The ancient world's greatest board games

Ludus Latrunculorum. Senet. Chaturanga. And don't forget Hnefatafl. These were just some of the board games that ancient people were into thousands of years ago. Over at Smithsonian, Meilan Solly explains "The Best Board Games of the Ancient World." From the magazine:

The rules of Mehen remain unclear, as the game faded from popularity following the decline of Egypt’s Old Kingdom and is sparsely represented in the archaeological record.

Writing in 1990, Egyptologist Peter A. Piccione explained, “Based upon what we know of this game ... the feline game pieces moved in a spiral along the squares, apparently, from the tail on the outside to the head of the serpent at the center.” The spherical, marble-like tokens may have been similarly rolled through the “longer spiralling grooves.”

In Patolli, a gambling game invented by the early inhabitants of Mesoamerica, players raced to move pebbles from one end of a cross-shaped track to the other. Drilled beans used as dice dictated gameplay, but the exact rules of “entry and movement” remain unknown, as Parlett notes in the Oxford History of Board Games.

Among the Aztecs, Patolli held unusually high stakes, with participants wagering not just physical goods or currency, but their own lives. As Diego Durán, a Dominican friar who authored a 16th-century tome on Aztec history and culture, explained, “At this and other games the Indians not only would gamble themselves into slavery, but even came to be legally put to death as human sacrifices.”

Images from top down: "Senet from the Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund; "Mehen" by Anagoria (CC BY 3.0); "Patoli" from the Book of the Gods and Rites and the Ancient Calender by Friar Diego Durán (Public Domain)