Try It Yourself: Instructions for 3 Ancient Games

How to play Senet, Nine Men's Morris and Mancala.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Following are three games described by "artifactologist" Dr. Michael Saban, who investigates ancient games artifacts. In his article “Ancient Board Games in the Land of Israel” published recently in the Qadmoniot journal (vol. 45 no. 144), he summarizes 20 years of research of game boards discovered in Eretz Israel.

Senet: The long and complicated way to block 30

Players: Two

Equipment: Five rocks each, "Senet" game board, sticks or dice

The game is played by throwing sticks. The side that the sticks fall on determines how many steps each player can move. The game can also be played with dice.

The goal: To move all the rocks across the board and, in time, move them off the board through the square marked 30. All rocks that are on the same square can be moved together.

Instructions: The rocks can only be moved to free squares or squares that aren't protected by opponents. If you arrive at a square that isn't protected, the opponent's rock or rocks return to the starting point.

How does one protect? By placing rocks in adjacent blocks.

Blocking is achieved by placing three rocks in a row, which means that the opponent cannot move his rocks passed the blocking rocks.

Limitations posed on the last five squares:

Square 26 – "The Pretty House" – Every rock needs to go through this square in order to leave the board. Thus, if you are located on square 25 you must roll a one in order to proceed.

Square 27 – "The trap" – If you reach this square you must return to square 18, the renewal square, or stay in square 27 until you roll a four.

Square 28 requires you roll a three in order to take your rock out of the game.

Square 29 requires you roll a two in order to take your rock out of the game.

Square 30 – the final square – In order to take your rock of the board, you must roll a one. This square is marked with a sun symbol of the Egyptian god Ra. Taking a rock out is a metaphor for the soul being united with god.

Game ends: When a player moves all his rocks off the board.

Nine Men's Morris (aka The Mill Game)

Players: Two

Equipment: Nine rocks each, "Nine Men's Morris" game board.

The goal: To trap the opponent's rocks or to block him.

Instructions: The game has two stages. In the first, each player places his rocks on the board on the dots where the lines intersect. In the second stage, each of the players, in turn, moves his pieces along the line to available dots.

The objective of the game is to form "mills" by placing three of their own rocks, or "men", in a horizontal or vertical row. Every time a player has his rocks in a mill he can take out one of his opponent's rocks as long as it isn't a part of a mill. Each player can dismantle and reassemble his own mill.

Game ends: When a player loses seven of his nine rocks so that he cannot form mills anymore, or when his rocks are all blocked so that he cannot move his rocks.


Players: Two

Equipment: 24 seeds for each opponent and a game board with 6 parallel pits. To the side are two larger bowls, the "Mancala".

The goal: To score the most seeds in the Mancala.

Setting up the game: Every player sows four seeds in each of the six pits on his side of the board, without planting any in the Mancala.

Instructions: In turn, each player takes all his seeds from one pit and plants them seed by seed in the pit adjacent to the pit from which they originated (working from right to left), placing one seed in each pit.

If the player reaches his Mancala, he can plant his seeds in there too. If he reaches the Mancala of the opponent, he skips it. If the player plants his last seed in his Mancala, he gets another turn.

If the player plants his last seed in an empty put on his side of the game board, he wins all of his opponent's seeds that are in the pit directly opposite his empty pit, and puts them in his Mancala.

Game ends: When one of the player's row of pits is completely empty, the other player moves all his remaining seeds to his own Mancala. Whoever has more seeds wins.

A Roman board game.Credit: The Antiquities Authority
'Senet' board game.
'Nine Men's Morris' (aka 'The Mill Game') game board.
'Mancala' game board.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


בנימין נתניהו השקת ספר

Netanyahu’s Israel Is About to Slam the Door on the Diaspora

עדי שטרן

Head of Israel’s Top Art Academy Leads a Quiet Revolution

Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

Skyscrapers in Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv.

Israel May Have Caught the Worst American Disease, New Research Shows

ג'אמיל דקוור

Why the Head of ACLU’s Human Rights Program Has Regrets About Emigrating From Israel


Netanyahu’s Election Win Dealt a Grievous Blow to Judaism