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INFORMATION VINE * The History of Board Games *.

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Post by Paul Wed 17 Jan 2024, 7:14 am

The History of Board Games

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Photo Courtesy: [Print Collector/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]
Since ancient times, people around the world have enjoyed playing board games with their family and friends. From basic games like checkers and chess to more complex ones like Clue and Monopoly, they are one of the most popular and enduring forms of entertainment.

The tradition of board gaming goes back hundreds of years in Europe, Africa, and Asia. These games spread to the Americas through colonization, where Scrabble, Pitchnut, and Mouse Trap emerged. From classical antiquity to the present day, here is the history of board games.


Senet, a board game originating from ancient Egypt over 5,000 years ago, is the world's oldest board game. Archaeologists have discovered fragments of possible game boards in burials from the First Dynasty. This painting is from the tomb of Nefertiti, an Egyptian queen who died around 1255 BC.

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Photo Courtesy: [The Yorck Project/Wikimedia Commons]

Outside of Egypt, archaeologists have found the game in Lebanon, Israel, and Cyprus. Senet eventually fell into disuse after Egypt came under Roman rule, and historians are uncertain of the original rules.

The Royal Game Of Ur

The world's oldest board game that remains playable today is the Royal Game of Ur, which emerged from ancient Mesopotamia during the early 3rd millennium BC. British curator Irving Finkel was able to determine the rules using a cuneiform tablet from 177 BC.

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Photo Courtesy: [BabelStone/Wikimedia Commons]

In the Royal Game of Ur, alternatively known as the Game of Twenty Squares, two players compete to get their game pieces to the other side of the board. Interestingly, the squares in the center also played a role in fortune-telling.


Many historians believe Tabula, which means plank or board in Medieval Greek, to be the direct predecessor of modern backgammon. According to Etymologiae, a 7th-century encyclopedia, a Greek soldier named Alea invented the game during the Trojan War.

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Photo Courtesy: [Unbekannter Schreiber, Kloster Bendikbeuren/Wikimedia Commons]

The first reference to Tabula appears in the writings of the 6th-century historian Agathias. He describes a game played by Flavius Zeno, the Byzantine emperor from 474 to 475 AD and again from 476 to 491.


The history of backgammon goes back approximately 5,000 years to Mesopotamia, a historical region that now constitutes the Republic of Iraq. This game involves two players competing to move all 15 of their checkers off the board.

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Photo Courtesy: [Heritage Images/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

Archaeologists found the oldest known backgammon board in 2004 at Shahr-e Sukhteh, an ancient city in Iran from the Bronze Age. Believed to originate from around 3000 BC, it had game pieces made of agate and turquoise. This medieval illustration depicts Bozorgmehr, an Iranian sage, explaining backgammon to the Raja.


Another board game from ancient Egypt, Mehen, is one of the oldest multiplayer games in the world. Interestingly, the game shares its name with a mythological snake god. Described as a snake that coils around Ra, the sun god, the oldest mention of Mehen appears in a collection of funerary spells known as the Coffin Texts.

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Photo Courtesy: [Anagoria/Wikimedia Commons]

According to historians, as many as six people could participate in a game of Mehen. The earliest evidence of the game comes from the tomb of Seth-Peribsen, an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled around 2740 BC. Unfortunately, the rules and gameplay for Mehen remain a mystery.


Historians knew very little about Liubo, an ancient Chinese board game for two players, until recently. Excavations have revealed game boards, equipment, and artistic depictions of Liubo on bricks and stones.

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Photo Courtesy: [Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wikimedia Commons]

Invented in the middle of the 1st millennium BC or earlier, Liubo became popular during the Han Dynasty, which lasted from 202 BC to 220 AD. Following the end of the Han Dynasty, the game quickly declined in popularity.

Hounds And Jackals

Hounds and Jackals is a game where two players compete to move all of their pieces to the other side of the board, similar to the Royal Game of Ur. Howard Carter, best known for his discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, found a complete set of the game in 1910, which is now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Photo Courtesy: [Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wikimedia Commons]

The game pieces are sticks of costly materials like ivory, silver, and gold carved into the shapes of hounds and jackals. While the game's original name remains a mystery, it is known to have spread to Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennium BC, remaining popular until sometime in the 1st millennium BC.


Go, also known as Weiqi, emerged from China around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago and is one of the oldest board games that remains popular today. According to Chinese mythology, the legendary Emperor Yao created the game to teach discipline, balance, and concentration to his son Danzhu.

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Photo Courtesy: [Goban1/Wikimedia Commons]

The name Go originates from Japan, one of the East Asian countries where the game became popular. Players aim to surround more space on the game board than their opponent using round pieces called stones.

Nine Men's Morris

Nine Men's Morris dates to at least the Roman Empire, though this board game's place of origin remains unclear. Alternatively known as cowboy checkers, the objective is to make three vertical or horizontal lines in a row. One of the earliest written mentions of the game may appear in Ars amatoria, three books written by the poet Ovid in 2 AD.

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Photo Courtesy: [Elembis/Wikimedia Commons]

Author R.C. Bell claimed that the roofing slabs of an Egyptian temple from 1400 BC are the oldest known game board for Nine Men's Morris. However, the appearance of Coptic crosses at the temple indicates that they are not this old. The ancient Romans also carved game boards into their buildings, but exposure to the elements makes them difficult to date.


Considered by historians to be the forerunner of checkers, Alquerque likely originates from the Middle East. The earliest known reference to the game appears in Kitab al-Aghani, an Arabic anthology from the 10th century.

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Photo Courtesy: [Elembis/Wikimedia Commons]

Libro de Los Juegos, a book about board games commissioned by Alfonso X of Castile in the 13th century, outlines the rules for Alquerque. It also features an illustration of the game, pictured above. Spanish settlers later introduced Alquerque to the Zuni, a Native American tribe in Arizona and New Mexico.


Checkers, known as draughts outside the United States, is one of the most popular board games of all time. The oldest known evidence of the game is a board found in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, dating to around 3000 BC.

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Photo Courtesy: [Monoklon/Wikimedia Commons]

Archaeologists have also discovered checkerboards in the burial chambers of ancient Egypt. The Greek authors Plato and Homer mention the game in their writings, and the Romans played a similar game. Checkers, as it is known today, would not exist until around the beginning of the 12th century.


Xiangqi, commonly known as Chinese chess, is among the most popular strategy games in China. The game dates back to the Warring States period, which lasted from approximately 475 to 221 BC. Similar to chess, the ultimate objective in Xiangqi is for players to capture the king of their opponent.

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Photo Courtesy: [Aineias/Wikimedia Commons]

However, this game has several distinct elements, including a game piece called the cannon, which must jump to capture. Additionally, generals cannot face each other directly, and some areas on the board enhance the movement of some pieces while restricting others.

Snakes And Ladders

Also known as Moksha Patam, Snakes and Ladders is an ancient board game originating from India in the 2nd century. The objective is for one of the two or more players to be the first to navigate their game piece from the bottom of the numbered grid to the top.

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The snakes hinder players' progress, while the ladders help them move closer to their goal. The Milton Bradley Company has produced a well-known variation called Chutes and Ladders since the 1940s.


Sugoroku is a Japanese board game that plays almost identically to backgammon with a few key differences. For example, there is no doubling cube in Sugoroku, and the goal is to move each of the game pieces to within the last six spaces of the board.

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Photo Courtesy: [Hikone Castle Museum/Wikimedia Commons]

Japan was introduced to Sugoroku in the 6th century AD by China, where the game was called Shuanglu. Unfortunately, Sugoroku has largely fallen out of use since then, with backgammon taking its place.


Chess, as it exists today, did not emerge until approximately the 15th century. However, earlier versions of the game preceded it by hundreds of years, with the first texts that mention the origins of chess dating from the early 7th century.

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Photo Courtesy: [Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon/Wikimedia Commons]

The oldest chess artifacts in the world are ivory pieces excavated in Uzbekistan and dated to around 760. A century later, an Arab chess player named Al-Adli al-Rumi wrote the first known chess manual.


Alternatively known as Japanese chess, Shogi is a strategy game that is extremely popular in Japan. It emerged sometime after the introduction of chess to Japan, which was between the 10th to 12th centuries.

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Photo Courtesy: [Oliver Orschiedt/Wikimedia Commons]

In Shogi, players can reuse game pieces previously captured from their opponent. A widely held belief is that this comes from the practice of mercenaries changing sides rather than being killed when captured.


Rithmomachy is an incredibly complex mathematical board game, first described by a monk named Asilo around 1030. While the game board resembles the one used for playing checkers and chess, there are four different pieces: Rounds, Triangles, Squares, and Pyramids.

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Photo Courtesy: [Raul Catalano/Wikimedia Commons]

Similar to chess, the goal of players is to capture the pieces of their opponent. At one time, the popularity of Rithmomachy even rivaled that of chess. After the 17th century, the game fell into obscurity until its rediscovery in the early 20th century.


During the Middle Ages, the Scandinavian board game Hnefatafl became popular throughout the Nordic countries, Ireland, and Great Britain. Similar to chess, the game involves two opposing sides: a white army and a black army. The white tries to defend its king while the black attempts to capture him.

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Photo Courtesy: [NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet/Wikimedia Commons]

Despite chess largely supplanting it in the 1100s, the indigenous Sámi people continued to play Hnefatafl until around the 1700s. Carl Linnaeus recorded the rules for the game in 1732, which were translated into English in 1811 and remain a reference for Hnefatafl players today.

Game Of The Goose

The oldest recorded mention of the Game of the Goose is in a book of sermons from 1480, with it becoming increasingly popular a century later. Players roll one or two dice to determine how many egg-shaped spaces they move across each turn.

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Photo Courtesy: [Chordboard/Wikimedia Commons]

The objective in the Game of the Goose is to reach the 63rd square before the other players and avoid various obstacles on the game board. In many ways, it served as a blueprint for similar board games.


Pachisi is a traditional board game from India, created by the 16th-century Mughal emperor Akbar, commonly known as Akbar the Great. The emperor, who also enjoyed other activities like art and music, devised the game to entertain himself.

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Photo Courtesy: [Micha L. Rieser/Wikimedia Commons]

Pachisi gets its name from a Hindu word which means 25, the highest number of spaces a player can move in a single turn. Outside of India, commercial versions of Pachisi like Parcheesi, Sorry, and Ludo are popular.


Though Janggi is commonly known as Korean chess, this strategy game more closely resembles Xiangqi. However, the river horizontally dividing the Xiangqi game board in the center is absent from the Janggi game board.

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Photo Courtesy: [Txopi/Wikimedia Commons]

While games of Janggi can be fast-paced, they are typically longer than chess, with professional games sometimes lasting for more than 150 moves. The game is played predominantly in South Korea, where the Korea Janggi Association was founded in 1956 to promote it.


First recorded in the 1600s, Sáhkku is a board game played by the Sámi, an indigenous people of northern Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Two players move their pieces across the game board while trying to eliminate their opponents.

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Photo Courtesy: [Mikkel Berg-Nordlie/Wikimedia Commons]

Sáhkku shares some similarities with Tâb, a board game popular in Muslim countries like Egypt and Iran. After the 1950s, Sáhkku declined among the Sámi but has experienced a resurgence in popularity since the 1970s.


Oware, also known as Awari, is a strategy board game played throughout West Africa and the Caribbean, where African slaves may have introduced it. Each player has six spaces, known as houses, each of which contains four seeds.

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Photo Courtesy: [Outlookxp/Wikimedia Commons]

The objective of the game is to capture more seeds than the other player. There are 48 seeds in total, meaning that only 25 are necessary to win. However, the even number makes it possible for a game to end in a draw.


Bagatelle is a French board game named after the Château de Bagatelle, where people first played it at a party for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1777. The objective is for players to maneuver their balls into holes surrounded by pegs.

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Photo Courtesy: [Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/Getty Images]

Similar games that subsequently developed from Bagatelle include pinball, pachinko, and bar billiards. The most extensive Bagatelle game board ever made, created in 2016, measures four feet by 16 feet.


Daldøs is a Scandinavian two-player board game whose history goes back to at least the 19th century. Only known from a handful of coastal locations in the southern part of the region, the game fell into disuse during the early 20th century.

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Photo Courtesy: [P. Michaelsen/Wikimedia Commons]

The manuscript pictured here dates to sometime between 1250 and 1300. It depicts a game that strongly resembles Daldøs, indicating that people in Scandinavia played the game for centuries before its decline.

The Mansion Of Happiness

First published in England around 1800, The Mansion of Happiness draws inspiration from Christian theology. The game board has a spiraling track with 66 spaces, each depicting a virtue or a vice.

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Photo Courtesy: [William and Stephen B Ives/Wikimedia Commons]

Players move forward by landing on virtues. Landing on vices forces them to move back. The ultimate objective is to reach The Mansion of Happiness at the end of the track. The game made its debut in the United States in 1843, becoming one of the earliest American board games.


Anthony Peacock invented Agon, the earliest known board game to use a hexagonal board, in 1842. The game involves two players, each of which has one queen and six guards. The objective is to be the first to move the queen to the central hexagon and surround her with all six guards.

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Photo Courtesy: [Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

If a player surrounds the central hexagon with their guards before maneuvering their queen there, neither player wins. Additionally, players cannot move their pieces in a straight line between or adjacent to two pieces of their opponent.

The Checkered Game Of Life

A lithographer named Milton Bradley released his first board game, The Checkered Game of Life, in 1860. Like The Mansion of Happiness, the game emphasized morals. It also rewarded players for attending college, getting married, obtaining wealth, and other life events.

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Photo Courtesy: [Shannernanner/Wikimedia Commons]

In just its first year, The Checkered Game of Life sold 45,000 copies, becoming the first popular parlor game in the United States. A modernized version, the Game of Life, debuted in 1960 and is one of Milton Bradley's best-known games, despite undergoing several revisions throughout the decades.


While Gomoku can be a paper-and-pencil game, it has traditionally been a board game. To win the game, a player must create an unbroken chain of five pieces, either diagonally, horizontally, or vertically, before their opponent.

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Photo Courtesy: [VCG/Visual China Group/Getty Images]

People have been playing Gomoku in Japan since the Meiji Restoration of the 1860s. Pictured here is a robot playing Gomoku at the China International Robot Show in Shanghai in 2018.


Reversi, a strategy board game played by two people, has existed since around 1883. Players take turns placing game pieces on an uncheckered board with their color facing up. The goal is for the player to have more disks displaying their color than that of their opponent.

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Photo Courtesy: [whity/Wikimedia Commons]

Othello, the modern version of Reversi, was patented by Japanese salesman Goro Hasegawa in 1971. Hasegawa claimed that Reversi is 5,000 years old, describing Othello as an improvement on the original.

Chinese Checkers

Despite the name by which this board game is best known, Chinese checkers do not originate from China or any country in Asia. Invented in Germany in the late 19th century, the game was initially called Sternhalma.

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Photo Courtesy: [Esteban Chiner/Wikimedia Commons]

Anywhere from two to six people can play Chinese checkers, in which players try to maneuver their pieces to the corner of the star opposite them. Whoever does so first wins first place, with the game continuing until all players have finished.


Carrom is a board game from India that became popular throughout the British Commonwealth in the early 1900s. Played throughout South Asia, where tournaments regularly occur at cafés and clubs, the game has different rules and standards depending on the area.

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Photo Courtesy: [Simionescu Victor/Wikimedia Commons]

The goal is to flick a Striker at other pieces called Coins, making them fall into any of the four pockets at the corners. Whoever knocks all of their Coins into the pockets first wins the game.

The Landlord's Game

Elizabeth Magie, a writer and game designer from Macomb, Illinois, patented The Landlord's Game in 1904. She had spent the previous two years developing the game and testing it in the small village of Arden, Delaware.

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Photo Courtesy: [Thomas Forsyth/Wikimedia Commons]

Magie's intent in creating The Landlord's Game was to demonstrate the consequences of land grabbing. The game sold well during its initial release and later inspired a similar board game, Monopoly. Magie also developed several other games, including Bargain Day and King's Men.


Unlike the majority of wooden board games, Pitchnut has never been mass-produced. As a result, all existing game boards are handmade. Furthermore, the game is in the public domain due to the absence of a patent.

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Photo Courtesy: [Arrowmoose/Wikimedia Commons]

Emerging from French-speaking areas of Canada, Pitchnut plays like a combination of Carrom and Crokinole. The mechanics resemble those of air hockey and pocket billiards, with the goal being for players to score 50 points before their opponent.


Chapayev is a board game that resembles a hybrid of checkers, carrom, and similar games. It emerged from the former USSR, involving two players who compete to move a row of checkers to the other side of the board.

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Photo Courtesy: [Arthoum/Wikimedia Commons]

To win Chapayev, a player must knock all of their opponent's checkers off the board. They accomplish this by flicking their checkers across the board, rather than moving them one space at a time like in checkers.


Though the exact origins of Crokinole remain uncertain, it may have come from Canada. It closely resembles games like Carrom and Pitchnut but also incorporates various elements of curling and shuffleboard.

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Photo Courtesy: [Alessio Sbarbaro/Wikimedia Commons]

Crokinole gets its name from the French word croquignole, a type of cookie in France and a pastry similar to a doughnut in French Canada. Since 1999, the World Crokinole Championship has taken place every year in Tavistock, Ontario.


Sorry draws inspiration from the Indian board game Pachisi. The goal is for players to move their pieces from the start point to home before anyone else. Additionally, there are areas called slides that help players move across the board faster.

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William Henry Story of Southend-on-Sea, England, invented Sorry in 1929. First sold by Waddingtons, a British manufacturer of board and card games, Sorry came to the United States in 1934, where it is now under the ownership of Hasbro.


Parker Brothers released Monopoly, one of the best-known board games of the 20th century, in 1935. Players take turns rolling dice to move around the board while purchasing, trading, and developing properties.

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Photo Courtesy: [Lynne Cameron - PA Images/PA Images/Getty Images]

Over the years, there have been many variations of Monopoly, with some based on movies and television shows. Among these are Star Wars Monopoly, Friends Monopoly, and The Lord of the Rings Monopoly.


Alfred Mosher Butts, an architect from New York, invented the crossword-style board game Scrabble in 1938. He produced several sets but was unsuccessful in attracting interest from large companies like Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley Company.

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Photo Courtesy: [SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images]

When Long Island-based manufacturer Selchow and Righter purchased Scrabble in 1952, the game finally took off. Four million sets of Scrabble sold in 1954, just two years after its acquisition by Selchow and Righter.


Jacques Johan Mogendorff, a Dutch game designer, invented Stratego. A company in the Netherlands registered the name as a trademark in 1942. The game gets its name from the word for an ancient Greek army leader.

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Photo Courtesy: [Barbara Alper/Archive Photos/Getty Images]

In Stratego, players usually try to find and capture the flag of their opponent. Alternatively, they may attempt to capture enough of their opponent's pieces to prevent them from making additional moves.

Candy Land

Released in 1949, Candy Land is far simpler than most board games, making it ideal for young children. There is no reading or strategy involved, and only minimal counting is necessary for playing the game.

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Photo Courtesy: [The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images]

Designed by Eleanor Abbott while she was recovering from polio, the first people to play Candy Land were children in the same hospital. Milton Bradley subsequently purchased the game, which became its best-selling title. Even today, approximately one million copies of Candy Land sell every year.


Another iconic board game that debuted in 1949 is Clue, known outside of North America as Cluedo. In this mystery game, players try to solve the murder of Mr. Boddy or Dr. Black in the UK edition.

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Photo Courtesy: [Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images News/Getty Images]

The tokens used to play Clue represent the victim's guests: Miss Scarlett, Mrs. White, Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, and Mr. Green. Players try to determine the killer, the murder weapon, and where the murder took place.


Conceived by Allan B. Calhamer in 1954 and released five years later, Diplomacy was the first commercially produced play-by-mail game. Additionally, it was the first board game to spawn fanzines, which up until then had exclusively been for fantasy, science fiction, and comics.

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Photo Courtesy: [Unconventional2/Wikimedia Commons]

The setting for Diplomacy is Europe in the years leading up to World War I. Each of the two to seven players controls the military of at least one primary European power. Over the years, the game has been a favorite of several notable historical figures, including John F. Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, and Walter Cronkite.


Albert Lamorisse, the screenwriter, producer, and director of award-winning French films, invented Risk in 1957. This board game achieved enormous popularity and later inspired similar ones like The Settlers of Catan and Axis & Allies.

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Photo Courtesy: [picture alliance/picture alliance/Getty Images]

The game board for Risk is a political map of the world, divided into 42 territories across six continents. Players try to capture areas of the map while creating and dissolving alliances with each other.

Mouse Trap

One of the earliest mass-produced three-dimensional board games, Mouse Trap, reached store shelves in 1963. At first, players work together to construct the trap. Then they take turns trying to trap each other's game pieces inside it.

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Photo Courtesy: [H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Archive Photos/Getty Images]

Marvin Glass and his company, Marvin Glass and Associates, created Mouse Trap, drawing inspiration from the work of cartoonist Rube Goldberg. They later developed two other games inspired by Goldberg's work, Crazy Clock and Fish Bait.


Battleship was initially a paper-and-pencil game, first released in the 1930s under various titles like Salvo and Wings. In 1967, Milton Bradley reintroduced Battleship as a board game that uses plastic pegs and ships.

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Photo Courtesy: [Leonard Adams/Wikimedia Commons]

Each player has a fleet of ships on their game board. Because the locations of the players' ships are not visible to each other, they take turns trying to guess where they are. The ultimate goal of Battleship is to determine the location of every ship in the opposite player's fleet.

Connect Four

Released by Milton Bradley in 1974, Connect Four is easily recognizable due to its vertical game board, which has a row of slots along the top. The game is also known by several other names, including Four in a Row and Drop Four.

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Photo Courtesy: [James Petts/Wikimedia Commons]

The goal of Connect Four is for a player to create a row of four checkers before their opponent does. Aside from the original game, variations include Giant Connect Four and two arcade video games produced by Bay Tek Games.


Paul Toyne and Canadian actress Laura M. Robinson invented the board game Balderdash in Toronto, Ontario, in 1984. After a player reads out a question, the other players write down false but realistic sounding answers. These answers, along with the real one, are read aloud, with the players trying to guess the correct answer.

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Photo Courtesy: [Bernard Weil/Toronto Star/Getty Images]

Pictured here are Toyne and Robinson playing Balderdash with several cast members of the Canadian television series Night Heat, in which Robinson played a recurring character. A game show based on the board game aired on Pax TV between 2004 and 2005.

The Settlers Of Catan

The original version of The Settlers of Catan, later known as just Catan, debuted in 1995. One of the first German-style board games to gain popularity outside Europe, it has received numerous awards and sold over 22 million copies in 30 languages.

INFORMATION VINE * The History of Board Games *. Db7a3577a840c07739872dd707ee6d4e
Photo Courtesy: [picture alliance/picture alliance/Getty Images]

Players attempt to create and develop settlements on the island of Catan, acquiring and trading resources along the way. Points are rewarded as these grow, with the first person to accumulate ten points winning the game.


Despite the plethora of board games, new ones have appeared in recent decades. Blokus, an abstract strategy game, made its debut in 2000. Created by Bernard Tavitian, a French mathematician, the goal is for players to score points by using their colored pieces to occupy most of the game board.

INFORMATION VINE * The History of Board Games *. F65afac02aa3aa3102df96ad9fdeffeb
Photo Courtesy: [Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images News/Getty Images]

Since its release, Blokus has received various accolades, including the Mensa Select in 2003 and the 2004 Teacher's Choice Award. There are several variations, including Blokus Trigon, which uses triangular pieces and a hexagonal board.

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