Classic Modern and Ancient Games – Gaming On Vacation

It has been a long time since I posted because I was on vacation in the UK.  The week before was spent getting the house ready.  We have five pets and it is too expensive to board them so we get a house sitter.

While on the trip, I had the privilege to go to two locations that had a bit about the history of games.  We’ll start in Edinburgh, Scotland:

Museum of Childhood, Royal Mile, Edinburgh

This is a free Museum that you can explore in downtown Edinburgh.  So, while walking down the Royal Mile, why not?  The images below highlight a couple of classic modern “games” or children’s activities.  They aren’t all “games” in the strictest sense, but I think that anything that causes us to use our imaginations and stratech our cognitive abilities should count.

The original semi-modern version of “Chutes and Ladders” (US) was “Snakes and Ladders” (UK) and that can be dated back even further.  It is an Indian game based off a morality lesson.  Ladders are virtues that get you closer to salvation and snakes are vices.  There were classically fewer ladders than snakes, noting the difficulty of a virtuous life.


I didn’t play much with Erector sets when I was a kid.  They were a decade or so before my time.  But, my brother and I played with tons of LEGOs and the imagining that went on with those was intense.


A variety of classic “modern” games:


Puzzles were invented in Britain in the 18th century to help with the training of geography and to reinforce Bible stories.  Britain was a naval power and they needed their youth to know basic geography for the Empire.  The very first puzzles were maps with each country cut out.  Puzzles were originally wood and expensive to produce and became cheaper when cardboard was ubiquitous.  Puzzle map of Scotland:


Games Workshop Store

There is a Games Workshop store on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.  Being a gamer, I had to stop, of course.  I don’t play Warhammer and was a little embarrassed to admit that to them, but the guys there were very nice about it.  They’re excited about the same sorts of stuff we are and we chatted for a bit about what armies they play, even though the significance of their choices went completely over my head.

 Edinburgh Castle Museums

Most of the “gaming”-related paraphenalia that you can view at Edinburgh Castle are games made by prisoners of the UK while they were incarcerated during wars (Americans during the War of Independence, French during the Napoleonic Wars, etc.)


One of the coolest things I saw at these Museums is model ships that the prisoners made from bones of their food and scraps of clothing and parts of their hammocks.  The prisoners would make all sorts of these crafts to sell to locals out in their exercise yards to get some money.  Both of the models below were made from scraps.

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The Lewis Chessmen – National Museum of Scotland and The British Museum

Scotland’s History has been dominated by clashes between its native populations and foreign invaders.  Scotland has been settled since at least 12,000 BC.  In Medieval times, Scotland was dominated by three groups:  Norse Vikings, the Celts or Gallic people, and the Picts.  The Lewis Chessmen are represented by four almost complete sets that were probably manufactured in Norway, brought over to Scotland on the many Viking raids, and cached on the Island of Lewis as part of a horde.  Discovered in 1831, they were probably made between 1150 and 1200 AD.  The National Museum of Scotland has some of the pieces on display, and the pictures below are from the bulk of the sets on display at the British Museum.


 The Royal Game of Ur – The British Museum

Not quite the first board game of recorded history (that goes to Egypt), but the Royal Game of Ur, found in Ur, Iraq in the 1920s, is pretty old.  Around 2600 B.C. old.  It was also known as the Game of 20 squares, two sets were found and one is on display at the British Museum.


The Royal Game of Ur is a race game that may be a precursor for backgammon.  It isn’t exactly known how it was played, but a Babylonian tablet written in cuneiform gave scholars some clues.  If you’d like to play it, below are the placards that accompany the actual set in the British Museum.

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The Royal Game of Ur was popular, as far as scholars can tell.  You can find a copy of the game board scratched into one of the winged bull gate monuments (probably by a guard or soldier) from Khorsabad near modern Mosul, Iraq.  The city was part of the Assyrian Empire.  Other cities throughout the Empire also had Ur-like graffiti.

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I hope you enjoyed my gaming update from my trip to the UK.  Gaming has been popular with humans for thousands of years and modern gamers are keeping one of our oldest traditions alive!


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