A board game is a game in which counters or pieces that are placed on, removed from, or moved across a "board" (a premarked surface usually specific to that game). As do other form of entertainment, board games can represent nearly any subject.
There are many different types and styles of board games, including those, at the most-basic level, that that have no inherent theme—such as Checkers—as well as more-complicated games with definite subjects, or even narratives, like Clue.
Board games have been played in most cultures and societies throughout history; some even pre-date literacy skill development in the earliest civilizations. A number of important historical sites, artifacts and documents exist which shed light on early board games. Some of these include:
- c. 3500 BC - Jiroft civilization The layout of the holes on the "eagle" boards is also identical to the layout of some twenty-square boards used in ancient Egypt, where the game, known as Aseb, was sometimes put on the other side of case-style Senet boards.
- c. 3500 BC - Senet found under Predynastic Egyptian burials; also depicted in the tomb of Merknera.
- c. 3000 BC - The Mehen board game from Predynastic Egypt, was played with lion-shaped gamepieces and marbles.
- c. 3000 BC - Ancient backgammon set, found in the Burnt City in Iran
- c. 2560 BC - Board of the Royal Game of Ur (found at Ur Tombs)
- c. 2500 BC - Paintings of Senet and Han being played depicted in the tomb of Rashepes
- c. 2000 BC - Drawing in a tomb at Benihassan depicting two unknown board games being played (depicted in Falkner). It has been suggested that the second of these is Tau.
- c. 1500 BC - Liubo carved on slab of blue stone. Also painting of board game of Knossos.
- c. 1400 BC - Game boards including alquerque, Nine Men's Morris, and a possible Mancala board etched on the roof of the Kurna temple. (Source: Fiske, and Bell)
- 548 BC The earliest written references to Go/Weiqi come from the Zuo Zhuan, which describes a man who likes the game.
- c. 500 BC - The Buddha games list mentions board games played on 8 or 10 rows.
- c. 500 BC - The earliest reference to Chaturaji or Pachisi written in the Mahabharata.
- c. 200 BC - A Chinese Go/Weiqi board pre-dating 200 BC was found in 1954 in Wangdu County. This board is now in Beijing Historical Museum..
- 116-27 BC - Marcus Terentius Varro's Lingua Latina X (II, par. 20) contains earliest known reference to Latrunculi (often confused with Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum, Ovid's game mentioned below).
- 1 BC-8 AD - Ovid's Ars Amatoria contains earliest known reference to Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum.
- 220-265 - Backgammon enters China under the name t'shu-p'u (Source: Hun Tsun Sii).
- c. 400 onwards - Tafl games played in Northern Europe.
- c. 600 The earliest references to Chaturanga written in Subandhu's Vasavadatta and Banabhatta's Harsha Charitha.
- c. 600 - The earliest reference to Chatrang written in Karnamak-i-Artakhshatr-i-Papakan.
Many board games are now available as computer games, which can include the computer itself as one of several players, or as sole opponent. The rise of computer use is one of the reasons said to have led to a relative decline in board games. 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 (see the links at the end of this article).
Some board games make use of components in addition to—or instead of—a board and playing pieces. Some games use CDs, video cassettes, and, more recently, DVDs in accompaniment to the game.
While there has been a fair amount of scientific research on the psychology of older board games (e.g., chess
), less has been done on contemporary board games such as Monopoly
, and Risk
.. 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 precisely to compare their levels of expertise. The works of Adriaan de Groot
, William Chase, and Herbert Simon
have established that knowledge, more than the ability to anticipate moves, plays an essential role in chess-playing. This seems to be the case in other traditional games such as Go
(a type of mancala
game), but data are lacking with regard to contemporary board games.
Luck, strategy and diplomacy
One way to categorize board games is to distinguish those based primarily upon luck
from those that involve significant strategy
. Some games, such as chess
, are entirely deterministic, relying only on the strategy element for their interest. Children's games, on the other hand, tend to be very luck-based, with games such as Sorry!
, Candy Land
and Chutes and ladders
having virtually no decisions to be made. Most board games involve both luck and strategy. A player may be hampered by a few poor rolls of the dice
, but over many games a player with a superior strategy will win more often. While some purists consider luck to not be a desirable component of a game, others counter that elements of luck can make for far more diverse and multi-faceted strategies as concepts such as expected value
and risk management
must be considered.
The third important factor in a game is diplomacy, or players making deals with each other. A game of solitaire, for obvious reasons, has no player interaction. Two player games usually do not have diplomacy, with Lord of the Rings being a notable exception where players compete against an automatic opponent (see cooperative games). Thus, this generally applies only to games played with three or more people. An important facet of Settlers of Catan, for example, is convincing people to trade with you rather than with other players. In Risk, one example of diplomacy's effectiveness is when two or more players team up against others. Easy diplomacy consists of convincing other players that someone else is winning and should therefore be teamed up against. Difficult diplomacy (such as in the aptly named game Diplomacy) consists of making elaborate plans together, with possibility of betrayal.
Luck is introduced to a game by a number of methods. The most popular is using dice, generally six-sided. These can determine everything from how many steps a player moves their token, as in Monopoly, to how their forces fare in battle, such as in Risk, or which resources a player gains, such as in Settlers of 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. Trivia games have a great deal of randomness based on the questions a person gets. German-style board games are notable for often having rather less of a luck factor than many North American board games.
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.
- Game board (or board)—the (usually quadrilateral) surface on which one plays a board game; the namesake of the board game, gameboards are a necessary and sufficient condition of the genre.
- Game piece (or counter or token or bit)—a player's representative on the game board. Each player may control one or more game pieces. In some games that involve commanding multiple game pieces, such as chess, certain pieces have unique designations and capabilities within the parameters of the game; in others, such as Go, all pieces controlled by a player have the same essential capabilities. In some games, pieces may not represent or belong to a particular player.
- Jump—to bypass one or more game pieces and/or spaces. Depending on the context, jumping may also involve capturing or conquering an opponent's game piece. (See also: Game mechanic: capture)
- Space (or square)—a physical unit of progress on a gameboard delimited by a distinct border. (See also: Game mechanic: Movement)
- Hex In hexagon-based board games, this is the common term for a standard space on the board. This is most often used in war games.
There are a number of different categories that board games can be broken up into. The following is a list of some of the most common:
Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 286. (May, 1992), pp. 1-5.
- Fiske, Willard. Chess in Iceland and in Icelandic Literature—with historical notes on other table-games). Florentine Typographical Society, 1905.
- Falkener, Edward. Games Ancient and Oriental, and How To Play Them. Longmans, Green and Co., 1892.
- Austin, Roland G. "Greek Board Games." Antiquity 14. September 1940: 257–271
- Murray, Harold James Ruthven. A History of Board-Games Other Than Chess. Gardners Books, 1969.
- Bell, Robert Charles. The Boardgame Book. London: Bookthrift Company, 1979.
- Bell, Robert Charles. Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 1980. ISBN 0-486-23855-5
- Sackson, Sid. A Gamut of Games. Arrow Books, 1983. ISBN 0-09-153340-6
- Reprint: Dover Publications, 1992. ISBN 0-486-27347-4
- Schmittberger, R. Wayne. New Rules for Classic Games. John Wiley & Sons, 1992. ISBN 0-471-53621-0
- Parlett, David. Oxford History of Board Games. Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-19-212998-8