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History of Board Games, Playing Cards, and Puzzles.


A selection of histories behind the invention of "board games", playing cards, and puzzles. It turns out that game inventors are often as amusing as the games they invent. Where possible I have included an online version of each game.

1. Backgammon

Backgammon Set
C Squared Studios/Getty Images
Backgammon is a two player board game that involves dice throws and the strategic moving of one's markers around the board, while both trying to knock your opponent's markers off the board and protecting your own markers from being knocked off.

Backgammon had its beginning around the 1st century A.D. The Roman Emperor Claudius was said to be a very avid player of Tabula, a predecessor to the game of Backgammon.

2. Barrel of Monkeys

Barrel of Monkeys
Courtesy of Hasbro Games
In Barrel of Monkeys the object is to create an interlocking chain of monkey looking pieces. The monkeys hook together and twelve makes a win. However, drop a monkey and you lose.

Lakeside Toys first introduced Barrel of Monkeys in 1966. Leonard Marks of Roslyn, New York was the inventor. Lakeside Toys also invented the bendable Pokey and Gumby figures. Hasbro Toys now manufactures the Barrel of Monkeys game.

3. Bingo

Bingo Game
Morgue File
Bingo, the famous raise-money-for-the-church-social game, can trace its roots to 1530, and an Italian lottery called "Lo Giuoco del Lotto D'Italia.

A toy salesman from New York called Edwin S. Lowe re-invented the game and was the first person to call it Bingo. Lowe published the game commercially.

By definition, Bingo is a game of chance in which each player has one or more cards printed with differently numbered squares on which to place markers when the respective numbers are drawn and announced by a caller. The first player to mark a complete row of numbers is the winner.

4. Cards

Playing Cards
Mary Bellis
Card games were co-created with playing cards themselves and may have been invented by the Chinese when they began shuffling paper money into various combinations. Though where and when cards originated is uncertain, China does seem the most likely place to have invented cards, and the 7th to the 10th century the earliest probable time playing cards appeared.

5. Checkers

Checkers or Draughts Board Game
Creative Crop/Getty Images
Checkers or as the British call it Draughts, is a game played by two persons, each with 12 playing pieces, on a checkerboard. The object of the game is to capture all of your opponent's pieces.

A board game that appeared very similar to checkers was discovered in the ruins of the ancient city of Ur in modern day Iraq. This board game dates to about 3000 B.C. Checkers as we know it today has been around since 1400 B.C. In Egypt, a similar game was called Alquerque.

6. Chess

Close up of a chess board and chess pieces
Stockbyte/Getty Images
Chess is an intense strategy game played by two persons, on a chessboard. Each player has 16 pieces that can make different types of moves depending on the piece. The object of the game is to capture your opponent's "King" piece.

Chess originated in Persia and India about 4000 years ago. A very early form of Chess was called Chaturanga, a four handed game played with dice. Chess pieces were carved miniature elephants, horses, chariots and foot soldiers.

Modern Chess as we know it today is about 2000 years old. The Persians and Arabians called the game Shatranj. Chess and cards were introduced to North America by Christopher Columbus. Howard Staunton, the world's leading chess player of the 1840's, organized the first international chess tournament and designed the classic chess pieces used in modern matches and tournaments today.

7. Cribbage

card game cribbage
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Cribbage is a card game invented in the early 1600s by the English poet and courtier, Sir John Suckling. Two to four players can play and the score is kept by inserting small pegs into holes arranged in rows on a small board.

8. Crossword Puzzle

Crossword Puzzle
Mary Bellis
A crossword puzzle is a word game that involves hints and letter counting with players trying to fill in a grid with words. The game was invented by Arthur Wynne and first published on Sunday, December 21, 1913.

9. Dominoes

men playing dominoes
Steven Errico/Getty Images
The word "Domino" comes from the French word for the black and white hood worn by Catholic priests in winter. The oldest domino sets date from around 1120 A.D. and appear to have been a Chinese invention. The game first appeared in Europe in Italy, around the 18th Century, in the courts of Venice and Naples.

Dominoes is played with a set of small rectangular blocks, each divided on one side into two equal areas, each of which is either blank or marked with from one to six dots. Players place their pieces according to matching numbers and colors. The first person to get rid of all their pieces wins.

10. Jigsaw Puzzles

Jigsaw puzzle on which world map is printed
Yasuhide Fumoto/Getty Images
Englishmen mapmaker, John Spilsbury invented the jigsaw puzzle in 1767. The first jigsaw was of a map of the world.

A jigsaw puzzle is made up of many interlocking pieces that when placed together form a picture. However, the pieces are taken apart and a player has to put them back together.

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