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Ancient Games

Ludus latrunculi, also known as Ludus latrunculorum (“the game of soldiers”), is a Roman strategy board game for two players. The game is known from both literary sources as well as from archaeological evidence. A precursor to chess and checkers, the goal is to capture the other player’s dux, or king.

Senet is an ancient Egyptian board game. Senet boards and game pieces have been found in royal tombs since the Predynastic Period, though It is likely that people from all walks of life played the game. Boards range from elaborate works of art like the one found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun to ones simply scratched into floors. It is possible that the game served a ritual purpose at some point in its history.

The word senet means “game of passing.” A race-style game for two players, the goal is to be the first to clear all your counters off of the board. Although the rules of senet are unknown, the version played at the Kelsey is based on Timothy Kendall’s rules with an adaptation for Square 27 (House of Water), as presented by the Museum of Science in Boston.

The Royal Game of Ur (also known as the Game of Twenty Squares) is an ancient board game that originated in Mesopotamia. Like senet and modern games like backgammon, it is a type of race game where the object is to be the first player to move all of their pieces off the board.

Irving Finkel of the British Museum has recently deciphered a cuneiform tablet with rules for the game. This explanation involves betting tokens and is quite a bit more complicated than a simple race game. At the Kelsey, we use an adaption of Catherine Soubeyrand’s rules of play with optional additional rules from Irving Finkel’s translation.