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Victorians At Leisure
Victorian Board Games

Many of the board games we play originated in ancient times and evolved intobackgammon.gif (12253 bytes) their current form throughout the centuries. Many others were developed throughout the period. An interesting thing to note is that board games which required the moving of pieces along a path were created using some type of "spinner" apparatus. Dice were not considered appropriate as they were associated with gambling.

Pictured here is a combination Draughts (checkers) and Tables (Backgammon) game set.

In this segment, we are going to give you brief histories on some of these board games as well as a chance to play a few of them. While it may appear that there are only histories featured here, the links to the games are the title themselves. For those games for which we do not have a history, the links will be found below the article.

(Notes: (1) If you are a student visiting with us, we ask as do your teachers, that you please refrain from playing the games until after school and after your homework is finished. (2) Some of the games will take you off-site.  These links will open in a new window.)

Game History

Backgammon is believed to have originated in Mesopotamia in the Persian empire and is the oldest known recorded game in history. It was originally played on surfaces made of wood using stones as markers and dice made from bones, stones, wood or pottery. It's been called many names: The Game of Thirty Squares or Senat; The Royal Games of Ur (177 BC); Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum or The Game of 12 Lines or Tabula as it was called by the Romans to name a few.

The game was first metioned in English print in "The Codex Exoniensis" in 1025 and was called Nard or Tables. The game was especially popular in English taverns until the 15th century when Chess surpassed it. Tables was even banned for a period of time due to its "gambling nature" but was brought back during the period of Elizabeth I.

The name "Backgammon" is believed to have been derived in 1645 from the Saxon "baec" (back) "gamen" (game) or the Welsh "bac" or "bach" (little) "gammon" or "cammaun" (battle) although it was more likely the Saxon origin. Another theory exists that it received its name because it was usually found on the "back" of chessboards although this theory is also unlikely.

The first codified rules of play were published in 1743 by Edmond Hoyle in his "Treatise on Backgammon".

Chess besides being the oldest skill game of record, is also a history lesson in miniature of medieval times. If one analyzes the way the board is set up and the six different pieces, you'd find it representative of medieval times with its many ceremonies, grandeur and wars.

Chess was played for many centuries in China, India and Persia and no one really knows for certain its origin. In the 8th century, the Moors learned chess from the Persians and upon invading Spain, brought the game with them. It was from Spain that the game spread quickly throughout Europe.

Pawns are representative of serfs or laborers. During the medieval period, serfs were considered property or chattel of the landowners. Serfs worked hard and often died young. They were not protected during wars and they could be traded or sacrificed to protect their "owners" from harm.

The castle, of which there are two, represent the home in medieval times.

The knight was the professional solder whose job it was to protect persons of rank. The Knights are more important than pawns, but less important than the other pieces and were also considered sacrificial.

The bishop represents the church. The church was a powerful force in medieval times and religion played an important role in every person's life. The bishop was a priest who had come up the ranks in the Catholic church to a more powerful position.

The queen represents the only woman and is the most powerful piece in the game. However, during medieval times, a queen found herself in a powerful, yet, precarious position. The king often took her advice; however, without warning of any kind, the king could place them in nunneries with the approval of the church. The queen was seen as a powerful force during this time period and in fact, often did hold more power than the king.

The king is the tallest piece on the board and the best protected. During medieval times, the surrender of the king meant the loss of their kingdom and quite often a change for the worse. It was to everyone's best interests to see to it that the king was kept from harm. Although not the most powerful piece, if you lost it, signifies the loss of the game to your opponent.

Darts cannot be established as having originated in England, however, there are indications that it dates back to at least the middle ages. To eliminate boredom, soldiers began hurling arrows at upturned covers of wine barrels, possibly with the purpose of seeing who could come closest to the cork hole.

As it became more popular, the target was changed from the wine barrel covers to the cross-section of a tree with the actual growth rings being the determining factor as to who was the closest to the center. Anne Boleyn is believed to have presented a board and set of ornamented dats to Henry VIII in 1530.

Due to the nature of the game, it became a popular pastime in English taverns and pubs.

Draughts (or Checkers) is believed to have derived from Egyptian times (4000 BC) especially when noting the checkerboard designs that the Egyptians used to decorate walls, floors and sometimes outer tomb cases. When archaeological explorations first discovered the checkered gaming boards and circular ivory or jade pieces, they were split and sold off for their monetary value rather than their historical significance. The game is originally thought to be the forerunner of Chess and its invention credited to Shamoon the Magician at the request of Prime Minister Haman as a means of making amends for his misdeeds. The oldest game manual is said to date back to 1549. It is also notable that Draughts also developed under different names and rules for each country and the means to separate it from chess was by its round playing pieces.

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