The game of Senet dates from the pre-dynastic days of ancient Egypt around 3500 B.C. It is the oldest known board game in the world. Many Senet boards have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. The Senet board consists of 30 squares which represent the 30 days of the month of Thoth, the first month in the ancient Egyptian calendar year. The first Senet square is the House of Thoth and represented New Years day. Six of the squares on the Senet board have special markings:
- House of Re-birth (square 15) has an ankh
- House of Happiness (square 26) has a hieroglyph for happiness
- House of Waters (square 27) has water lines
- House of Three Truths (square 28) has a countdown mark of 3
- House of Re-Atoum (square 29) has a countdown mark of 2
- Square 30 has the hieroglyph of the sun
RulesThe original rules are not known but the games historians R.C. Bell and Timothy Kendall have each proposed a set of rules that can be used to play the game. Senet is a race game played by two players using the board shown in Figure 1. The pieces are moved along the path shown. The players take turns using four two-sided throw sticks to determine the moves.
The following rules are based on those of Timothy Kendall:
One player has seven green pieces and the other has red pieces. At the start of the game each player’s pieces are placed alternately on the first 14 squares as shown in Figure 1. Four two-sided throwing sticks are marked on one side and when thrown the points are counted 1 to 5: one point for each side without a mark and five points if all four marks are visible as shown in Figure 2.The players, starting with green, take turns throwing the sticks and advancing their pieces along the path shown above. Square 15 is the starting square called the House of Re-birth, shown by an Ankh.
If a piece can reach a square already occupied by an opponent’s piece, they have to exchange their positions unless the opponent’s piece is protected by being adjacent to another opponent’s piece along the path.
All pieces must land on square 26, the House of Happiness (per nefer), before continuing to the last four squares. A player must have an exact throw to land on the House of Happiness. If no forward moves are possible the piece is forced to move backwards. If no moves are possible the turn is forfeited. If an unprotected piece is attacked while on square 26 is must be exchanged with the attacking piece.
There are dire consequences if a player is forced to land on square 27, the House of Waters (per mu). A piece forced onto the House of Waters loses any remaining throws. Once in the House of the Waters, a piece cannot be moved. To reactivate the piece, the player must either throw a 4, or move the piece back to the House of Re-birth and lose a turn. A player may try for a throw of 4 as often as they wish, but they get only one try per turn. If they give up after repeated tries, they can move to the House of Re-birth on their next turn.
A piece can be forced onto the House of Waters in two ways: If a piece occupies squares 28-30 and is undefended, and an opponent piece lands on the same square from the House of Happiness, the attacked piece moves to square 27, and not back to 26. If a player's only possible move is from square 26 forward, but a defended opposing piece occupies the desired square, the piece on square 26 moves to the House of Waters.
If a player lands on square 28, the House of Three Truths, an exact throw of three is required to then exit the board. If a player lands on square 29, House of the Re-Atoum, an exact throw of two is required to then exit the board. A player may have any throw value to exit from square 30.
The first player to remove all their pieces from the board wins.