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Evolution of Board Games

For a while, our beloved board games have been experiencing massive growth. In fact, “The Guardian” called the modern world “A Golden Age for Board Games”, pointing how board games are growing at an exceptional rate of almost 40% every year.

The humble and archaic board games are now the faces of popular culture. Hence, it is imperative to decode the history and evolution behind all of it.

Ancient board games can be broadly classified into four different segments of the game:

  • Race games like Pachisi
  • Astronomical games like Noughts and Crosses
  • Chaser games like Hnefatafl
  • Displacement games like chess

The Beginning

Board games come under the category of pre-historic evidence. This implies that human beings invented board games even before creating a written language. The Dice is the very first instance of a board game, and forms the backbone of the most modern games.

A set of stones with carvings and paintings were unearthed at a burial mound called Başur Höyük in Turkey. Dating back almost 5000 years, these first gaming pieces were made by humankind. Some pieces of likeness found across Syria and Iraq suggest that board games were born in regions surrounding the rivers Euphrates, Tigris, and Nile.

As the board games grew in popularity among royals, the working class also joined the bandwagon soon. Within some time, board games became a part of religious traditions such as Mehen.

European Traditions

The earliest records including board games in Europe can be traced to Iliad by Homer, mentioning an antique Greek game called Petteia. Petteia later evolved into Ludus Latrunculorum of Rome. Similarly, the Hnefatafl of Norse origin came around 400AD. The Irish played a game called Fidchell or Ficheall.

As dice and cards began to be associated with gambling, every dice game other than backgammon was seen as a lottery as per the Acts dated 1710 and 1845. Original board game makers during the latter half of the 1700s century were actually map-makers. The global popularity of Board Games, plus their unique themes as well as branding, synchronized with the British Colonial Empire. English board game maker, John Wallis, alongside his two sons was noted among the best board game publishers in contemporary society. Similarly, games by John Betts and William Spooner grew to be immensely popular all over Great Britain.

American Influence

Although the 17th and 18th century agro-centric life in America allowed no time for relaxation, draughts, bowling, as well as card games were popular. With the U.S. shifting from rural to urban lifestyle by the 1800s, increased leisure time along with improved income was accessible to the newly formed middle class. Hence, the American family that was once the epicentre of economic activities now turned into the cradle of education with entertainment. Under the watch of mothers, children were now pushed into playing board games which had educational value as well as moral teachings. In the late 19th century, the Game of the District Messenger Boy was marketed among the pioneers of creating games on capitalism in America. Such capitalistic games reached their climax with Monopoly of 1935 which continues to be the most successful board game in the States.

Indian Connection

It is speculated that the Germanic Tafl is the ancestor of Chaturanga, an ancient Indian game of strategy created during the Gupta Empire somewhere in the 6th century. By the next century, it was popularised as the Shatranj in Persia, which led to the formation of chess in Europe.

Within the Fatehpur Sikri built in the 1500s by Akbar lies the Pachisi Courtyard. Abu’l Fazl, a historian in Akbar’s court, describes how this area was used as a life-size Pachisi board. The Pachisi, also referred to as Chaupar held a significant place in the royal court.

Such board games including Pachisi, Backgammon, Chaturanga, and Gyan Chaupar were crucial parts of Indian culture. These games were also in demand among other cultures. The episode of ambassadors from India offering Chaturanga to the King of Persia, Khusrow I, has been recorded in several Persian documents.

Several forms of Chaupar continue to flourish in India, with the most recent version being Ludo, which was reintroduced during the British Raj around 1950.

Chaturanga was first mentioned in the great Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata and became one of the most popular games for ancient Indian aristocrats. Created in the 6th century, it began as an educational game for teaching young royals the concept of four “Angas” or parts of the army, namely, the infantry, the cavalry, the chariots and the elephants.

This game was developed in India and was later introduced to the West Asians, and eventually to Europeans leading to the birth of modern chess.

Modern Board Games

By the late 1990s, we have witnessed magnanimous growth in the demand for board games. Several factors have played their part in this phenomenon, including the Internet, that made it simple enough for common people to learn about games while playing against opponents online.

General growth in relaxation time along with growing purchasing power for entertainment also impacted the trend. At the turn of the millennium, this industry saw amazing growth due to companies that produced an increasing number of innovative games to sell to their growing global audience.

Many venues offering board games are also gaining popularity. As many as 5,000 cafes offering board games were inaugurated in America in 2016.

In India, today a large number of people still enjoy board games, like Snakes&Ladders, Chess, Monopoly, etc. However, everyone seeks innovations and appeal in these games, be that in terms of gameplay, rules, or entire concept. This is where a recently launched game Shastranga dives into having the potential to revolutionize the world of board games. Being developed with an entirely new idea, it encompasses astrology and astronomy concepts with 7500 years old celestial sky map. The game Shastranga is going to be the largest board game in India and will indulge the players in its exciting, competitive, and knowledgeable gameplay. It is best for both Kids and adults to create lasting memories.

Final Thoughts

Through the multiple movements throughout history, board games began portraying an ancient narrative while also entertaining us. Board games play a significant role in explaining religion, philosophy, and everything in between, such as changing of powers all over the world. Such factors demand a project that can successfully create a history of board gaming culture. Undoubtedly, board games have changed in leaps and bounds over the course of history and its evolution is a subject of great interest.



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