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The Top 8 Best Historical & Ancient Board Games to Play

Many of the most popular board games have a pretty rich history. Many people also likely don’t realize just how historical and ancient some of these board games really are either. But these historical board games are sure to be a great choice if you want to try something a little different. 

Whether you’re looking to add a new board game to your next game night. Or you simply want to see what these more historical games are like below; we have listed some of our favorite ancient board games to try. 

At A Glance: Best Historical & Ancient Board Games to Play

The 8 Best Historical & Ancient Board Games

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  • Deep strategic gameplay
  • Helps improve memory and creative thinking skills
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  • Intricate strategic gameplay
  • Ideal for fans of more complex games
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  • Classic engine building gameplay
  • Simpler gameplay is ideal for all ages
  • Quick and easy to play
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  • Versatile gameplay to suit different skillsets
  • A great insight into ancient cultures
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  • Very versatile with many different ways to play
  • Offers a unique gaming experience
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  • A great insight into Chinese culture
  • Very versatile gameplay
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  • Fun simple gameplay
  • Suitable for larger groups of players
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  • Easy to understand simple gameplay
  • There is room for more strategic play
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1. Chess 

On Sale Wooden Chess Set

Chess is probably the most well-known ancient board game. Even if you have never played it before, you have almost definitely heard of it. Chess emerged in the late 15th century and was based on similar older games. 

Chess is, in many ways, the perfect strategy game! Learning how each piece moves is quite simple. However, while Chess might seem relatively simple, the game is deeply strategic. If you have ever watched masters play the game, you’ll know how crazy Chess can get. 

With a rich history, Chess is a must-play if you want to experience a historical board game. You can even check out our picks for some of the best Chess sets as well. Chess is quite a challenging game, though, so don’t be put off if you lose. Our how-to-win tips might also help you out as well. 

Pros

  • Deep strategic gameplay. 
  • Simpler than you might think to play.
  • Helps improve memory and creative thinking skills. 

Cons 

  • Slower gameplay won’t appeal to everyone. 

2. Shogi 

Yellow Mountain Shogi Set

Shogi is the natural next step after Chess as the two games are heavily linked. Shogi is basically Japanese Chess and was believed to have also originated in the late 15th century. But while it’s similar to Chess in some ways, it actually has more in common with the ancient Indian game of Chaturanga.

In Shogi, captured pieces can also be returned to the board. Like Chess, many pieces have unique attributes, and some even have the same names as Chess pieces. Pawns, bishops, knights, rooks, and king pieces feature in both games. 

If you like Chess, you’ll likely enjoy playing Shogi. You can learn about all the differences in our Shogi vs Chess blog. Shogi is generally considered the more complex game, so it does have more of a learning curve to it. Be sure to check out our how-to-play Shogi guide for extra help. 

Pros

  • Intricate strategic gameplay. 
  • Will help improve focus and creative thinking. 
  • Ideal for fans of more complex games. 

Cons 

  • Definitely has a learning curve to it. 
  • Complex gameplay could be hard to understand. 

3. Checkers 

On Sale Pressman Classics Checkers Set

Dating back at least 5000 years, Checkers certainly qualifies as an ancient board game, in our opinion. Some readers might know this game by a different name as it’s called Draughts in some countries. 

But what you call the game doesn’t really matter because it’s still sure to be a fun time! Checkers has gone through numerous different designs over time. In Ancient Egypt, for example, the game was played on a smaller 5 x 5 board. 

Checkers is often compared to Chess as they are played on the same board. But they are very different games. Check out our Chess vs Checkers blog to see just how unique each game is. Movement in Checkers is much simpler, and there are only really two different pieces. 

But despite being much more straightforward than many of the other games on this list, there is still a lot of strategy involved in playing Checkers. But if you’re looking for a simpler two-player strategy game, we highly recommend Checkers. 

Pros

  • Simpler gameplay is ideal for all ages. 
  • Quick and easy to play. 
  • Helps build creative-thinking skills. 

Cons 

  • Simpler gameplay won’t appeal to everyone. 

4. Senet 

Wooden Senet Set

You don’t get much older than Senet! Senet was played in Ancient Egypt with some sets dating back to 3100 BC. Images of people playing Senet can also be seen in tomb paintings as well. So, it is indeed historic and plenty of fun to play. 

Senet can also be played in two distinctly different ways. There is a simpler version of the game ideal for beginners and a more complicated version that utilizes special squares on the board. With two players, the aim of the game is simply to get your five pieces to the end of the board. 

But instead of using dice, you use Senet sticks to move around the board. You can learn more about how to play Senet with our game guide, so be sure to check out if you’re thinking of giving this Ancient Egyptian board game a try! 

The game also looks quite unique with its unusual rectangular board and lack of dice. While the gameplay can take a little getting used to, Senet is certainly well-worth playing. If you want to experience a historical board game, it’s well worth trying. 

Pros

  • Versatile gameplay to suit different skillsets. 
  • A great insight into ancient cultures. 
  • Using Senet sticks offers a unique gaming experience. 

Cons 

  • The complex rules could easily be confusing for some people. 

5. The Royal Game of Ur 

The Royal Game of Ur Set

No list of historical and ancient board games would be complete without The Royal Game of Ur! This intricate board game was believed to have first been played in early Mesopotamia at around 3000 BC.  

Archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley discovered the first known game board during a dig at the Royal Cemetery in Ur, Southern Iraq. This is how this game got its very unique and eye-catching name. 

Because of its age, the Royal Game of Ur rules are the subject of some debate. So, there are a few different ways you can play. Check out our Royal Game of Ur: rules & instructions guide to find out more information. 

While The Royal Game of Ur is quite complex with lots of different components, it’s still well worth playing! Few games are as historical and as enigmatic as The Royal Game of Ur, so if you want to try something unusual and mysterious, give this game a go. 

Pros

  • Very versatile with many different ways to play. 
  • Offers a unique gaming experience. 

Cons 

  • Learning any ruleset will take time and patience. 
  • The more complex rules won’t appeal to everyone. 

6. Mahjong 

Mahjong Game Set

Mahjong can look quite intimidating when it’s laid out and ready to play. Dating back around 2500 years, this historic Chinese game was very popular during the Qing dynasty. This strategic game is played with tiles, and there are numerous different rule sets. 

You can learn all about how to play Mahjong with our game guide. It might seem unusual, but the game is most similar to the popular card game Rummy. Over the game, players will need to take and discard tiles.

The aim is to build up to four sets and a pair using 14 tiles. There is a definite learning curve to Mahjong, but if you start slowly, you’ll be able to learn as you go! You can even play with both a complete and incomplete set as well. If you want to give Mahjong a try, you should take a look at our picks for the best Mahjong game sets

Pros

  • A great insight into Chinese culture. 
  • Very versatile gameplay. 
  • Great for building creative thinking skills. 

Cons 

  • Definitely has a learning curve to it. 
  • More complex rulesets won’t appeal to everyone. 

7. Chinese Checkers 

On Sale Wooden Chinese Checkers Set

While Chinese Checkers isn’t quite as old as many of the games on this list, it was still invented in 1892. So, at over a century old, we think it counts as a historical board game. The game was created in Germany and was initially called Stern-Halma. 

It was rebranded as Chinese Checkers in the late 1920s when the game was brought over to America. Chinese Checkers stands out amongst many other games on this list thanks to its unique star-shaped board. 

The aim of the game is simple: you need to move all your colored pieces to the opposite star point first to win! The game can also be played with 2, 3, 4, or even 6 players. Making it a fine choice for people looking for a historic group game to play. 

While it might seem simple, there is a lot of strategies involved with Chinese Checkers. The rules also change slightly depending on the number of players. If you’re thinking of giving this game a try, check out our top 10 Chinese Checkers strategies to help ensure you win! 

Pros

  • Fun simple gameplay. 
  • Suitable for larger groups of players. 

Cons 

  • Simpler gameplay won’t appeal to everyone. 
  • Pieces can quickly go missing if not stored safely. 

8. Tic Tac Toe 

Wooden Tic Tac Toe Set

For our final game, we have Tic Tac Toe! Also known as Noughts and Crosses, this simple game is much older than you might think! Three in a row boards used to play this game have been found in Ancient Egyptian tombs. 

Similar tile-based games also date back to the 1300s. Versions of the game were also popular during the time of the Roman Empire as well. The aim of the game is simple: you have to build a row of three to win successfully. 

Rows can be horizontal, diagonal, or vertical, and while the gameplay is simple, there is a surprising amount of strategy involved. While you can play Tic Tac Toe with pens and paper if you want the authentic experience, you should use a Tic Tac Toe board. 

Pros

  • Easy to understand simple gameplay. 
  • There is room for more strategic play. 

Cons 

  • Not the most challenging or creative board game. 

Historical and Ancient Board Games FAQs 

If you want to try out some of these historical and ancient board games, you’ll likely have a few questions. Many of these games aren’t going to be like the modern board games you’ll find on store shelves. So, before selecting any to buy, check out our FAQ below. 

How many players? 

Many historical board games are only designed for two players. While there are options for more than two players like Chinese Checkers, your options will be a bit more limited if you’re looking for group board games. 

Will I need to research beforehand? 

Well, technically, you don’t have to, but it likely will help. If you are entirely new to any of these historical games, you should be ready for a steep learning curve. Games like Chess and Shogi can be intimidating for beginners. However, there are simpler games like Checkers, which is much easier to learn.

Are These Games Fun?  

Well, we certainly think so! They might not have all the bells and whistles or splashy colors of some modern board games, but they are still undoubtedly fun. It might take beginners a little time to warm up to them, but they are certainly worth playing.  

What’s The Best Historical and Ancient Board Game To Play?

All these historical and ancient board games certainly have their fans. But if we had to pick just a couple as our favorites, it would have to be Checkers thanks to its simpler, more beginner-friendly design and Chess thanks to its timeless strategic gameplay. 

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