People have been sitting down to play games together for many thousands of years. Board games were popular in ancient Egypt, while card games were created in imperial China. Today, old favorites are enjoyed alongside new fantastical storytelling adventures. Games provide hours of entertainment and competition at every roll of the dice or choice of a card.
Senet (3500 BCE)
Board games are popular in ancient Egypt, with some royalty deciding to be buried with their games. A favorite game is senet, which is played on a board marked with 30 squares.
Dice (2800 BCE)
People have been rolling objects as part of games for thousands of years, but the oldest known dice come from Shahr-e Sūkhté, a Bronze Age city in modern-day Iran. Dice
soon become common.
The royal game of Ur (2600 BCE)
This game is played on a board of 20 squares with four-sided dice and two sets of seven pieces. The aim is for a player to get their pieces from one end of the board to the other.
Go (500 BCE)
Invented in China, go is played on a grid board, with players taking turns to place white and black stones at the grid intersections. It is one of the oldest board games that is still played today.
People all across the Roman Empire play a version of tic-tac-toe (also known today as noughts and crosses). The Roman version is called terni lapilli (meaning "three pebbles at a time").
Chess (600 CE)
This skill and strategy game is first played in either Northern India or Central Asia. As trade routes from India and Persia in West Asia expand, chess will reach Europe by 1000 CE.
Pachisi (4th century)
The Indian game of pachisi is played on a cross-shaped board. Six or seven cowrie shells are thrown to decide how many places a player moves their pieces. Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) has a gigantic board built, on which humans are moved around as game pieces.
Playing cards (9th century)
The Chinese invent the earliest playing cards. When cards reach Europe, the suit markings are cups, gold coins, swords, and polo sticks. In about 1480, the French suits familiar today (hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs) become standard.
Snakes and ladders (13th century)
Originally called mokshapat, this board game is invented by an Indian saint named Gyandev. It is meant to help children understand the difference between good and evil, with the ladders representing good and the snakes representing evil.
This tile-laying game is first developed in China and becomes popular across Asia. The game of skill and strategy is usually played with a set of 144 tiles featuring Chinese symbols.
American Elizabeth Magie invents "The Landlord’s Game" to warn children against pitfalls of capitalism. Magie’s original board uses made-up street names, but later versions of the game (now called Monopoly) each use real place names from a city around the world.
An American architect named Alfred Butts invents the word game Scrabble to mix spelling skills with a scoring system. During the 1950s, it becomes such a big hit that stores ration supplies per customer.
This classic crime mystery board game is invented by British musician Anthony E. Pratt. Players are suspects who must follow clues to decide which of them is the murderer, where the crime was committed, and what weapon was used.
Role play (1974)
Fantastical role-playing games become popular with the release of Dungeons and Dragons. With its nonhuman characters and magical narrative, the game soon spreads around the world.
Modern board games (21st century)
Families and groups of friends rediscover tabletop games as a fun group activity. There is a huge rise in people playing games and a surge in the production of new games. There are now many thousands of titles on the market to choose from.