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 Read the rest

Sriracha, yowza, and sheeple among 300 new words in Scrabble dictionary

Four years since the last edition, Merriam-Webster's Official Scrabble Players Dictionary is on now shelves. From The Guardian:

Included in the new edition are some long-awaited two letter words, notably OK and ew.

“OK is something Scrabble players have been waiting for, for a long time,” said lexicographer Peter Sokolowski, editor at large at Merriam-Webster. “Basically two- and three-letter words are the lifeblood of the game.”

There’s more good news for Scrabble players with the addition of qapik, a unit of currency in Azerbaijan, adding to an arsenal of 20 playable words beginning with q that don’t need a u.

The Official SCRABBLE Players Dictionary, Sixth Edition (Amazon)

image: thebarrowboy CC BY 2.0 Read the rest

What's new in the world of tabletop gaming?

I've been getting a lot of review copies of games sent to me lately, so I thought, periodically, I'd share some of what looks interesting and fun to me with Boing Boing readers.

Stuffed Fables Plaid Hat Games, $60, 2-4 players, Ages 7+

Stuffed Fables, by Mice and Mystics designer, Jerry Hawthorne, is a cooperative story-telling miniatures game that literally takes place inside of an illustrated storybook. I love the backstory here. The game is played within ten adventures that take place in a little girl's bedroom (with each adventure triggered by a milestone event in her life, like moving into a big girl bed). As she sleeps at night, her nightmares come to life and crawl out from under her bed.To defend her from these boogeymen, her beloved stuffed animals ("stuffies") come to life and go to battle against these monsters from her nightmares. The little girl remains none-the-wiser about the epic battles that take place as she slumbers. While the game has a fairy-horror theme, and awesome miniatures to fit that theme, it's not very dark to play. It's rated 7+, and that probably holds true in practice, although the rules and game mechanics might prove a little too fussy for younger attention spans. The plastic miniatures (23 of them), the storybook/gameboards, and all of the rest of the components are gorgeous and very much fit the dreamy/fairy-horror theme. I'm planning on doing a Stuffed Fables game night at my house soon and requiring players to come in PJs and bring their own stuffies. Read the rest

Monopoly: Cheaters Edition is indicative of our times

"A recent study conducted by Hasbro revealed that nearly half of game players attempt to cheat during Monopoly games, so in 2018, we decided it was time to give fans what they've been craving all along - a Monopoly game that actually encourages cheating," Jonathan Berkowitz, senior vice president of Hasbro gaming told Insider.

The object of the game is still to be the player with the most money at the game's end, but it may be a little tougher to accomplish. The Cheater's Edition will ask players to get away with cheating as many times as they can during game play. That means players can skip spaces, try to avoid paying rent, and slip a few extra bills from the bank when no one's looking.

Yes, it comes with handcuffs too. Read the rest

How do you play this boardgame from 375 C.E.

This board game was found in Poprad, Slovakia inside a German prince's tomb that dates to 375 C.E. Now, researchers at Switzerland's Museum of Games are trying to figure out how to play it. From Smithsonian:

It’s likely the board is designed to play Latrunculi or Ludus latrunculorum, which translates as “Mercenaries” or the “Game of Brigands” or some variant. That game was originally derived from an ancient Greek game called petteia which is referenced in the works of Homer. There are a handful of vague descriptions of how the game was played in ancient sources, but researchers have not successfully figured out the complete set of rules so far, though many gamers have come up with their own guesses.

“There were plenty of board games in ancient times with many variants, but reconstructing the playing technique is a very complicated process that only top experts can solve,” Karol Pieta, the archaeologist in charge of the dig, tells the Spectator.

"Researchers Are Trying to Figure Out How to Play This Ancient Roman Board Game" (Smithsonian) Read the rest

Gift Guide for Tabletop Gamers 2017

It was another exciting year for tabletop games and the nerds who love them. This was a year (plus) for re-releases of classic titles (Necromunda, Blood Bowl, Escape from Colditz, Axis & Allies) and one that saw a growing trend in pirate, tropical, jungle games and settings. Crowdfunding, 3D printing, and CNC small-scale manufacturing all continued to have a significant and growing impact on the gaming industry, as did the expanding number of YouTube game- and dungeon crafting-related shows. Game component and miniature quality continued to rise and astound, and game design and play mechanics seem slicker and better than ever.

With all of that in mind, here is my 2017 guide to tabletop wargames, RPGs, card games, board games, and more. This is not necessarily a tops list or an exhaustive one. These are mainly games that I played or acquired this year and that I personally recommend. If you have others, add them in Comments. (Where available, Amazon Affiliate links are used to help support Boing Boing.)

Board Games

Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate

D&D's Forgotten Realms setting, Baldur's Gate (immortalized in the late 90s video game of the same name), gets a chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter mash-up with the hugely successful horror game, Betrayal at House on the Hill, in Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate. In this cooperative tile-building game, you and your party try to remain alive while making your way through the dark passageways of this iconic D&D city. Collect too many bad Omens along the way and a Haunt happens, turning one party member against the others. Read the rest

Gamers petition IKEA to produce an affordable gaming table

A petition has been posted on Change.org by a Maryland gamer, Brad Smoley, to try and convince Scandinavian stick furniture powerhouse IKEA that there's a significant-enough market for a dining room table that converts into a gaming table. Read the rest

Video: violent family games of yore

In this episode of "They Actually Made That!?," our pal Attaboy demonstrates several strange and "violent" vintage family games. Read the rest