Books : reviews

Tristan Donovan.
Great Board Games of the Ancient World.
Great Courses. 2022

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 30 September 2023

This is the course guidebook that accompanies the 12 lecture “Great Course” of the same name. It is essentially an abbreviated transcript of each lecture, a few pictures, and some related reading. (I watched the lectures, which is what I am reviewing here, and am using the book simply as an aide-memoire.)

This provides an interesting overview of a collection of ancient board games, some with rules lost in the mists of time (Senet, Patolli, etc), some that have survived to today, albeit in mutated forms (Chess, Go, Backgammon, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, etc). We get games from Asia, Africa, the New World, and Europe. I was surprised how many of the European games originated in India: Chess I knew, but Ludo, and Snakes and Ladders?

Donovan gives the history, the variants, and, in some cases, tips on gameplay.