Egyptian Board Games

There are 3 ancient Egyptian board games that have survived till now, and although their rules of play were not recorded they were deduced by the number of pieces, the dice and the shape of the board.

These games are Senet, Mehen, and Hounds and Jackals. Their names are what they were in ancient Egypt, so at least we know that for sure!

You can actually buy these board games and play them, they're quite fun. It's actually nice to know that although the ancient Egyptians worked hard and didn't live for as long as we did, they still did enjoy their leisure time with stories, sports and board games.


Egyptian Board Games - Senet

Senet is a two-player game of strategy, and its name translates to "game of passing". There are two types of pieces, each player takes one type. Cones and reels are usually used for this.

The board itself is a numbered grid of 30 squares arranged in 3 rows of 10. You can draw one yourself! The first row is squares from 1 to 10, the second is squares from 11 to 20, and the third row is squares from 21 to 30. See below.

For dice, the ancient Egyptians used 4 wooden sticks, each one with a painted side and a plain side. They would throw all 4 sticks and the combination of plain VS painted sides would determine how many moves they had. So it would go something like this:

  • 1 painted side = move forward 1 square
  • 2 painted sides = move forward 2 squares
  • 3 painted sides = move forward 3 squares
  • 4 painted sides = move forward 4 squares
  • All plain sides = move forward 5 squares

You use 3, 5 or 7 pieces each.

The object of the game is to be the first player to move all your pieces from square 1 to square 30. To do that you roll the "dice" (in this case you throw the sticks) to move the pieces. If you land on a square that has the other player's piece, you take their place and they move back to where your piece started from.

For example, if your piece was on square 3 and you got 2 painted sides on the sticks, you move your piece to square 5. If the other player had a piece on square 5, she has to move it back to square 3 where you started from.

The other rule is that all the pieces have to land on square 26 before moving off the board. I have no idea how they figured that out!

Hounds and Jackals

This is another two player Egyptian board game. The name comes from the shape of the pieces. So you either play with hound-headed pieces and the other player plays with jackal-headed pieces, or vice versa :-) Each player gets 5 pieces.

The board itself is usually made of wood, with 2 tracks of 30 holes each. You would also use the same sticks for dice like in Senet, with the same outcomes.

To win you have to get all 5 of your pieces to go around your track twice and all end up in hole number 30. There are 2 "special" holes though that have exceptions: if your piece lands in hole 6 it jumps automatically to hole 30, and if your piece lands on hole 15 or 25 you get to throw the dice sticks again.

These two Egyptian board games have similarities to backgammon and Snakes and Ladders respectively (at least from what I understand). I don't play any of these games myself but backgammon is very popular in coffee shops here till now.

Strange how leisure has changed so much and yet stayed the same in so many ways...

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