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Games We Used To Play Before Computers And Consoles

Updated on May 24, 2009
Image by Aleksandra P.
Image by Aleksandra P.

2500 BC

For thousands of years, people have devised entertaining activities with which to pass their leisure hours. Excavations of the royal graves at Ur have uncovered a skilfully made checker-board, complete with counters, which dated from 2500 BC.

Board games

Chess is one of the oldest board games. Its origins are lost in antiquity but it has undergone frequent rule changes through the centuries and is now popular internationally. The game is played on a 64-square checker-board by two persons, one taking 16 white pieces, or 'men', and the opponent 16 black pieces. Each player's chess 'army' consists of a king, a queen, two rooks, two bishops, two knights and eight pawns. Each piece has specific moves. For example, the bishop moves diagonally, whereas the rook moves forwards or sideways. The queen combines these powers and can move forwards, diagonally or sideways at any one time (move). A player may capture and remove an opposition piece by placing one of his own merit on the square that it occupies. The objective is to 'checkmate' the opposing king by attacking it in such a way that there are no vacant, unthreatened squares onto which it may move.

A checker-board is also used for draughts (or checkers, as it is called in the United States). Two players each have 12 round counters, which initially are placed on the black squares of the first three rows, or ranks, of the board closest to each player. The draughts pieces move diagonally, one vacant square at a time. The aim is to capture all the opposition pieces, a capture being effected by a piece 'jumping' over an opposition piece.

Both games, particularly chess, require considerable mental application by the contestants.

A board game in which an element of luck is introduced is backgammon. The board is usually constructed as a shallow box which opens like a book to reveal the playing surfaces. Counters similar to draughts pieces are used. Each player has an 'inner' and 'outer' table, one on each side of the middle partition. On each of these four sections are marked six 'rays' that end in points; in each section, the six rays are named, in order, the ace, deuce, trois, quatre, cinque and six. Initially, each player places his 15 counters on the ace, deuce and six points, in both his own and his opponent's sections of the board. The aim is to move all 15 counters into one's own section of the board. The players move alternately and throw a pair of dice to determine the extent of each move.

Card games

There are many hundreds of games played with the standard pack of 52 cards. The cards are divided into four suits: hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades, each consisting of 13 different ranks, these being, in order, ace, king, queen, jack and then nine cards having numerical values from ten to two. In some cases, a fifty-third card, the joker, is used and outranks all the other cards.

Some currently popular card games, such as contract bridge and five hundred, have evolved from the game of whist, popularised by Edmund Hoyle in the eighteenth century. In this, 52 cards are equally distributed among four players. The dealer turns up the last card to determine 'trumps', which is the highest-ranking suit. The first player leads and play proceeds clockwise around the table until four cards have been played. The player who has the highest-ranking card wins the round and so takes the 'trick'; this process is then repeated. Initially, the players, who are organised into two teams, bid to establish who has the right to estimate how many tricks will be won in the next round. If the team that wins the bid estimates correctly, it is awarded points.

Card games involving gambling, such as draw poker, five-card stud and twenty-one, are also popular.

Games involving physical skill

Many other pastimes are more physically oriented. The games of quoits and darts require a 'good eye' and developed co-ordination. In quoits, a player stands a set distance away from an upright peg, the aim being to throw a number of twisted rope hoops over the peg. Darts, a similar game, involves throwing small steel-pointed projectiles at a board.

The most skilled games involving physical co-ordination are those played on the felt-topped billiards table, which has four corner pockets and two side pockets. In billiards, two players each have a white ball, one of which is called the spot-white. The object is to hit the white ball onto the red ball by using a tapered rod called a cue and thereby pocket it. The opponent's white ball may also be pocketed and a player's own ball may be deflected into a pocket by the red ball. All balls are replaced on the table after being pocketed. These tactics are rewarded with points. Another strategy, called the cannon, is to shoot the white ball so that it strikes both the red and the opponent's ball. The other popular games played on the billiards table are snooker, involving the red, coloured and black balls, and pool, in which the balls are numbered. In both games, the object is to clear the table, the black ball being pocketed last.


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