Bored Games

Scott Tortorice

Active Member
Nov 18, 2003
The shadows
Bruce Pandolfini has an interesting article on board games over at

Bored Games

Question: I have an interest in old board games. Chess is a board game, though I have heard it described in different ways. It is often compared to checkers. Are they the same types of game? I know they use the same board, but how many different types of games are there? Isn't the Japanese game of Go from the same class of game as chess? Some people say chess is the oldest board game. Is it? How do we know, what if all the information isn't there? There are many things we don't know. What kind of board game is chess? Which types of board games were developed here in America before the Europeans came here? I know these are tough questions, and I do not want to raise questions you might feel are boring, but I thought you might know something about these matters. Finally, which is the oldest board game: chess, checkers, Go, or backgammon? Which one, if I can put it this way, wins? I hope this doesn't game you out too much. Thanks for your column. I've enjoyed many of your past answers. Ernest Philpott (USA)

Answer: Well, boring or not, I hope you enjoy this one, because I'm starting not to. You're not kidding when you say these are tough questions. I'm surprised you didn't ask me which board game is the best. Who knows what I'd say. It reminds me of something Edward Lasker once joked about: "Go players say Go is a better game, but chess players don't have to believe them." I don't know what I believe, but I'll tell you the little I think I know, responding to your questions as answers occur to me, reading down your paragraph.


As I remember it, in a private study done by Ogilvy and Mather for Mattel Toys, it was proposed that there were six basic types of board games. (I was a consultant at Mattel for about three years, eons ago, which enabled me to see what they thought was significant; every now and then I still have a good laugh.) The six types of games are (were?) race games, war games, games of position, Mancala games, calculation games, and dice games. But O&M was merely drawing from standard analyses by acknowledged experts, such as Willard Fiske, R.C. Bell, and H.J.R. Murray. Indeed, so much new information has been unearthed since the work of Fiske, Bell, Murray, and others, and the world has come to look at ancient games so differently, especially in the light of modern conceptualization, that the issue is complicated. To be sure, we've come a long way since the days of the article appearing on chess in the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (published in 1911), a piece that untold chess writers have virtually copied ever since, without giving proper credit....
I learned a lot...certainly more than I ever wanted to know! :D