The Oldest Games of Strategy Still Commonly Played Today


Games undoubtedly bring people together. A group of friends may enjoy each other’s company by simply sitting around chatting, but stick a deck of cards or a board game in the middle of them and they are sure to have a blast. In fact, nowadays game nights are especially entertaining evenings bound to please everyone involved.

However, one thing that some may not realize is that many of the popular activities we enjoy in our modern environments actually have roots in the ancient past.

Particularly games of strategy have traveled across cultures and various countries to land in the spaces and places we see them today. Here are four examples, starting from the most recent to the oldest.  

POKER

Poker’s first origins are over 1,000 years old, although its initial founding location is not 100% known. It was played in China along with in Persia and several other locations over the years. However, many believe it to be an descendent of the 16th century Persian activity “As Nas.”

Europeans enjoyed the game in 17th century France as well, where it was known by the name of “Poque” and it was later brought to America by colonists. It was only at this time in the 1800s that the 52-card deck was incorporated with five cards for each player. Later, during wartime, poker became extremely popular, played religiously by boat crewman along the Mississippi River. The game then traveled further West to saloons and frontiers, and eventually many different variants were created.

Today there are countless types of poker, but still the most played are Texas Hold ‘Em, 7-Card Stud, and 5-Card Draw, to name a few.

Nowadays it is common to see people playing chess in public as many big cities have built-in boards on tables outdoors

CHESS

Moving much further into the past, the earliest version of Chess is said to have been created in 600 AD in ancient India. However, at this time it was known as a national war game called “Chaturanga”. This game also had a king piece like modern-day Chess sets do, although there were notable differences within its gameplay.

From there the game spread to China, Japan, Mongolia, and even East Siberia, the board and its pieces reinventing themselves depending on the empire. It wasn’t until the 15th century that a standardized version of the game was formed with modern rules and an appearance that resembles the one people are familiar with today.

The culture of chess resonates with people still, as both film and TV directors have used the ancient game as main themes in their productions. One example is the recent success of The Queen’s Gambit, last year’s breakout show that caught the attention of millions and became Netflix’s most watched scripted series in the platform’s history.

BACKGAMMON

The game of Backgammon is 5,000 years old, although that specific fact was discovered only recently. A landmark moment came in 2004 when a gameboard was unearthed by archaeologists in the Shahr-e Sukhteh, Iran. The relic is so important because it is the oldest known Backgammon representation in the history of the game.

A dice-rolling game that is enjoyed by two players, Backgammon, like the other strategic activities on this list, left roots in many countries across the world.

CHECKERS

Although it is widely found in today’s modern coffee shops and a staple of any Cracker Barrel restaurant, Checkers is the oldest game on the list. Experts know this because a board was discovered in the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur that dated all the way back to 3,000 BC.

While gameplay and the look of the individual pieces have evolved over the years, Checkers is still a classic activity of strategy that is fun to play and not so complicated to learn. Nowadays, entire international competitions are devoted to the game and often hand out hefty prize pools to winners.