with other significant games of the period, it is both described and depicted in the Libro de los juegos, completed in 1283.

Chaturanga, xiangqi, shogi, chess

Chaturanga, a board game which developed in India during the 6th century CE, was the apparent common ancestor of xiangqi (Chinese; the earliest xiangqi pieces yet discovered dating from the Song dynasty, 960 – 1279[14] and the earliest definite written source being theXuanguai lu, authored by the Tang Dynasty minister Niu Sengru (779–847)[15]), shogi (Japanese; the earliest generally accepted mention being circa 1060), and chess (occasionally called Western or International Chess to distinguish it from Far Eastern varieties, which came into its current form in Europe during the 15th century), as well as makruk (Thai), sittuyin (Burmese), and janggi (Korean).

16th through 18th centuries

Snakes and Ladders is believed to have originated in India as Moksha Patam, emphasising the role of fate or karma; the game dates at least to the 16th century as part of a family of dice board games, including Pachisi (a descendant of the earlier game Ludo).

19th century

Designed in England by George Fox in 1800, The Mansion of Happiness became the prototype for commercial board games for at least two centuries to follow. While demonstrating the commercial viability of the ancient race game format, its moralistic overtones were countered by Milton Bradley in 1860 with the introduction of a radically different concept of success in The Checkered Game of Life, in which material successes came as a result of material accomplishments, such as attending college. Likewise the Game of the District Messenger Boy (1886), which also focused on daily rather than eternal life.

20th century

The French board game L’Attaque was first commercially released in 1910, having been designed two years prior as a military-themed imperfect knowledge game based upon the earlier Chinese children’s board game Dou Shou Qi. L’Attaque was subsequently adapted by the Chinese into Luzhanqi (or Lu Zhan Jun Qi), and by Milton Bradley into Stratego, the latter having been trademarked in 1960 while the former remains in the public domain.

First published in 1936, the origins of the board game Monopoly run as far back as 1903.[16] Initially designed in 1938, Scrabblereceived its first mass-market exposure in 1952, two years prior to the release of Diplomacy, in 1954. Originally released in 1957 as La Conquête du Monde (“The Conquest of the World”) in France, the Cold War-themed Risk was first published under its English title in 1959.

A concentrated design movement towards the German-style board game, or Eurogame, began in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Germany,[17] and led to the development of board games such as Carcassone, The Settlers of Catan, and Puerto Rico.

Dart games

American darts

Main article: American Darts

American Darts is a regional USA variant of the game (most U.S. dart players play the traditional games described above). This style of dart board is most often found in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and parts of New York state.

Audio darts

A variant of traditional darts played using a blindfold. Often played by people with visual disabilities and their friends. Typically a talking electronic dartboard is used to speak the numbers hit, keep score and announce who is throwing next.

Darts cricket

Main article: Cricket (darts)


Main article: Dartball

Dartball is a darts game based on the sport of baseball. It is played on a diamond shaped board and has similar scoring to baseball.

Dart Golf

Main article: Dart Golf

Dart golf is a darts game based on the sport of golf and is regulated by the World Dolf Federation (WDFF).[18] It is played on both special golf dartboards and traditional dartboards. Scoring is similar to golf.



An ‘East-End’ or ‘Fives’ dartboard

This is a regional variant still played in some parts of the East End of London. The board has fewer, larger segments, all numbered either 5, 10, 15 or 20. Players play down from 505 rather than 501, and stand the farthest (9 ft, 2.7 m) away from the board of any mainstream variation.[19]

Halve it

Main article: Halve it

Halve it is a darts game popular in the United Kingdom and parts of North America where competitors try to hit previously agreed targets on a standard dart board.[20] Failure to do so within a single throw (3 darts) results in the player losing half their accumulated score. Any number of players can take part and the game can vary in length depending on the number of targets selected.[21] The game can be tailored to the skill level of the players by selecting easy or difficult targets.


Killer is a ‘knock-out’ game for two or more players (at its best at 4-6 players). Initially each player throws a dart at the board with their non-dominant hand to obtain their ‘number’. No two players can have the same number. Once everyone has a number, each player takes it in turn to get their number five times with their three darts (doubles count twice, and triples three times). Once a person has reached 5, they become a ‘killer’. This means they can aim for other peoples numbers, taking a point off for each time they hit (doubles x2, triples x3). If a person gets to zero they are out. A killer can aim for anyone’s numbers, even another killer’s. You cannot get more than 5 points. The winner is ‘the last man standing’.[22]

Lawn Darts

Lawn darts (also called Jarts or yard darts) is a lawn game based on darts. The game play and objective are similar to both horseshoesand darts. The darts are similar to the ancient Roman plumbata.


Shanghai is a darts game of accuracy.[23] Hitting doubles and triples is paramount to victory. This game is played with at least two players. The standard version is played in 7 rounds.[23] In round one players throw their darts aiming for the 1 section, round 2, the 2 section and so on until round 7. Standard scoring is used, and doubles and triples are counted. Only hits on the wedge for that round are counted. The winner is the person who has the most points at the end of seven rounds (1-7); or you can score a Shanghai and win instantly. To score a Shanghai you have to hit a triple, a double and single (in any order) of the number that is in play.[23]

Shanghai can also be played for 20 rounds to use all numbers.

A Fairer Start for Shanghai: To prevent players from becoming too practised at shooting for the 1, the number sequence can begin at the number of the dart that lost the throw for the bullseye to determine the starting thrower. For example; Thrower A shoots for the bullseye and hits the 17. Thrower B shoots for the bullseye and hits it. Thrower B then begins the game, starting on the number 17, then 18, 19, 20, 1, 2, 3, etc. through 16 (if no player hits Shanghai).


Card games

Playing cards first appeared in Ancient China,[24] where they were found as early as the 9th century during the Tang Dynasty (618–907).[25][26][27] The earliest reference to card games in literature appears during the same period, in the Collection of Miscellanea at Duyang.[28][29] Playing cards first appeared in Europe during the 14th century, most likely by way of Mamluk Egypt, with suits very similar to the tarot suits of Swords, Staves, Cups and Coins, as continue to be used in traditional Italian, Spanish and Portuguesedecks today.[30] The four suits most commonly encountered today (spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs) appear to have originated in France circa 1480.[31]

The game of Cribbage appears to have developed in the early 17th century, as an adaptation of the earlier card game Noddy. Pinochlewas likely derived from the earlier Bezique, a game popular in France during the 17th century. The game of Whist was widely played during the 18th and 19th centuries,[32] having evolved from the 16th century game of Trump (or Ruff) by way of Ruff and Honours.[33][34]The earliest references in print to the Poker family of games occur in the first half of the 19th century. While possibly dating back as far as the reign of Charles VIII of France (1483–1498), Baccarat first came to the attention of the public at large and grew to be widely played as a direct result of the Royal Baccarat Scandal of 1891,[35][36] and bears resemblances to the card games Faro and Basset, both of which were very popular during the 19th century. The rules of Contract bridge were originally published in 1925, the game having been derived from Bridge games with rules published as early as 1886, Bridge games, in turn, having evolved from the earlier game of Whist.

Collectible card games such as Magic: The Gathering, while bearing similarities to earlier games in concept, first achieved wide popularity in the 1990s.[37]

Table games

With the possible exception of Carrom (a game whose origins are uncertain), the earliest table games appear to have been the Cue sports, which include Carom billiards, Pool, or Pocket billiards, and Snooker. The cue sports are generally regarded as having developed into indoor games from outdoor stick-and-ball lawn games (retroactively termed ground billiards),[38] and as such to be related to trucco, croquet and golf, and more distantly to the stickless bocce and balls.

Roulette has been played in its present form since the late 18th century, and is generally understood to have been adapted from English wheel games such as Roly-Poly and E.O., with influences from the Italian board games Hoca and Biribi.

Fan-Tan was widely played throughout the 19th century, peaking in popularity during the last few decades prior to 1900, although it can still be found in many Macau casinos today.[39]

Electronic games

Main articles: Electronic game and History of video games

The earliest reference to a purely electronic game appears to be a United States patent registration in 1947 for what was described by its inventors as a “cathode ray tube amusement device”.[40] Through the 1950s and 1960s the majority of early computer games ran on university mainframe computers in the United States. Beginning in 1971, video arcade games began to be offered to the public for play. The first home video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey, was released in 1972.[41][42]

The golden age of arcade video games began in 1978 and continued through to the mid-1980s. A second generation of video game consoles, released between 1977 and 1983, saw increased popularity as a result of this, though this eventually came to an abrupt end with the North American video game crash of 1983. The home video game industry was eventually revitalized with the third generation of game consoles over the next few years, which saw a shift in the dominance of the video game industry from the United States to Japan. This same time period saw the advent of the personal computer game, specialised gaming home computers, early online gaming, and the introduction of LED handheld electronic games and eventually handheld video games.

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