6 Ancient Games for Modern Times

6 Ancient Games for Modern Times

Beth Callaghan
Nov 18, 2010

We've been thinking a lot recently about the kinds of games our kids play. You all had compelling thoughts on the subject of brains vs. batteries, in general advocating moderation and a little more emphasis on imaginative, no-electricity-required play. In response, we've gathered up a list of some ancient games that just might interest today's modern youth. Have a look after the jump!

Marbles. Marbles have been found in archeological sites from ancient Egypt and Rome, so this game is tried and true. You can buy the Classic Marbles Travel Game Set for $19.95, and it contains all you need: marbles, a canvas mat, a history/rulebook, and even a wooden shooter, for those who can't "knuckledown." While the manufacturer recommends this game for 8+, we find that marbles are fun for any child who is safe with small toys—generally ages 3 and up. And, if you don't know what "knuckledown" means, check out this quick guide to playing marbles at Family Education.

Mancala. Archeologists have found evidence of mancala boards in Africa dating to the 6th and 7th centuries A.D. The game involves several small bowls and one large bowl for each player; play involves moving small stones from bowl to bowl according to various rules that you can find here. Mancala boards are widely available today; get a fancy Melissa and Doug hand carved game for $19.99 at Dimples Baby, or a simpler one with a folding board for $9.94 at Amazon.

Hopscotch. While some people might try to trace hopscotch back to Roman military training exercises, the first recorded mention of it is during the 17th century. It's been a popular street sport for years, but there are numerous variations that may be unfamiliar to your kids. Check here for some alternate board schemas from 1900. Anyone can sketch a board on the sidewalk with chalk, but if you are looking for something more elaborate, this cool Hopscotch Rug from CB2 might be in order.

Jacks. Once called Knucklebones because game pieces were made from animal—well, knucklebones, sets of jacks have been found in prehistoric caves in Asia and have been depicted on pottery in ancient Greece. You can find basic rules here as well as some variations, such as Black Widow or Cherries in a Basket. Melissa and Doug offers a nice set in a wooden box currently available for $7.91 at Kazoo Toys.

Kubb. This outdoor pastime is sometimes called The Viking Game, since it's been played in Scandinavia since the time of the early Vikings. It involves chess-like pieces set out on a flat area; each team tries to knock the other team's pieces down with throwing pins. A bit of a cross between chess and bowling, with supervision it can be fun for the whole family. Find rules here, and get a set of your own at Old Time Games. An imported set made of eco-friendly rubberwood starts at $59, while a smaller set made from recycled plastic runs $54.

Chinese Jump Rope. Still played today during Chinese New Year, this jumping game involves elastic cords, multiple legs, and sometimes complicated patterns. Rules and variations are available from Live Strong, and Klutz offers a helpful set for $12.95 that includes two ropes in different sizes, a book of rules and even suggestions for how to make your own cords.

Do you have any old-timey games that you like to play with your family? Share them with us in the comments!

Image by Flickr member Jinx! licensed for use under Creative Commons.

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