Board Games History

Senet: Ancient Egypt’s “Game of Death”

I read to my daughter about Ancient Egypt. She’s in love with the time period, people, gods, and especially the process of mummification. By happenstance, in the most recent book we’re going through, her interest in Egypt intersected with my fondness for board games.


Senet is reportedly one of the oldest board games, dating to around 3,100 B.C. It was a two-player-only game played on a board of 30 squares arranged in three rows of 10 squares. The board was typically made out of wood, faience, ivory, or a combination of those materials. It had such a significance to the pharaoh Tutankhamun that he had four Senet boards buried in his tomb, the most lavish being an ebony and ivory board that had a drawer to store the counters and sat on ornate legs carved in the shape of animal feet.

While a fixed set of rules has not been found, historians says that each player had five pawns and the object of the game was for the player to move their pawns, and eventually get them off the board. By all accounts, a seemingly abstract strategy game with no theme. However, with the afterlife being a significant facet of Egyptian life, their texts over time began to describe the religious importance of the game. The New York Post reports that a Senet board found in the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, California continues that line of thinking.

Archaeologist Walter Crist writes an article about the new find in the The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, saying that the game is a reflection of the ba – the person’s life force that is separated from its physical body at death – as it passes through Duat, the realm of the dead in ancient Egyptian mythology. The squares on the board are meant to represent the different stages along the journey. Crist also talks about the meaning of the word Senet and its connection to the afterlife.

The word senet in Egyptian means ‘passing,’ and may refer either to the game’s religious connotation of the ba passing through the duat or to the mechanics of gameplay, where playing pieces passed each other on the board.

A fascinating breakdown of the board orientations and decoration, and an investigation of the Rosicrucian Museum’s Senet board is provided in Wrist’s article, which you can read further if you like: Passing from the Middle to the New Kingdom: A Senet Board in the Rosicrucian Museum.

Board Games

Board game pre-orders (week 7, 2020)

South African board gamers don’t often find the newest releases available locally. It can often be months after a game’s release in European and US markets before the games are up for pre-order here. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the pre-orders available from the local supplier of board games (Solarpop), and pick out some titles that may be of interest.


Cooper Island by is designed by Andreas “ode.” Odendahl and is a heavy worker (and tile) placement and resource management game that plays between 90 and 120 minutes if you know what’re you’re doing.

In the age of exploration the players arrive at a new home far away from their homeland. They try to settle the big island and each player tries to explore one part of it by placing landscape tiles. Landscape tiles grant resources and those are used to erect buildings with special abilities. Barriers on the island have to be removed in order to explore the island even further. Players build valuable statues and supply ships get them the supplies from the old world they need to be a successful settler on Cooper Island.

While the games sits at a modest 7.7 rating on BGG, the game has been hailed by some as one of the highlights of the year. Paul Grogan from Gaming Rules! summarizes the mechanics and gives his opinions:

The game does have a solo mode, but it is not included in the base box. Currently it can only be purchased on the Frosted Games’ website.


Alexander Pfister is a board game designer of some repute. While the likes of Isle of Skye, Mombasa, and OMG! are noteworthy, his 2016 opus, Great Western Trail is considered by some to be his best work. His newest title Maracaibo blends the mechanics seen in his previous games to produce a seafaring adventure that has the player circumnavigating the Caribbean during the 17th century.

The players sail on a round course through the Caribbean. E.g., you have city tiles where you are able to perform various actions or deliver goods to. One special feature is an implemented quest mode over more and various tiles, which tells the player, who chase after it, a little story.

Maracaibo has a rating of 8.3 on BGG and has been met with critical reception. Paul Grogan from Gaming Rules! once again provides a good summary and review of the game, its mechanics, and the rule book. It’s reportedly in his top games of 2019.

The does include a solo mode where the player goes up against an AI opponent. The game comes with a campaign mode, by accounts a basic story, which can work in both multiplayer and solo mode.


Laying pipe has never looked so beautiful than in Ryan Courtney’s debut (hurrah!) game, Pipeline. The relatively complex economic strategy game includes elements of tile placement, network/route building, and resource conversion.

… in Pipeline you start a company in the oil business. You will focus on building a much more efficient pipeline network in your refinery, hiring experts that provide valuable benefits over your competitors, and managing the logistics of purchasing and selling your refined oil in the various markets. You will need more than strong economic skills – carefully crafting an interweaving network of pipelines just might ensure your victory!

With its limited turns and tight economy, a round of inefficiency against experienced players can be disastrous. Some people are turned away by this, while others relish it. The folks over at No Pun Included loved it so much, it was their game of the year for 2019.

There is no official solo mode for the game, but fan-made variants are available on BGG.


Burnt Island Games’ nautically themed Endeavor: Age of Sail is an acclaimed title from 2018, and it seems their 2019 effort may have similar appeal. In the Hall of the Mountain King has the player putting together a workforce to do hard labour in the bowels of a mountain.

Play as trolls rebuilding your abandoned kingdom under the mountain in In the Hall of the Mountain King. With muscle and magic, you’ll unearth riches, dig out collapsed tunnels, and carve out great halls as you raise the toppled statues of your ancestors to their places of honor at the heart of the mountain. Gameplay is driven by the innovative cascading production system. Timing and tactics are key as you work to restore your home to its former glory and win the crown!

Reviews for the game are thin at the moment but Dice Tower’s Tom Vasel bashes the gavel to give the game a silver seal of approval. Note that in the video he has the Kickstarter components, the retail version will come with cheaper tokens as was the case with Endeavor: Age of Sail.

Solo and coop modes aren’t in the base game and appear to be available in a separate expansion, Cursed Mountain.


Designer J. Alex Kevern has had more misses than hits with his two recent titles, ArtSee and Passing Through Petra. 2020 sees the release of Succulent, which certainly has one of the most beautiful box covers. If like me, your experience with the propagation and growing of succulents has been fraught with disaster, you may find more success in playing a game about it.

Your succulent garden is amazing! Through thoughtful selection, delicate pruning, and tireless care, you’ve earned a reputation as a master horticulturist. In Succulent, you compete against your peers for lucrative and prestigious projects that will cement your place as the community’s premier succulent gardener.

The game is played over a series of turns during which players collect succulent cuttings from their gardens along with water crystals and use them to complete projects which grant various benefits, including earning points. Most victory points at the end of the game wins!

There are currently no reviews or even a rule book available. It seems the game may be slated for release in May of this year.

That’s it for this small, subjective list. It is subset of the pre-orders that are currently available from Solarpop. The full list is available here:

If you have any comments, drop them below. 

Board Games

Roll, Player: Museum

Hello there. It’s dice to meet you.

If you’ve found this page, you likely have an interest in board games, puns, or museums. Luckily for you, I have two of the three things covered in this post. Be warned though, none of this commentary comes from an experienced board gamer; far from it. My history with modern board games started in August. This year.

As someone who has recently got into modern board games, the library of board games out there is staggeringly huge, in a multitude of types, categories, and involved mechanisms. I’m always on the look out for games that are easy to understand and will attract multiple plays. In our household, it’s either laying down trains across America in Ticket to Ride, scrambling to gold in The Quest for El Dorado, or building the best habits in Barenpark. From all that I’ve seen of this following game, I think it might check all the boxes of a fantastic gateway game.