The Royal Game of Ur


The Royal Game of Ur is among the oldest board games known. The oldest boards were found by archaeologists in the Royal Tombs of the Sumerian city of Ur, present day Iraq, and are over 4 1/2 thousand years old. Edivence shows the game was very popular (for example, graffiti in city walls reveal soldiers used to play it during their watches), and, with variations, it remained popular for thousands of years.

When the game was discovered in the 1920s by Sir Leonard Woolley, we had only educated guesses about its rules. That changed when Dr. Irving Finkel found a cuneiform tablet dated 177BCE which contains explanations about the game. We're not completely sure of all the details, and a few alternative rules have been proposed, but we can be sure that any difference is minor.

Some have speculated that Senet, an even older Egyptian board game, is the predecessor of the Royal Game, both being race games. Moreover, many suspect the Royal Game is itself a predecessor of the Roman Game of 12 Lines and Tabula, which in turn evolved into Backgammon.

Now, thousands of years after away from it's origins, you can bring this game back to life in your living room. It is both an honor and a pleasure to play this ancient game and discover that it still deserves its place among the great board games of all times.

The game

You control seven men, and your goal is to move them across and off the board. The path your men will take is shown in the image below. Notice your opponent will take a mirrored path.

The game board. There are sumerian drawings in each space and the rosette, a symbol of the sumerian goddes Inana, at each fourth spaces.

All your men start off the board. On your turn you throw three dice. The result is the amount of the white corners facing up. If you got no white corners, then the result is four.

You must then choose one piece and mode it according to the result of the dice. You can choose and move a piece that is currently off the board, introducing him into the game.

There are two invalid moves in the game:

  1. you cannot move a piece if it would land on a space already occupied by an ally
  2. you cannot move a piece off the board unless you got the exact dice roll (for example: if you need a 2 to escape and you roll a 3, the move is invalid)

If you roll the dice and all your moves are invalid, you mast pass your turn. If your man lands on a space occupied by an enemy, the enemy is captured and taken off the board - he will have to start over. If your man lands on a rosette, you may roll again. You can move any of your men with this new roll.

You can move a man off the board if you roll the exact number to do it. The man has thus escaped and cannot be reintroduced into the game. You win when all your seven men escape.