William and Stephen B Ives via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
William and Stephen B Ives via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

15 Centuries-Old Board Games

William and Stephen B Ives via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
William and Stephen B Ives via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Good family fun isn’t a new invention. Board games have been around since antiquity—the oldest evidence of the Egyptian game Senet dates back 5000 years. Here are 15 games people used to play before the 20th century:


In this 1790 game, players moved through different stages of life, from infancy onward. Players moved backward or forward on the game board according to the moral character of the square they landed on. Landing on the “drunkard” square sent a player back, while landing on “The Assiduous Youth” sent a player forward. Landing on a career like “The Romance Writer” or “The Dramatist,” per 18th century social mores, sent players backward.


Image Credit: Bodleian Libraries

This 1860 children’s game was played with a teetotum, a spinning top, and involved moving birds around numbered spaces. Alternative titles included “Kindness to dumb animals,” “Wrong and the right,” and “Reading to the sick.” 


Image Credit: William and Stephen B Ives via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In the early 1800s, this was the most popular board game in Britain. It centered around ideas of vice and virtue, as players attempted to reach the “mansion,” a heavenly reward for the pious. Think of it as Chutes and Ladders meets Sunday school. 


Image Credit: Bodleian Libraries

First published in 1815, players raced across European cities from Oporto, Portugal to London by spinning a teetotum. Per the rule book, landing on a capital city garnered a player a bonus spin, and the first one to land exactly on the London square won the game. 


Image Credit: Devidasa of Nurpur via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Chaupar, a gambling board game, has been played in India for millennia and was especially popular in royal courts. Often using a cross-shaped cloth board, it’s played with three dice and 16 pieces. The modern game Parcheesi is an adaptation of a variant of chaupar called pachisi. 


Image Credit: Bodleian Libraries

In this 1835 board game, players spun a “circle of chance” that dictated whether they moved forward, backward, left, or right, journeying through a village and up to a castle on a hill, encountering impassible waterways, robberies, and other obstacles on the way. 


Image Credit: Tamago915 via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

In Tori Shogi, a Japanese variant of chess, all the pieces are types of birds, including phoenixes, cranes, and swallows. The game was invented in 1799 [PDF]. 


Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This two-player game was invented in the 1880s by an American surgeon who named it after an ancient Greek word for “jump.” Halma declined in popularity in the 1900s with the introduction of Chinese checkers, a game with similar rules that could accommodate more players.


Image Credit: Bodleian Libraries

The rulebook for this whimsical zoo game hasn’t survived, but it seems to have involved numbered animals, and it came with great artwork. Maybe it was a paint-by-numbers sort of thing? 


This game, whose name in English means “assault,” appeared in Germany as early as 1803. One corner of the board was the fortress, and it had to be defended by one of the players against attack from the other. Most of the pieces were designated foot soldiers, while just two pieces were officers that could move more freely across the board. The goal was to capture the opponent’s pieces and win the battle. 



Image Credit: ItsLassieTime via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The McLoughlin Brothers publishing house released this game in 1886. By moving pieces around a board, players competed to see who would become the president of a telegraph company. 


Image Credit: Bodleian Libraries

This two-person game was designed to teach children the geography of England, Scotland, and Wales. Players placed locomotives at a certain start point and rolled dice to determine how far they traveled.


Image Credit: Victoria & Albert Museum, bought out of the funds of the Bryan Bequest

A French board game that roughly translates to “new game of marriage” (though that last word also means hymen), its artwork appears on this porcelain tray from around 1725. The squares map the trajectory of a romantic relationship, with references to Ovid, the Odyssey, and other classical texts. 


Image Credit: Alfonso X of Castile via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The game of astronomical tables—or seven-sided backgammon—was included in the Book of Games, an encyclopedia commissioned by Alfonso X of Spain in the 13th century. The seven sides were for the seven planets then known to astronomers (the moon and the sun were included, but Uranus and Neptune were not). The medieval book called the game “very noble and very strenuous and very elegant, and of great intellect for the wise,” according to one translation


Image Credit: George Mason University via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Board game legend Milton Bradley debuted the Checkered Game of Life during the Civil War. The game begins with infancy and ends with old age, with stops for "crime," "industry," "politics,” and “Cupid” along the way. Bradley's first game eventually morphed into the Life board game we play today.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

The Force Field Cloak
This Glowing Blanket Is Designed to Ease Kids' Fear of the Dark
The Force Field Cloak
The Force Field Cloak

Many kids have a security blanket they bring to bed with them every night, but sometimes, a regular blankie is no match for the monsters that invade their imaginations once the lights are off. Now there’s a glow-in-the-dark blanket designed to make children feel safer in bed, no night light required.

Dubbed the Force Field Cloak, the fleece blanket comes in several colorful, glowing patterns that remain invisible during the day. At night, you leave the blanket under a bright light for about 10 minutes, then the shining design will reveal itself in the dark. The glow lasts 8 to 10 hours, just long enough to get a child through the night.

Inventor Terry Sachetti was inspired to create the blanket by his own experiences struggling with scary nighttime thoughts as a kid. "I remember when I was young and afraid of the dark. I would lie in my bed at night, and my imagination would start getting the best of me," he writes on the product's Kickstarter page. "I would start thinking that someone or something was going to grab my foot that was hanging over the side of the bed. When that happened, I would put my foot back under my blanket where I knew I was safe. Nothing could get me under my blanket. No boogiemen, no aliens, no monsters under my bed, nothing. Sound familiar?"

The Force Field Cloak, which has already surpassed its funding goals on both Indiegogo and Kickstarter, takes the comfort of a blanket to the next level. The glowing, non-toxic ink decorating the material acts as a gentle night light that kids can wrap around their whole body. The result, the team claims, is a secure feeling that quiets those thoughts about bad guys hiding in the shadows.

To pre-order a Force Field Cloak, you can pledge $36 or more to the product’s Indiegogo campaign. It is expected to start shipping in January 2018.


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