The Survival of Games - Hunt and Race Games

detail from snakes and ladders board

The chances are that every board game that has ever existed through the centuries still exists, though possibly in a more complicated form. There are many different types of board games but the main types of games that have developed are war games, hunt or chase games and race games.

These classifications are based on the idea that games are typical of the early activities and survival tactics of man; the battle, the siege or hunt and race. However many of the games that developed for these reasons still survive today and have hardly changed as games are great for developing life skills such as hand-eye coordination, mental agility and not to mention social skills.

Hunt Games - Fox and Geese


Fox and Geese game
Hunt or Chase games often have pieces that resemble or are referred to as a type of animal such as the Fox and Geese or Fox and Hounds game. The object of the game is to chase and corner the lone goose or fox piece to the edge of the board. Many of the aristocracy and members of the royal family have enjoyed playing these games throughout history. Within the accounts of the Royal Household of Edward IV in the 14th Century there was a reference to the purchase of 'two foxes and twenty six hounds of silver gilt'.


Similar games are found in different parts of the world, two examples are Cows and Leopards from Ceylon, Tigers and Goats, the national game of Nepal and Coyote and Chickens, a Mexican game which was played with a red bean and grains of corn. The popular game Solitaire which is played today developed from the game Fox and Geese.

Race Games - Senet and Snakes and Ladders


Race games are just as ancient, even more so, one of the oldest remnants of any ancient board game ever unearthed was a game called Senet. It was found in tombs in Egypt around 3500 BC, it was a race game for two players with moves determined by knucklebones.

Game of Senet within Hull's Egyptian Gallery
Senet had become a kind of talisman for the dead and a useful object for the dangerous journey through the afterlife. The Egyptians believed that a successful player would be protected by the gods. The object of the game was to move the pieces around a snaking track to the finish, landing on squares marked for good or bad fortune such as 'good life' or 'house of rebirth' squares.

The first English commercial board games seem to have been race games, and have evolved from games like Senet, like the Game of Goose, introduced into England in 1597. They were printed in black and white on paper sheets, hand-coloured and mounted onto linen. Games were based on the element of chance and involved players racing round a spiral board trying to avoid penalties on the way. They often involved gambling counters which players put into a central kitty; this game resembles and has developed into more modern day race games such as Snakes & Ladders.

Snakes and Ladders is probably based upon a very old Indian game called Moksha-Patamu, which was used to show religious virtues and vices. The ladders represent virtuous acts, such as humbleness and generosity which will help the soul to reach heaven. The vices, such as lust, murder and theft symbolised by the head of the snake leads to reincarnation in a lower animal form.
Small silver ornament in the form of a Cobra snake within Hull's silver collections

When the game reached Britain in 1892, Snakes and Ladders moral aspects appealed to the Victorians. However virtues and vices changed to represent what they viewed as right and wrong. Penitence, Thrift and Industry became virtuous behaviour, whereas Indolence, Indulgence and Disobedience became the vices.

The Victorian's version of the game had little pictures showing good and bad deeds, such as a child who carried a load for an old woman would go up the ladder, but the one who was greedy and over-ate would go back down the body of the snake. Snakes and Ladders is still played although the religious symbolism has disappeared and now it is just a children's game.