History of Board Games, Playing Cards, and Puzzles

family playing board game

 Getty Images / Hoxton / Paul Bradbury

A selection of histories behind the invention of "board games", playing cards, and puzzles. It turns out that game inventors are often as amusing as the games they invent. Where possible we have included an online version of each game.

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Backgammon is a two-player board game that involves dice throws and the strategic moving of one's markers around the board, while both trying to knock your opponent's markers off the board and protecting your own markers from being knocked off.

Backgammon had its beginning around the 1st century A.D. The Roman Emperor Claudius was said to be a very avid player of Tabula, a predecessor to the game of Backgammon.

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Barrel of Monkeys

In Barrel of Monkeys, the object is to create an interlocking chain of monkey looking pieces. The monkeys hook together and twelve makes a win. However, drop a monkey and you lose.

Lakeside Toys first introduced Barrel of Monkeys in 1966. Leonard Marks of Roslyn, New York was the inventor. Lakeside Toys also invented the bendable Pokey and Gumby figures. Hasbro Toys now manufactures the Barrel of Monkeys game.

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Bingo, the famous raise-money-for-the-church-social game, can trace its roots to 1530, and an Italian lottery called "Lo Giuoco del Lotto D'Italia.

A toy salesman from New York called Edwin S. Lowe re-invented the game and was the first person to call it Bingo. Lowe published the game commercially.

By definition, Bingo is a game of chance in which each player has one or more cards printed with differently numbered squares on which to place markers when the respective numbers are drawn and announced by a caller. The first player to mark a complete row of numbers is the winner.

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Card games were co-created with playing cards themselves and may have been invented by the Chinese when they began shuffling paper money into various combinations. Though where and when cards originated is uncertain, China does seem the most likely place to have invented cards, and the 7th to the 10th century the earliest probable time playing cards appeared.

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Checkers or as the British call it Draughts, is a game played by two persons, each with 12 playing pieces, on a checkerboard. The object of the game is to capture all of your opponent's pieces.

A board game that appeared very similar to checkers was discovered in the ruins of the ancient city of Ur in modern-day Iraq. This board game dates to about 3000 B.C. Checkers as we know it today has been around since 1400 B.C. In Egypt, a similar game was called Alquerque

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Chess is an intense strategy game played by two persons, on a chessboard. Each player has 16 pieces that can make different types of moves depending on the piece. The object of the game is to capture your opponent's "King" piece.

Chess originated in Persia and India about 4000 years ago. A very early form of Chess was called Chaturanga, a four-handed game played with dice. Chess pieces were carved miniature elephants, horses, chariots and foot soldiers.

Modern Chess as we know it today is about 2000 years old. The Persians and Arabians called the game Shatranj. Chess and cards were introduced to North America by Christopher Columbus. Howard Staunton, the world's leading chess player of the 1840s, organized the first international chess tournament and designed the classic chess pieces used in modern matches and tournaments today.

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Cribbage is a card game invented in the early 1600s by the English poet and courtier, Sir John Suckling. Two to four players can play and the score is kept by inserting small pegs into holes arranged in rows on a small board.

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Crossword Puzzle

A crossword puzzle is a word game that involves hints and letter counting with players trying to fill in a grid with words. The game was invented by Arthur Wynne and first published on Sunday, December 21, 1913.

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The word "Domino" comes from the French word for the black and white hood worn by Catholic priests in winter. The oldest domino sets date from around 1120 A.D. and appears to have been a Chinese invention. The game first appeared in Europe in Italy, around the 18th Century, in the courts of Venice and Naples.

Dominoes is played with a set of small rectangular blocks, each divided on one side into two equal areas, each of which is either blank or marked with from one to six dots. Players place their pieces according to matching numbers and colors. The first person to get rid of all their pieces wins.

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Jigsaw Puzzles

Englishmen mapmaker, John Spilsbury invented the jigsaw puzzle in 1767. The first jigsaw was of a map of the world.

A jigsaw puzzle is made up of many interlocking pieces that when placed together form a picture. However, the pieces are taken apart and a player has to put them back together.

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Monopoly is a board game for two to six players who throw dice to advance their tokens around a board, the object being to acquire the property on which their tokens land.

Charles Darrow became the first millionaire board game designer after he sold his Monopoly patent to Parker Brothers. However, not all historians give Charles Darrow full credit as the inventor of Monopoly.

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Othello or Reversi

In 1971, the Japanese inventor, Goro Hasegawa created Othello a variation of another game called Reversi.

In 1888, Lewis Waterman invented Reversi in England. However, in 1870, John W. Mollet invented "The Game of Anexation", which was played on a different board but was very similar to Reversi.

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The Wizards of the Coast Inc. are the world's largest publisher of hobby games and a leading publisher of fantasy literature and owners of one of the nation's largest specialty game retail store chains. Founded in 1990 by Peter Adkison, Wizards of the Coast is headquartered just outside Seattle in Renton, Washington. The company employs more than 1,700 people with international offices in Antwerp, Paris, Beijing, London, and Milan.

Wizards of the Coast created the world's best-selling games Pokémon® and Magic: The Gathering® trading card games.

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Rubik's Cube

Rubik's Cube is considered the most popular brain puzzle in history. The idea of the toy puzzle is simple, players have to make every side of the cube to be one color. However, solving the puzzle is far from easy.

Hungarian, Erno Rubik invented Rubik's Cube.

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Dave Fisher, About's Guide to puzzles, has written this history behind the popular board game Scrabble invented by Alfred Butts in 1948.

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Snakes and Ladders

Snakes and Ladders is a racing board game where a player's token follows a track from start to finish. It is one the first and most popular of board games. Snakes and Ladders were invented in 1870.

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Trivial Pursuit

Trivial Pursuit was invented by Chris Haney and Scott Abbott on December 15, 1979. The board game involves answering trivia-style questions while moving around a game board.

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Merle Robbins was an Ohio barbershop owner who loved to play cards. One day in 1971, Merle came up with the idea for UNO and introduced the game to his family. When his family and friends began playing UNO more and more, Merle took notice. He and his family decided to pool together $8,000 and have 5,000 games made.

UNO went from 5,000 game sales to 125 million in a few years. At first, Merle Robbins sold UNO from his barbershop. Then, a few friends and local businesses sold them, too. Then UNO took the next step towards card-game fame: Merle sold the rights to UNO to a funeral parlor owner and UNO fan from Joliet, Illinois for Fifty thousand dollars, plus royalties of 10 cents per game.

International Games Inc. was formed to market UNO, and sales skyrocketed. In 1992, International Games became part of the Mattel family, and UNO had a new home."

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Your Citation
Bellis, Mary. "History of Board Games, Playing Cards, and Puzzles." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/history-of-board-games-playing-cards-and-puzzles-1992512. Bellis, Mary. (2023, April 5). History of Board Games, Playing Cards, and Puzzles. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-board-games-playing-cards-and-puzzles-1992512 Bellis, Mary. "History of Board Games, Playing Cards, and Puzzles." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-board-games-playing-cards-and-puzzles-1992512 (accessed June 5, 2023).