Board games - Boards and Counters

detail from ancient gaming board

Everyday Games with Everyday Things


Board games were played from the earliest times; they were played even in ancient Egypt. Evidence of boards are found throughout history in the strangest and most makeshift of places, ship's timbers, loose boards and lumps of rock. The less privileged classes made improvised boards, scratching grids with stones, nuts, glass or gaming counters. Evidence of a game grid can be found on a stone built into a fort on Hadrian's Wall, where men when having breaks played board games during the building of the wall.

An ancient game board has been found in ancient Egypt, it had been cut into a stone block on the roof of a temple and priests apparently played games while they waited for the sky to clear, in order to observe stars. There are also boards that have been cut into cloister seats of many English cathedrals. In 1699 two men were punished for making nine holes with their knives after evening prayers for the game of Nine Men's Morris or Merels. Medieval chalk ingot mould carved on one side to form a gaming board, excavated from Beverley.

Wooden bread board re-used as gaming board for the game Three Men's Morris.
There are examples of Medieval boards in the collections that have been made from every day objects; a wooden bread board that was reused as a board for merels, also a chalk mould that has been used for an Alquerque board, which is an ancient predecessor of Draughts.

Medieval bone game piece to accompany Three Men's Morris or Merels board. Excavated from Grimsby Lane.
The game Merels is one of the oldest games in the world, a board of this type has been cut into a temple at Kurna, Egypt 1440 BC, it is very similar to Tic-Tac-Toe or the present day noughts and crosses and is played with counters.Gaming piece made from animal bone from the 1600's

Counting On History


Many of the ancient games used gaming counters just as we use them today made from many different materials such as bone, chalk, wood and glass. Gaming counters that have been found have also been made from disk shaped slices of hart's pedicle (the lowest part of the antler on a male deer). Many are highly decorated and often have a hole in the centre where the heart of the pedicle has been removed; there are many examples of counters with these central holes in Hull's collections.

Counters made from glass were known as 'oculi' or eyeballs in Roman times, due to their rounded appearance as a consequence of being melted. They were made by slicing small sections of canes, arranging them on a surface such as a terracotta tile and reheating them in a furnace. They then deformed under the influence of gravity and made a flattened, rounded 'button' shape. The most common glass counters are green with small yellow circles; we have a number of these in our collections, though many others are known.

Counters have been used for many different types of War, Hunt and Race games throughout the ages.