Board game

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The American board game Monopoly is licensed in 103 countries and printed in 37 languages. US Navy 110713-N-NT881-124 Personnel Specialist 2nd Class James Vail, left, and Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Nathaniel Eaton play board games with ch.jpg
The American board game Monopoly is licensed in 103 countries and printed in 37 languages.

Board games are traditionally a subset of tabletop games that involve counters or pieces moved or placed on a pre-marked surface or "board", according to a set of rules. In common parlance, however, a board game need not necessarily contain a physical board. Some games are based on pure strategy, but many contain an element of chance; and some are purely chance, with no element of skill.


Games usually have a goal that a player aims to achieve. Early board games represented a battle between two armies, and most modern board games are still based on defeating opponents in terms of counters, winning position, or accrual of points.

There are many varieties of board games. Their representation of real-life situations can range from having no inherent theme, such as checkers, to having a specific theme and narrative, such as Cluedo . Rules can range from the very simple, such as in Snakes and Ladders; to deeply complex, as in Advanced Squad Leader.

The time required to learn to play or master a game varies greatly from game to game, but is not necessarily correlated with the number or complexity of rules; games like chess or Go possess relatively simple rulesets , but have great strategic depth. [1]


Men Playing Board Games, from The Sougandhika Parinaya Manuscript (1821) Men Playing Board Games.jpg
Men Playing Board Games, from The Sougandhika Parinaya Manuscript (1821)

Ancient board games

Classical board games are divided into four categories of game: race games (such as Pachisi), space games (such as Noughts and Crosses), chase games (such as Hnefatafl), and games of displacement (such as chess). [2]

Board games have been played, travelled and evolved [3] in most cultures and societies throughout history. A number of important historical sites, artifacts and documents shed light on early board games such as Jiroft civilization gameboards [4] in Iran. Senet, found in Predynastic and First Dynasty burials of Egypt, c. 3500 BC and 3100 BC respectively, [5] is the oldest board game known to have existed. Senet was pictured in a fresco found in Merknera's tomb (3300–2700 BC). [6] [7] Also from predynastic Egypt is Mehen. [8]

Hounds and Jackals, another ancient Egyptian board game, appeared around 2000 BC. [9] [10] The first complete set of this game was discovered from a Theban tomb that dates to the 13th Dynasty. [11] This game was also popular in Mesopotamia and the Caucasus. [12]

Backgammon originated in ancient Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago.[ citation needed ] Chess, Pachisi and Chaupar originated in India. Go and Liubo originated in China. Patolli originated in Mesoamerica played by the ancient Aztec and The Royal Game of Ur was found in the Royal Tombs of Ur, dating to Mesopotamia 4,600 years ago. [13] The earliest known games list is the Buddha games list.[ citation needed ]

Senet, one of the oldest known board games Maler der Grabkammer der Nefertari 003.jpg
Senet, one of the oldest known board games
Hounds and Jackals (Egypt, 13th Dynasty) Game of Hounds and Jackals MET DP264105.jpg
Hounds and Jackals (Egypt, 13th Dynasty)


Board games have a long tradition in Europe. The oldest records of board gaming in Europe date back to Homer's Iliad (written in the 8th century BC), in which he mentions the Ancient Greek game of Petteia. [14] This game of petteia would later evolve into the Roman Ludus Latrunculorum. [14] Board gaming in the ancient Europe was not unique to the Greco-Roman world, with records estimating that the ancient Norse game of Hnefatafl was developed sometime before 400AD. [15] In ancient Ireland, the game of Fidchell or Ficheall, is said to date back to at least 144 AD, [16] though this is likely an anachronism. A fidchell board dating from the 10th century has been uncovered in Co. Westmeath, Ireland. [17]

Kriegsspiel is a genre of wargaming developed in 19th century Prussia to teach battle tactics to officers. [18]

Box for Board Games, c. 15th century, Walters Art Museum German - Box for Board Games - Walters 7193 - Bottom.jpg
Box for Board Games, c. 15th century, Walters Art Museum
An early gaming table (Germany, 1735) featuring chess/draughts (left) and nine men's morris (right), Cleveland Museum of Art Gaming table with chessboard.jpg
An early gaming table (Germany, 1735) featuring chess/draughts (left) and nine men's morris (right), Cleveland Museum of Art

United States

In 17th and 18th century colonial America, the agrarian life of the country left little time for game playing, although draughts (checkers), bowling, and card games were not unknown. The Pilgrims and Puritans of New England frowned on game playing and viewed dice as instruments of the devil. When Governor William Bradford discovered a group of non-Puritans playing stool-ball, pitching the bar, and pursuing other sports in the streets on Christmas Day, 1622, he confiscated their implements, reprimanded them, and told them their devotion for the day should be confined to their homes.

In Thoughts on Lotteries (1826) Thomas Jefferson wrote:

Almost all these pursuits of chance [i.e., of human industry] produce something useful to society. But there are some which produce nothing, and endanger the well-being of the individuals engaged in them or of others depending on them. Such are games with cards, dice, billiards, etc. And although the pursuit of them is a matter of natural right, yet society, perceiving the irresistible bent of some of its members to pursue them, and the ruin produced by them to the families depending on these individuals, consider it as a case of insanity, quoad hoc, step in to protect the family and the party himself, as in other cases of insanity, infancy, imbecility, etc., and suppress the pursuit altogether, and the natural right of following it. There are some other games of chance, useful on certain occasions, and injurious only when carried beyond their useful bounds. Such are insurances, lotteries, raffles, etc. These they do not suppress, but take their regulation under their own discretion.

The board game Traveller's Tour Through the United States and its sister game Traveller's Tour Through Europe were published by New York City bookseller F. & R. Lockwood in 1822 and today claims the distinction of being the first board game published in the United States. [13]

As the U.S. shifted from agrarian to urban living in the 19th century, greater leisure time and a rise in income became available to the middle class. The American home, once the center of economic production, became the locus of entertainment, enlightenment, and education under the supervision of mothers. Children were encouraged to play board games that developed literacy skills and provided moral instruction. [19]

The Mansion of Happiness (1843) FirstAmericanPrintrunOfThe MansionOfHappiness.jpg
The Mansion of Happiness (1843)

The earliest board games published in the United States were based upon Christian morality. The Mansion of Happiness (1843), for example, sent players along a path of virtues and vices that led to the Mansion of Happiness (Heaven). [19] The Game of Pope and Pagan, or The Siege of the Stronghold of Satan by the Christian Army (1844) pitted an image on its board of a Hindu woman committing suttee against missionaries landing on a foreign shore. The missionaries are cast in white as "the symbol of innocence, temperance, and hope" while the pope and pagan are cast in black, the color of "gloom of error, and ... grief at the daily loss of empire". [20]

Commercially produced board games in the mid-19th century were monochrome prints laboriously hand-colored by teams of low-paid young factory women. Advances in papermaking and printmaking during the period enabled the commercial production of relatively inexpensive board games. The most significant advance was the development of chromolithography, a technological achievement that made bold, richly colored images available at affordable prices. Games cost as little as US$.25 for a small boxed card game to $3.00 for more elaborate games.

American Protestants believed a virtuous life led to success, but the belief was challenged mid-century when the country embraced materialism and capitalism. In 1860, The Checkered Game of Life rewarded players for mundane activities such as attending college, marrying, and getting rich. Daily life rather than eternal life became the focus of board games. The game was the first to focus on secular virtues rather than religious virtues, [19] and sold 40,000 copies its first year. [21]

Game of the District Messenger Boy (1886) District Messenger Boy Box Cover 1886.jpg
Game of the District Messenger Boy (1886)

Game of the District Messenger Boy, or Merit Rewarded, published in 1886 by the New York City firm of McLoughlin Brothers, was one of the first board games based on materialism and capitalism published in the United States. The game is a typical roll-and-move track board game. Players move their tokens along the track at the spin of the arrow toward the goal at the track's end. Some spaces on the track will advance the player while others will send him back.

In the affluent 1880s, Americans witnessed the publication of Algeresque rags to riches games that permitted players to emulate the capitalist heroes of the age. One of the first such games, The Game of the District Messenger Boy, encouraged the idea that the lowliest messenger boy could ascend the corporate ladder to its topmost rung. Such games insinuated that the accumulation of wealth brought increased social status. [19] Competitive capitalistic games culminated in 1935 with Monopoly , the most commercially successful board game in U.S. history. [22]

McLoughlin Brothers published similar games based on the telegraph boy theme including Game of the Telegraph Boy, or Merit Rewarded (1888). Greg Downey notes in his essay, "Information Networks and Urban Spaces: The Case of the Telegraph Messenger Boy", that families who could afford the deluxe version of the game in its chromolithographed, wood-sided box would not "have sent their sons out for such a rough apprenticeship in the working world." [23]

Margaret Hofer described the period of the 1880s–1920s as "The Golden Age" of board gaming in America. [13] Board game popularity was boosted, like that of many items, through mass production, which made them cheaper and more easily available. [24] [ self-published source? ] Although there are no detailed statistics, some scholars suggest that the 20th century saw a decline in the popularity of the hobby. [24]

Other parts of the world

Outside of Europe and the U.S., many traditional board games are popular. In China, Go and many variations of Chess are popular. In Africa and the Middle East, Mancala is a popular board game archetype with a lot of regional variations. In India, a community game called Carrom is popular. [25]

21st century

The number of board games published by year (1944-2017), as listed on BoardGameGeek. Expansion sets for existing games are marked in orange. Board games with expansions 1944-2017.svg
The number of board games published by year (1944–2017), as listed on BoardGameGeek. Expansion sets for existing games are marked in orange.

The late 1990s onwards have seen substantial growth in the reach and market of board games. This has been attributed to, among other factors, the Internet, which has made it easier for people to find out about games and to find opponents to play against, [24] as well as with a general increase in leisure time and consumer spending on entertainment. [26] Around the year 2000 the board gaming industry began significant growth with companies producing a rising number of new games to be sold to a growing worldwide audience. [27] [28] In the 2010s, a number of publications referred to board games as having a new Golden Age, though some board-gamers prefer to call it a 'renaissance', as The Golden Age is both predefined and a common term. [27] [29] [30] Board game venues are also growing in popularity; in 2016, over 5,000 board game cafes opened in the U.S. alone. [31] Board game cafes are also reported to be very popular in China. [32]

Luck, strategy, and diplomacy

Some games, such as chess, depend completely on player skill, while many children's games such as Candy Land and Snakes and Ladders require no decisions by the players and are decided purely by luck. [33]

Two Qataris playing the traditional board game of damah. Board game damah at Souq Waqif.jpg
Two Qataris playing the traditional board game of damah.

Many games require some level of both skill and luck. A player may be hampered by bad luck in backgammon, Monopoly, or Risk ; but over many games a skilled player will win more often. [34] The elements of luck can also make for more excitement at times, and allow for more diverse and multifaceted strategies, as concepts such as expected value and risk management must be considered.

Luck may be introduced into a game by a number of methods. The use of dice of various sorts goes back to the earliest board games. These can decide everything from how many steps a player moves their token, as in Monopoly, to how their forces fare in battle, as in Risk, or which resources a player gains, as in Catan . Other games such as Sorry! use a deck of special cards that, when shuffled, create randomness. Scrabble does something similar with randomly picked letters. Other games use spinners, timers of random length, or other sources of randomness. German-style board games are notable for often having less luck element than many North American board games.

Another important aspect of some games is diplomacy, that is, players making deals with one another. Negotiation generally features only in games with three or more players, cooperative games being the exception. An important facet of Catan, for example, is convincing players to trade with you rather than with opponents. In Risk, two or more players may team up against others. Easy diplomacy involves convincing other players that someone else is winning and should therefore be teamed up against. Advanced diplomacy (e.g., in the aptly named game Diplomacy ) consists of making elaborate plans together, with the possibility of betrayal. [35]

In perfect information games, such as chess, each player has complete information on the state of the game, but in other games, such as Tigris and Euphrates or Stratego , some information is hidden from players. This makes finding the best move more difficult, and may involve estimating probabilities by the opponents.

Other media

Many board games are now available as video games, which can include the computer playing as one or more opponents. Many board games can now be played online against a computer and/or other players. Some websites allow play in real time and immediately show the opponents' moves, while others use email to notify the players after each move. [36] The Internet and cheaper home printing has also influenced board games via print-and-play games that may be purchased and printed. [37] Some games use external media such as audio cassettes or DVDs in accompaniment to the game. [38] [39]

There are also virtual tabletop programs that allow online players to play a variety of existing and new board games through tools needed to manipulate the game board, but do not necessarily enforce the game's rules, leaving this up to the players. There are generalized programs such as Vassal , Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia that can be used to play any board or card game, while programs like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds that are more specialized for role-playing games. [40] [41] Some of these virtual tabletops have worked with the license holders to allow for use of their game's assets within the program; for example, Fantasy Grounds has licenses for both Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder materials, while Tabletop Simulator allows game publishers to provide paid downloadable content for their games. [42] [43] However, as these games offer the ability to add in content through user modifications, there are also unlicensed uses of board game assets available through these programs. [44]


The modern German board game The Settlers of Catan is printed in 30 languages and sold 15 million by 2009. Nepomuk 280 - Osadnici z Katanu.jpg
The modern German board game The Settlers of Catan is printed in 30 languages and sold 15 million by 2009.

While the board gaming market is estimated to be smaller than that for video games, it has also experienced significant growth from the late 1990s. [29] A 2012 article in The Guardian described board games as "making a comeback". [45] Another from 2014 gave an estimate that put the growth of the board game market at "between 25% and 40% annually" since 2010, and described the current time as the "golden era for board games". [29] The rise in board game popularity has been attributed to quality improvement (more elegant mechanics, components , artwork, and graphics) as well as increased availability thanks to sales through the Internet. [29] Crowd-sourcing for board games is a large facet of the market, with $176 million raised on Kickstarter in 2019 alone. [46]

A 1991 estimate for the global board game market was over $1.2 billion. [47] A 2001 estimate for the United States "board games and puzzle" market gave a value of under $400 million, and for United Kingdom, of about £50 million. [48] A 2009 estimate for the Korean market was put at 800 million won, [49] and another estimate for the American board game market for the same year was at about $800 million. [50] A 2011 estimate for the Chinese board game market was at over 10 billion yuan. [51] (Some estimates may split board games from collectible card, miniature and role-playing games; for example another 2014 estimate distinguishing board games from other types of hobby games gave the estimate for the U.S. and Canada market at only $75 million, with the total size of what it defined as the hobby game market at over $700 million, [52] with a 2015 estimate suggesting a value of almost $900 million [53] ) A 2013 estimate put the size of the German toy market at 2.7 billion euros (out of which, the board games and puzzle market is worth about 375 million euros), and Polish markets, at 2 billion and 280 million złoties, respectively. [54] Per capita, in 2009 Germany was considered to be the best market, with the highest number of games sold per individual. [55]

Research into gaming

Mathematicians playing Konane.jpg
Board games serve diverse interests. Left: Konane for studious competition. Right: Konane for lighthearted fun.

A dedicated field of research into gaming exists, known as game studies or ludology.

While there has been a fair amount of scientific research on the psychology of older board games (e.g., chess, Go, mancala), less has been done on contemporary board games such as Monopoly , Scrabble , and Risk . [56] Much research has been carried out on chess, in part because many tournament players are publicly ranked in national and international lists, which makes it possible to compare their levels of expertise. The works of Adriaan de Groot, William Chase, Herbert A. Simon, and Fernand Gobet have established that knowledge, more than the ability to anticipate moves, plays an essential role in chess-playing. [57]

Linearly arranged board games have been shown to improve children's spatial numerical understanding. This is because the game is similar to a number line in that they promote a linear understanding of numbers rather than the innate logarithmic one. [58]

Research studies show that board games such as Snakes and Ladders result in children showing significant improvements in aspects of basic number skills such as counting, recognizing numbers, numerical estimation and number comprehension. They also practice fine motor skills each time they grasp a game piece. [59] Playing board games has also been tied to improving children's executive functions [60] and help reducing risks of dementia for the elderly. [61] [62] Related to this is a growing academic interest in the topic of game accessibility, culminating in the development of guidelines for assessing the accessibility of modern tabletop games [63] and the extent to which they are playable for people with disabilities. [64]

Additionally, board games can be therapeutic. Bruce Halpenny, a games inventor said when interviewed about his game, The Great Train Robbery:

With crime you deal with every basic human emotion and also have enough elements to combine action with melodrama. The player's imagination is fired as they plan to rob the train. Because of the gamble they take in the early stage of the game there is a build-up of tension, which is immediately released once the train is robbed. Release of tension is therapeutic and useful in our society, because most jobs are boring and repetitive. [65]

Playing games has been suggested as a viable addition to traditional educational curriculum if the content is appropriate and the gameplay informs students on the curriculum content. [66]


There are a number of ways in which board games can be classified, and considerable overlap may exist, so that a game belong in several categories. [13] The following is a list of some of the most common:


Although many board games have a jargon all their own, there is a generalized terminology to describe concepts applicable to basic game mechanics and attributes common to nearly all board games.

See also

Related Research Articles

Backgammon One of the oldest board games for two players

Backgammon is one of the oldest known board games. Its history can be traced back nearly 5,000 years to archaeological discoveries in Mesopotamia. It is a two-player game where each player has fifteen pieces that move between twenty-four triangles (points) according to the roll of two dice. The objective of the game is to be first to bear off, i.e. move all fifteen checkers off the board. Backgammon is a member of the tables family, one of the oldest classes of board games.

Dice Throwable objects with marked sides, used for generating random numbers

Dice are small, throwable objects with marked sides that can rest in multiple positions. They are used for generating random numbers, commonly as part of tabletop games, including dice games, board games, role-playing games, and games of chance.

Eurogame Type of board game

A Eurogame, also called a German-style board game, German game, or Euro-style game, is a class of tabletop games that generally has indirect player interaction and abstract physical components. Eurogames are sometimes contrasted with American-style board games, which generally involve more luck, conflict, and drama. They are usually less abstract than chess or Go, but more abstract than wargames. Likewise, they generally require more thought and planning than party games such as Pictionary or Trivial Pursuit.

Mancala Type of count-and-capture game

Mancala is a generic name for a family of two-player turn-based strategy board games played with small stones, beans, or seeds and rows of holes or pits in the earth, a board or other playing surface. The objective is usually to capture all or some set of the opponent's pieces.

Strategy game type of game in which the players decision-making skills have high significance in the outcome

A strategy game or strategic game is a game in which the players' uncoerced, and often autonomous, decision-making skills have a high significance in determining the outcome. Almost all strategy games require internal decision tree-style thinking, and typically very high situational awareness.

Tables (board game) class of board games

Tables is a general name given to a class of board games similar to backgammon, played on a board with two rows of 12 vertical markings called "points". Players roll dice to determine the movement of pieces. Tables games are among the oldest known board games, and many variants are played throughout the world.

Abstract strategy game strategy game that minimizes luck and does not rely on a theme

An abstract strategy game is a strategy game in which the theme is not important to the experience of playing. Many of the world's classic board games, including chess, Go, checkers and draughts, xiangqi, shogi, Reversi, nine men's morris, and most mancala variants, fit into this category, as do more modern iterations such as Abalone, Dameo, and Hive. As J. Mark Thompson wrote in his article "Defining the Abstract", play is sometimes said to resemble a series of puzzles the players pose to each other:

There is an intimate relationship between such games and puzzles: every board position presents the player with the puzzle, What is the best move?, which in theory could be solved by logic alone. A good abstract game can therefore be thought of as a "family" of potentially interesting logic puzzles, and the play consists of each player posing such a puzzle to the other. Good players are the ones who find the most difficult puzzles to present to their opponents.

Tabletop game game played on a flat surface

Tabletop games are games that are normally played on a table or other flat surface, such as board games, card games, dice games, miniature wargames, or tile-based games.

From the standpoint of a game system, game mechanics are "mainly used to describe how players interact with game rules and other formal properties such as goals, player actions and strategies and game states."

Chaturaji is a four-player chess-like game. It was first described in detail c. 1030 by Al-Biruni in his book India. Originally, this was a game of chance: the pieces to be moved were decided by rolling two dice. A diceless variant of the game was still played in India at the close of the 19th century.

Race game is a large category of board games, in which the object is to be the first to move all one's pieces to the end of a track. This is both the earliest type of board game known, with implements and representations dating back to at least the 3rd millennium BC in Egypt, Iraq, and Iran; and also the most widely dispersed: "all cultures that have games at all have race games". Race games often use dice to decide game options and how far to move pieces.

Game Structured form of play, for entertainment

A game is a structured form of play, usually undertaken for entertainment or fun, and sometimes used as an educational tool. Games are distinct from work, which is usually carried out for remuneration, and from art, which is more often an expression of aesthetic or ideological elements. However, the distinction is not clear-cut, and many games are also considered to be work or art.

Zillions of Games commercial general game playing system

Zillions of Games is a commercial general game playing system developed by Jeff Mallett and Mark Lefler in 1998. The game rules are specified with S-expressions, Zillions rule language. It was designed to handle mostly abstract strategy board games or puzzles. After parsing the rules of the game, the system's artificial intelligence can automatically play one or more players. It treats puzzles as solitaire games and its AI can be used to solve them.

Robert Charles Bell (1917–2002) was the author of several books on board games, most importantly Board and Table Games 1 & 2. This work won the Premier Award of the Doctors' Hobbies Exhibition, London. He was instrumental in popularizing traditional games, and is acknowledged as one of 11 "principal sources" in David Parlett's The Oxford History of Board Games.

History of games Aspect of history

The history of games dates to the ancient human past. Games are an integral part of all cultures and are one of the oldest forms of human social interaction. Games are formalized expressions of play which allow people to go beyond immediate imagination and direct physical activity. Common features of games include uncertainty of outcome, agreed upon rules, competition, separate place and time, elements of fiction, elements of chance, prescribed goals and personal enjoyment.

Tabletop role-playing game Form of role-playing game for leisure

A tabletop role-playing game, also known as a pen-and-paper role-playing game, is a form of role-playing game (RPG) in which the participants describe their characters' actions through speech. Participants determine the actions of their characters based on their characterization, and the actions succeed or fail according to a set formal system of rules and guidelines. Within the rules, players have the freedom to improvise; their choices shape the direction and outcome of the game.

Game design Game development process of designing the content and rules of a game

Game design is the art of applying design and aesthetics to create a game for entertainment or for educational, exercise, or experimental purposes. Increasingly, elements and principles of game design are also applied to other interactions, in the form of gamification.

This page explains commonly used terms in board games in alphabetical order. For a list of board games, see List of board games. For terms specific to chess, see Glossary of chess. For terms related to chess problems, see Glossary of chess problems.

Amerigame Type of board game

An Amerigame, short for American-style board game, is a loose category of tabletop game that generally features a prominent theme, encourages direct conflict between players, and has a significant degree of luck. It is distinguished from a Eurogame, or German-style board game, in that American-style games often have longer playtimes and mechanics designed to suit the theme. Not all games from the United States fall under this category. Many of the famous games were invented outside USA. Party games like Codenames, Cooperative board games like Pandemic and Family-friendly board games with simpler or abstract rules like Scrabble and Chess are usually excluded.

The tabletop game industry is the economic sector involved in the development, marketing, and monetization of games that fall within the scope of tabletop games, which includes dice and card games. According to Statista, the tabletop game industry had an estimated market of approximately 7.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2017 and is expected to increase by 4.8 billion U.S. dollars within the next 6 years.


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Further reading