From Cluedo to Call of Cthulhu, we’ve the Mesoptamians to thank
If you’ve ever played Monopoly with an enthusiastic eight-year-old at Christmas you might have experienced the strange phenomenon by which two-and-a-half hours can seem like four-and-a-half centuries. So if you’d like to woo them away from an unending game with the lure of something that really has been going for four-and-a-half centuries, you might like to step down to the British Museum before Christmas.
The museum has on display a copy of the world’s oldest playable board game, known as The Game of Ur. “Er… what?” we hear you cry. Well, here’s the lowdown.
The game was uncovered in a tomb in a royal cemetery at Ur, southern Iraq and is thought to date from around 2,500BC, making it 4,500 years old… That’s about the length of time your great aunt likes to cook sprouts for, for context. The wood has long since decayed but the beautiful board is intricately decorated in shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli. It certainly knocks Cluedo into a cocked hat,
It’s a ‘race’ game (like Snakes and Ladders) but with a bit more skill and strategy involved, for two players. It uses two sets of seven pieces similar to draught pieces, and the board consists of two ‘boxes’ with smaller boxes within, joined by a narrow bridge. You make your move by rolling two four-sided dice. The winner is the first person to move all their pieces through the board and off. It’s a lot more complex than that but there’s nothing more tedious than reading board game instructions un-anesthetised by half a bottle of sherry.
This year, The British Museum Shop has created a replica of the original game using ancient writings and archaeological evidence to piece together the rules. There’s also an advanced gameplay rules just in case you get too good at Ur, and even an Ur scarf, for anyone wanting to signal their approval but sit this particular ancient game out and head off for a bracing walk instead.
Now. Whose turn is it to go first?
You can read about our five favourite board games to stop boredom in our Miscellany, at the back of the December issue, on sale now.