The Gods don’t play dice; a review of the ancient Egyptian board game ‘Senet.’

Senet is an ancient Egyptian board game (@ 3’500 BC) that is a chase game similar to backgammon. Each player has 5 pawns which travel around a 3 by 10 board in an S shaped path. Indeed the Gods don’t play dice.  Here you move by the throw of 4 sticks (black on one side and white on the other).  If any of your sticks land light side up you move that number of sticks (between 1-4).  If you throw 4 dark you can move 4 and then get another go. depending on how they land.  As in backgammon, the objective is to bear all of one’s pawns off first. But unlike that game, there are safe and trap spaces on the board (in the version below denoted by different Egyptoin symbols).  Also, players may block each others’ progress if they form a row or ‘wall’ of their pieces.  If you go to Google images for Senet you will find that Senet sets are usually constructed from various woods and are often quite beautiful. Senet is one of the oldest of man’s games but unfortunately it fell out of use for a few thousand years and no ancient rules set has been discovered (possibly another tragic loss resulting from the Library of Alexandria burning to the ground). As a result modern minds have made several educated guesses as to the rules.  And it is one of these that I found, on the Google Chrome Web Store.

First thing to take on board with this version, it’s lovely to look at and recreates the feel of one of the aforementioned beautiful wooden boards.  It sings to you an Egyptian refrain and you have the option of playing an AI offline or going on-line for another human opponent.  There’s a ranking system to measure your progress as you hopefully start ratcheting up the frequency of your victories.  Second thing to mention is that it is incredibly satisfying to find such an ancient game whose game-play blows most modern turn based games out of the water .Although as mentioned the game-play is a modern ‘best guess’ reconstruction, even so, it’s brilliant.  Like many classics such as Backgammon it is an outrageous mix of skill and fortune (or chance) that will leave you thinking victory is assured one moment, only to find it all going hrribly wrong as you don’t get the throw you need, and your faulty strategy makes itself known.  Because victory in Senet comes from strategic planning to ensure that as far as is possible you will not get boxed in a corner.  In the last game I played I had got 4 of my pieces off the board and simply needed to throw 1 light stick to get on the square ‘House of life’ (I think) which would enable me to proceed further.  But I could not find that throw, and the opponents pieces flew past like cars in a F1 race.  Worse, I did throw a 1 at one point but then threw a 1 again which landed me in the “Sea of re-birth” which put me back to the half-way point.  Then I resigned.  But the most notable point was that until it all went horribly wrong, I was comfortably ahead and assured victory was in the bag.  But my strategic error was not leaving myself with sufficient choices or pieces in play.

Other versions of Senet are also available on the IOS platform but are AI versions only, which to me takes more than half the fun away (I’ll always rather play people).  If anyone knows of any other good versions on IOS or anywhere else on-line I may have missed please let me know in the

In the thick of the race.  Could go either way.

In the thick of the race. Could go either way.

comments to this post.

To sum up Senet hooks you quick and reels you in.  A great pleasure to find and play this gem.

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