Linking your favorite traveling artists across the globe
A number of popular twentieth-century board games are actually just up-dated versions of period games. Interestingly, these traditional games have had their rules changed just enough, and original artwork added to the boards and/or pieces, to allow these “proprietary” versions to be copyright protected, as if they were new, original games. Thus, games such as Chutes and Ladders, Parcheesi, and Tripiley have pedigrees and histories that are far more interesting than most recently invented games.
Chutes and Ladders
The board game of Chutes and Ladders that you may have played as a youngster first appeared in Britain at the end of the 19th century as Snakes and Ladders, a game that was actually inspired by one of moral instruction from India, (called gyá n chaupad in Hindi - “The Chaupar of Knowledge”) Nepal (ná gapá sa - “Snake Dice”), and Tibet, which had both Hindu and Islamic versions. In these early versions any number of players would pursue a pilgrim’s progress from earthly desires and vices to more spiritual levels, with the goal of reaching Nirvana in the case of the Hindu version. The boards varied in size from 72 to 360 spaces, with each space representing a specific vice, virtue, tribulation, or reward.
A number of these game boards survive from the 18th and 19th centuries, but game historians believe that this family of games may actually date as early as the 13th century. However, the earliest examples lack the ladder short-cuts and snake pitfalls (or chutes in the U.S. version), features which were probably added later to make the game more interesting.
Described as India’s national board game, Pachisi is a four-player race game that is played on a distinctive cross-shaped board. This popular game has been adapted into two well-known western commercial derivatives: Ludo in the British Isles, and Parcheesi in America. Although these western variants are simplified family games where each player played everyone for himself, the original Indian version is a more demanding partnership game, similar to four-handed Backgammon.
Many western descriptions of Pachisi confuse it with the closely-related game of Chaupar. The most obvious difference between the two is that Pachisi is played with two-sided cowrie shell dice, and Chaupar uses four-sided dice. So Pachisi has sometimes been called “the poor man’s Chaupar,” partly from an age-old use of cowries as currency by the poorer Indian classes, and
partly because Chaupar is a bit more complex, and was thus perceived as the more aristocratic of the two.
The Golden Age of Chaupar actually coincided with the Mogul dynasty (l526-1857). The Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) played the game on a life-sized board from a central dais where he directed the movements of 16 slave-girls dressed in the colors of the various pieces. However, the earliest known representation of this game is a carving of the gods Shiva and Parvati at play in the cave temples of Ellora, whose carvings date from the late sixth or early seventh century.
Unfortunately, both have lost the status they once enjoyed in India and is now a folk game, being played more often in rural areas than in the westernized towns and cities. Even so, the game’s western counterparts ‹Parcheesi and Ludo‹ remain popular with families both in the US and Britain.
Rummy Royale, Tripoley®, Michigan Rummy
Rummy Royale, Tripoley, and Michigan Rummy are modern card games in which players ante equal numbers of chips or coins into eight sections or “bowls” of a betting board. During the course of the game, players win the coins as they play the corresponding face cards of the trump suit. The first to play all their cards wins the hand, and the other players have to pay the winner a penalty of one coin for every card they are left holding.
An ancestor of these games, Pope Joan, dates to the 1730s. During the 19th century, it became a popular parlour game in Scotland and England, often featuring mother-of-pearl chips and decorative lacquer-work trays, or lazy susan-style betting boards. However, the grandfather of all of these games is the German game Poch, which dates to the 1400s and and is one of the
oldest surviving card games for which we have documented rules. Similar to Poker, Poch includes an additional phase where players make bets as to who has the best hand.
Although Parker Brothers bought the copyright for the modern game of Pente in 1983, Pente is actually a descendant of the ancient Chinese game of Go (originally called Wei-qi).
The object of Go is to capture as many open spaces as possible, by surrounding them with one’s own pieces. If a player can surround their opponent’s pieces with his own stones, that player can claim those spaces as his own. The basic rules are fairly simple, but the large 19x19 square
board, and the large number of pieces (181 for black and 180 for white) make it a relatively complex game.
Chinese legend credits the invention of Go to the Emperor Yao (2357-2256 BC), who designed it as a brain-strengthening exercise for his half-wit son. However, game historians suggest it is more likely to have evolved from a form of divination around the second millenium BC. in which black and white stones were cast, and their resulting patterns interpreted.
The second generation of these games was the much simpler Go-moku, to which Pente is more closely related. In both of these games, a player wins if he succeeds in making a line of five stones in a row. These five-in-a-row games were first described in English during the 1880s, and appeared in the United States during the 1930s as a proprietary game called Pegity (it used pegs and holes instead of stones). Pente, the most recent member of this game family, appeared on the gaming scene in 1978.
Of course, there are other examples as well. Connect Four® had a previous life in a wooden form as the “Captain’s Mistress” -it’s name supposedly coming from ship’s officers who spent too much time below decks playing the game. No doubt, in the coming century, traditional games will be appropriated in a simlar fashion for use in electronic versions, in addition to current proprietary games that will no doubt be “improved” and updated by our own decendents.