The History and Evolution of Popular Board Games

From world championships across the globe to game nights at people’s homes, various kinds of board games have always been popular amongst different age groups.

Can you imagine that the board games market has grown at an exponential 40% year over year over the past decade and is also amongst Kickstarter’s most-funded project categories (according to The Guardian).

A board game is basically any tabletop game that is played on a surface or ‘board’ with pieces that are to be moved around within the demarcated space. Board games have been around for eons, literally, and some experts reckon that mankind invented some types of board games even before we discovered using language as a mode of communication with each other.


The history and evolution of board games is quite fascinating, since they have always been an important part of human culture and tradition. While prehistoric games used dice or pieces that were made by carving stone or wood, with time, we started creating more evolved games.

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Origin of Popular Board Games

Here are some of the most important games in the historical timeline of board games and places where they originated before spreading to other parts of the world:

  • Dice (Place of origin unknown)
  • Senet (Ancient Egypt)
  • Hyena (Middle East Asia)
  • Royal Game of Ur (Iraq)
  • Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum (Roman Empire)
  • Backgammon (Ancient Mesopotamia)
  • Ludus Latrunculorum – Medieval Latin name for Chess (Roman Empire)
  • Liubo (China)
  • Tafl (Northern Europe)
  • Chaturanga (Ancient India)
  • Shatranj (Persia)
  • Snakes and Ladders (India)
  • Mad Queen Chess (Western Europe)
  • Pachisi / Chaupar / Ludo (Mughal Empire, India)
  • Mancala (Eastern Africa)
  • The Landlord’s Game (America)
  • Settlers of Catan (Europe)

While some board games are driven by luck and chance, others involve a lot of planning, strategy and quick wit on the players’ part. Most board games involve at least two players pitted against each other, with the pieces being moved around according to the gameplay rules in order to collect a certain number of predefined points.

In the mid and late-1990s, the popularity of board games rose to an incredible level. The exposure of modern board games to a worldwide audience meant that the industry started to flourish and we had a considerable increase in the number of board game design and development companies.

Bestselling Contemporary Board Games

1. Chess

By far the bestselling board game of all time, chess throws up endless possibilities and involves strategic decision-making at every step. The luck factor doesn’t play any role here, which bodes well for chess to be considered a specialized game that players win based on their intelligence, strategy and preemption.

2. Monopoly

A lengthy game that relies largely on luck, Monopoly involves rolling the dice and taking turns to buy property, pay rent to the other players and several other interesting steps using fake currency. This popular board game has gone through numerous minor tweaks over the years, but still remains one of the most sought-after games in the market even today.

3. Scrabble

A smart and dynamic tabletop word game, Scrabble uses a standard dictionary-and-crossword-puzzle format along with lettered tiles (with points) that players use to form meaningful words. Linguistic skills, vocabulary and spelling abilities are at play here as players try to outscore each other and gain big points.

4. The Settlers of Catan

A dynamic board game that involves building and gaining holdings, the trading of resources is a particularly interesting aspect of The Settlers of Catan. The goal for a player is to increase their settlement in size and correspondingly earn points.

5. Battleship

What started as a pen-and-paper game is today one of the most fascinating board games that involves sinking the enemy’s ships. This thrilling game, too, calls for judicious planning and outsmarting the opponent. The idea is to have your ships in strategic positions and outnumbering the rival’s army.

Pictionary, Candyland, Ludo, Anti-Monopoly, The Game of Life, Clue, Trivial Pursuit and Cards Against Humanity are some other examples of extremely popular contemporary board games around the world. Over a period of time, board games were thought to have become archaic, especially when the era of video games began. However, with drastic improvements in game design and development areas including artwork, game components, visuals, graphics, mechanics and gameplay dynamics, the demand for board games has multiplied significantly.

At Seamedu School of Pro-Expressionism, game design and development courses include an important ‘practical learning’ aspect, which encourages students to come up with innovative ideas for creating novel board games. We conduct game design workshops and board game fests to help students execute their ideas and bring concepts to life.