Ancient Egyptian Board Games and How to Play Them

Updated February 10, 2022
Senet and dices board games

The ancient world is filled with a seemingly endless list of wonders, from striking architectural achievements to entertaining ways to enjoy recreation. In fact, Ancient Egyptian board games are not only mysterious and creative, but intrigue even the most advanced board gamers. Before you wipe the dust off of your childhood board game closet and take down that battered Monopoly box, see if any of these Ancient Egyptian board games might liven up your game night.

Senet

Senet, an ancient Egyptian board game for two players, is played on a 30 square board with three rows of 10 squares each. At the beginning of the game, alternating colored markers are placed on the squares in the first row.

Senet gaming board

The Objective

The objective of Senet is to move your pieces off of the board by moving them in a zigzag pattern to the 30th square. Egyptians used four flat sticks, often made out of reeds, that were dark on one side and light on the other. Depending on the way in which these sticks landed, you could "roll" a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 6. If you rolled a 1, 4, or 6, you'd get another turn. The ultimate goal, of course, is to move all of your pieces off of the board.

How to Play

Some of the guiding rules of the game include:

  • You can't land on your own pieces.
  • You can land on an opponent's piece and switch it with your previous position if they aren't on a safe square, don't have more than 2 pieces in the same row, or is they're next to each other.
  • Aside from the multiple blank squares, there're unsafe squares in which you can't swap out pieces, and there're danger squares which place you back on a previous row.

Senet Today

Thanks to its simple construction and rule book, you can easily play Senet today. In fact, there're multiple different online programs where you can play Senet against a CPU or other players from around the world.

Mehen, or Snake

Mehen was a popular game for the lower classes because the game's board wasn't crafted out of a pre-made material and could be drawn or carved into any surface, including a dirt floor. Granted, wealthier Egyptians exhibited their social status by owning game tables made onto pedestals for them and their peers to play games like Mehen, but the game itself wasn't barred by social stratas.

How to Play

A snake is coiled around the board and players start at the tail. The body of the snake is split into squares; a typical snake had about 60 squares to push through. The object is to be the first to move your piece from the tail to the snake's head. Up to six players could use lions, lionesses, and ball pieces to maneuver around the board.

Seega

Seega is an ancient Egyptian board game similar to strategy board games like Go where you attempt to capture your opponent's pieces.

How to Get Started

Gameplay occurs on a 5 x 5 checkered board, with two Os and two Xs placed along the central squares of each of the board's edges. To start, players place two pieces on the board, one player on the X's and other on the O's (as pictured). Then, each player alternatively places the rest of their 10 pieces on the board while leaving the center square empty.

Seega board game

How to Play

To capture a piece in Seega, you have to 'sandwich' an opponent's game piece in between your own pieces. Pieces can only be moved into empty, non-diagonal, and adjacent squares. You can also move pieces into a space that is sandwiched by your opponent, and doing so makes your piece safe. However, if a player can't make a move at all, then that player can remove one of the opponent's pieces to make room for a move. One last rule is that if, after making a move and capturing a piece, that same piece can move again and capture another piece, then that player can continue to move that piece. It is possible to have two, three, and four moves completed in succession to one another.

Aseb, or the Twenty Squares Game

Aseb is a really simple game that's played on a 20 square board where there're 3 rows of 4 squares and then the middle row protrudes out 8 more squares. Players start on the shorter rows and attempt to move their pieces off of the board by moving down the long row until they reach the last square. Four of the squares on the board also include images that symbolize extra turns.

How to Play

To start, a player must throw either a 4 or a 6 to move their pieces from their reserves, then they can throw again to move it. If a player lands on a square with an opponent's piece, the opponent's piece is moved back into the reserves. This ancient Egyptian board game is sometimes mistaken for the Royal Game of Ur and Tjau, the Game of Thieves, thanks to its similar construction.

Mancala

Considered to be the oldest board game in the world with archaeological evidence of it extending back thousands of years, Mancala can be played on a board of wood or ivory or it could be played by digging holes in the ground. On the board, you'll find two rows of 6 pits or holes. You'll also need marbles or stones to place in these different holes. Located at either end of the board is two larger holes (the mancala) which each player is meant to use to store their stones.

How to Play

To begin, the players should place 4 stones or marbles into each of the 12 pits. Each player only moves stones from the six pits closest to them. This continues until one side of the board, or six pits, are cleared. While several different versions of Mancala have popped up over the years, these are a few of the most common rules:

  • If you run into your mancala, you put a stone in it, but you'll skip the opponents' mancala space.
  • If your last piece is dropped into your mancala, you get another turn.
  • When your last piece is in an empty pit, you can claim it and any pieces in the pit opposite it.
  • After the game ends, the pieces left go the person on that end of the game board.
  • The winner is the one with the most pieces in their mancala.

Ancient Egyptian Games Present Old School Challenges

If you're looking to cut through the noise of the technological world and get back to the gaming basics, then you should try out one of these Ancient Egyptian board games. While no two are the same, these board games all boast a DIY capability and simple enough gameplay that just about anyone could join in on the fun with you. So, next time you get ready to babysit your nieces and nephews, try getting them off of their tablets for a couple of hours with these historic board games.

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Ancient Egyptian Board Games and How to Play Them