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How to Play Ancient Egyptian Senet Game: Rules to Know

Want to know how to play an ancient Egyptian game? Then the Senet game is what you want! With Ancient Egypt, in the name, you can probably already guess that Senet is a very old game with a rich history behind it. 

As one of the oldest board games still played today Senet is well worth playing purely from a historical perspective. But it is also a game with a lot of strategy to it. Although like all good strategy board games the aim of Senet is quite simple. 

There are variations to the standard rules of Senet but many people follow the traditional rules which we’ll be setting out in this guide. So, let’s learn more about this historic board game and learn how to play Senet.

What is Senet?

Well, we talked about this briefly but to really understand just how old Senet is some boards date back to 3100BC. Tomb paintings also show people playing the game as well. So, it’s fair to say Senet was likely the game of choice for people in Ancient Egypt. 

But it was also played in neighboring countries like Cyprus. Senet is a two-player game with only 10 pieces and the aim of the game is quite simple. So, let’s take a more detailed look at how you play Senet. 

How to Play The Senet Game? 

What You’ll Need:

To play Senet you’ll need a board and thankfully you don’t have to go to Egypt to get one. Senet boards are available in numerous different forms, with many sporting Egyptian-inspired designs to emulate the historic boards of the past. 

This stylish board from WE Games is a great example of some of the Senet games you can find available. These sets will contain everything you need to play Senet so are the best option for at-home play. Senet game boards are also quite small and portable so can be played on the go as well. 

Wood Senet Game

The Board

A Senet board can look a little unusual because it is rectangular, not square like many other games. The board is made up of three rows of ten squares which are called houses. Now Seent boards can be designed in a number of ways but most follow the standard or traditional design scheme. 

There are usually five symbols on a Senet board, one in the middle house/ square. While there will be 4 designs in the 26 to 29 houses/ squares. The designs in these squares can vary but will usually follow the same pattern. 

  1. Square 15 – The House of Rebirth – Usually looks like an Ankh 
  2. Square 26 – The House of Happiness – Usually a bird symbol 
  3. Square 27 – The House of Water – Usually three lines  
  4. Square 28 – The House of Three Truths – Usually three dark circles 
  5. Square 29 – The House of Re-Atoum – Usually an eye symbol  

The Senet Game Pieces 

Senet is quite different from many games because it only has ten pieces (sometimes called counters). Unlike games like chess or checkers that have a lot more. Each player will have five pieces each of contrasting colors. 

Each set of five pieces will also be different in shape as well. There is a lot of variation to this but usually, five pieces will be tall and pointed while the others will be small and round. In some variations of Senet, the pieces will be patterned as well. 

The Senet Sticks 

Ancient Egyptian Senet Game

Another one of the reasons the game of Senet is so unusual is that it doesn’t use dice. At least not in most traditional sets. In place of dice, it uses Senent Sticks which are thin wooden rectangular shapes. 

In some kits, they will be thin wooden popsicles sticks. There are 4 sticks in total and one side will be painted black while the other side will be a brighter color, usually white. To decide how your turn works you’ll need to throw the sticks into the air. How the sticks fall will decide how you move.

  1. If four sticks show black you can move five squares/ houses and throw again. 
  2. If three sticks show black you can move one square/ house and throw again. 
  3. If two sticks show black you can move two squares/ houses and then your turn is up. 
  4. If three sticks show color you can move three squares/ houses and then your turn is up. 
  5. If four sticks show color you can move four squares/ houses and throw again. 

Senet – Rules and Gameplay

The Aim of The Game

In a game of Senet, the aim is simple: you have to move your five pieces of the board. The board is made up of 30 squares with each square being a house. Each row of the board contains 10 houses. You have to move all your pieces across each row and off the board to win the game.

The Basic Rules 

To win Senet, you have to move your pieces off the board. Once you reach the bottom of the row you turn a corner to move to the next. Once you reach the end of this row you turn again to the third and final row. 

Once you reach the end the piece moves off the board. Only one piece can be on a square/ house at any time. As we discussed above turns are decided using the Senet Sticks. The board will also need to be set up carefully. 

Setting Up 

Despite its simple design setting up a game of Senet can be a little complicated. At the start of the game, players will need to decide who player one and player two are. Player one will then place their pieces on the first, third, fifth, seventh, and ninth squares/ houses. 

Player two will place their pieces on the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, and tenth squares/ houses. The game then begins and you can start to move your pieces around the board. 

The Advanced Rules 

While Senet is perfectly playable with just the basic rules, you can add a further level of strategy to it with more advanced rules. Because only one piece can occupy a house/ square at a time these new rules give you a way to capture houses and protect your pieces. 

If you land one a house/ square that is already occupied then you can capture the piece. The other player’s piece will then have to move to the square your piece occupied at the start of your turn. 

If two (or more) of your opponent’s pieces are next to each other, then that square/ house is protected. This means the piece cannot be captured and as such, you can’t complete your turn. Which means your piece can’t move and you’ll have to wait till your next turn.  

Playing With The Symbols 

Earlier on in “The Board” section, we detailed the five symbol houses/ squares on the board. These symbol squares are an important feature in more advanced games of Senet. 

You don’t have to play using them but they certainly add a new twist to the game. To find out how you play with each symbol check out the list below. 

The House of Happiness: All players will need to pass through this house in order to move their piece off the board. This means they will need to land on it directly during one of their turns. You can’t pass over the square you need to land directly on it. 

The House of Water: This works in conjunction with the House of Rebirth. If you land on this house, you will have to move your piece directly back to the House of Rebirth. 

The House of Three Truths: This is a lucky square to land on. If you land on it you can then throw your sticks again and if you get three colors then that piece can be moved directly off the board. 

The House of Re-Atoum: If you land on this house/ square you can once again throw your sticks. If you get two sticks color-side up then the piece can be removed from the board. 

Senet – The Ancient Egyptian Game

So, this is how you have a game of Senet! Because the game is very historic there are a number of ways to play as you can see from this guide. 

So, whether you want something simple or complex Senet would always make a fine choice at anyone’s board game night. Like Shogi, Senet is well-worth playing if you want to experience an older game as well. 

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