Board Games of the World

Board games have been played throughout the world by people of many different cultures and backgrounds across a time span of millennia. The oldest known games date back to about 3500 B.C. Board games may be categorized according to the type of strategy dictated by the rules of the game. These categories include race games, war games, games of position, and Mancala games. Today these are considered abstract games although when they originated the games may have represented real life situations like battles.

The book Board Games of the World is about the history, the boards, the rules, and the strategy of many different board games, as well as ideas on how to build the boards. This is a book for all ages, with a straightforward, easy-to-understand explanation of the rules, to ideas for constructing elaborate game boards. Some games have a simple set of rules that can easily be learned by younger children and these games will make interesting projects for the schoolroom.

The game descriptions below will give you a sample of what you will find in the book.

Race Games

In race games the opponents compete by moving their pieces around a pre-determined track on the board. The first player to complete the circuit with all his pieces is the winner. Race games may be divided into two types, pure races and running fight games. In pure race games the opponents compete by moving their pieces around a pre-determined track on the board. The winner is the first player that completes the circuit with all their pieces. During these games, pieces may be captured, removed from the board and forced to start the circuit again. These games include Senet, Pachisi, and Backgammon.

In running fight games the pieces are moved in repeated laps over same circuit attempting to capture their opponent’s pieces. Captured pieces are removed from the game. The winner is the player whose opponent no longer has pieces still remaining on the circuit. The running fight games include Zohn Ahl, Bul, Puluc and Ad Elta Stelpur.

All these games use various forms of dice such as six-sided cube dice, two or four-sided throwing sticks, cowrie shells, marked corn grains or knucklebones.

War Games

In war games the players marshal their armies made up of pieces of different strengths in combat against each other. The objective is usually to capture the enemy King or all the opponent’s pieces. War games can generally be divided in to those with equal opponent forces and those with unequal forces. In games with equal forces both sides have exactly the same type and number of pieces and have identical objectives. These games include Alquerque, Seega, Ming Mang, Checkers and Chess. In games with unequal forces each player has different numbers of pieces with different capabilities, and in addition the goals of each player are different. These games include Ringo, Tigers and Goats, Fox and Geese, Pulijudam, Tablut and other games of the Tafl family. Many of these games with unequal forces are also known as hunt games.

Games of Position

Games of position are those in which the location of a player’s pieces on the board in relation to those of his opponent is of prime importance. In these games the players fight for control of regions of the board. Games of position include Achi, Nine Men’s Morris, Renju and Go.

Mancala Games

Mancala is these days the name given to a family of board games played throughout Africa, the Caribbean, India and south-east Asia. In these games the players distribute their counters along a fixed track and attempt to capture their opponent’s pieces by arriving at a particular position when the count is exhausted. These games are usually played on wooden boards with two, three or four rows of holes carved into them. Sometimes these games are played in a set of holes scooped in the ground. The counters used for these games include stones, marbles, seeds, beans, cowrie shells or small lumps of dung.


Figure 1: Rank and File
Advance capture
Capture of a piece by advancing to a square immediately adjacent to it. This is used in Fanorona.
Bear off
To remove pieces from a backgammon board
A special move by a King and a Rook in Chess
See Figure 1.
Custodial capture
Capture of a piece by trapping it between two of the opponent’s pieces.
Diagonal move
A move diagonal to rank and file as shown in Figure 1.
The singular of dice. A device used to obtain a random number to advance a game piece, usually a cube marked with the numbers 1 to 6 on each face.
Plural of die.
Dice Sticks
Two or four-sided throwing sticks.
En passant
Capture of a pawn that has made an initial two-square move.
En prise
A piece is en prise when it is open to capture at the opponent’s next move.
A simultaneous attack on two or more of the opponent’s pieces.
See Figure 1.
Figure 2: Short and Long Leaps
Intervention capture
Capture by placing a piece between two of the opponent’s pieces so that both the opponent’s pieces are captured.
The removal of a piece that has failed to capture when it was able to do so.
Long dice
Two or four-sided dice. Also called dice sticks or throwing sticks.
Long leap
A jump by a piece over an opponent’s piece to land beyond it where there may be any number of vacant space on either side of the captured piece as shown in Figure 2B.
Orthogonal move
A move along a rank or file as shown in Figure 1.
The intersection of two lines on a board.
On reaching a certain rank a piece may be promoted and thereby acquire additional capability.
See Figure 1.
Replacement capture
Capture by moving a piece onto a space occupied by the opponent’s piece.
See Figure 1.
Short leap
A jump by a piece over an opponent’s adjacent piece to land on a space immediately beyond it as shown in Figure 2A.
Withdrawal capture
Capture of a piece by moving away from a square immediately adjacent to it. This is used in Fanorona.