Did you know that board games have been played by people around the world for an amazing 5,000 years? Whether you're a die hard gamer and master of strategy, or a reluctant family player reliant on beginner's luck, we've uncovered eight fascinating facts about board games to surprise and entertain you! Plus you'll find great gift ideas for game players in our Sports & Leisure collection below ...
1. Egyptian beginnings
Senet is generally believed to be the oldest board game - it was popular in Ancient Egypt, and Tutankhamen was buried with several sets in ivory and ebony wood. It had some similarities to Backgammon and its name means "game of passing through". Initially this referred to crossing the board, but later it took on a more spiritual aspect, representing souls passing on to the afterlife. People have managed to piece together the lost rules and this ancient game is still played today.
2. Legendary skills
Other people argue that the oldest board game is Go, or Wei Qi (meaning "surrounding game"). According to legend, it was devised by the Ancient Chinese Emperor Yao to teach his son the strategic skills of concentration, discipline and balance, and it became an accomplishment that noblemen had to learn. Go rapidly changed after being introduced into Japan in the 17th century, it's popular worldwide but particularly so in Asia, with over 100 million players!
3. Military strategy
Chess dates back to the game of Chaturanga in sixth century India and was originally based on the four divisions of the military - infantry, cavalry, chariotry and elephantry, It spread to Europe in late medieval times - knights were required to learn it and games could last for hours or even days! And top chess players including Sir Stuart Milner-Berry, Hugh Alexander and Harry Golombek were recruited specifically for their strategic skills, to become top code breakers at Bletchley Park during WWII.
4. Happiness first
The first commercially produced board game appeared in 1800, made by George Fox in England. In The Mansion of Happiness, players raced around the board learning about the importance of virtues (and avoiding vices) with the aim of reaching the central place of Happiness. A spinner was used, not dice as these were associated with the vice of gambling! Although (unsurprisingly!) it's no longer played, its race based format lives on in games like Ludo.
5. Eyes down
The original version of Bingo came from the Italian national lottery back in the 16th century, and it was later used to teach children their multiplication tables in Germany! The game became popular in the UK during WWI, with over 14 million people becoming members of bingo clubs by 1963. In the US, it was initially called Beano (as beans were used to cover the numbers), before a winning player is said to have called Bingo in excitement and the name stuck.
6. Wonderful words
One of the world's most iconic games, Scrabble was created in 1933 (after the Great Depression) by unemployed US architect Alfred Butts. First known as Lexico and then Criss Cross Words, Scrabble can be found in at least half of British homes and over 130 million sets have been sold worldwide. The Queen is a famous fan of the game and there's even a National Scrabble Day held annually on April 13th (the date of it's inventor's birthday)!
7. Creating connections
Board games have always been a great way to bring people together. Games manufacturer Hasbro found that 91% of families who played together said it had a positive impact on their mood, with parents also hoping it helped children to learn communication, sportsmanship and teamwork skills. Social connection is of course important for positive mental health, and the structured nature of board games (and lack of technology) means they can be a positive distraction and way to reduce anxiety for people of all ages.
8. Boosting brainpower
And lastly, the good news is that all board games can help us boost our brainpower! Whether we're learning rules, problem solving, decision making or thinking strategically, we use areas of the brain that engage thought processes and memory. These types of games help children to learn spelling, counting and other life skills, and recent research on elderly people playing (non digital) games such as Chess and Bingo also shows that the earlier you start, and the more often you play, the better. A great lifelong example of "use it, don't lose it".
Do you have a favourite board game? We'd love to hear about it in the comments below. And if you'd looking to give a board game to a friend or family member - or to treat yourself - dip into our Sports & Leisure collection for gift inspiration.