Few games that humans still play predate Senet, the Game of Passing, which was first played as far back 3100 BCE. The game was thought to portray the journey to the afterlife and is depicted in many tombs and home sites, as the game was popular with both the upper and lower classes in Ancient Egypt. However, no game-instructions have been found. Much of what is known about this game is through matches being recorded on tomb walls and remains of the game found at ancient residential sites. Through this evidence, archeologists have been able to reconstruct some of the gameplay.
The board itself consists of thirty squares – houses – arranged in three rows. Each player has five pieces or pawns. The pawns are arranged alternating between one another and move across the board in an “s” shaped pattern. The player to remove all of their pawns off the board first wins the game. The only way to get a pawn off the board is to move the exact amount of spaces necessary.
Players move across the board by using four throw-sticks. These sticks are marked and the player who throws moves one to four, or six times, depending on the throw. Players move one step for each side with a mark; a player can move four houses if all sticks have all marked sides up and a player can move six times if all sticks have no marked sides up. Though there is debate over how the Ancient Egyptians counted their steps; some reports suggest that the number 5 was used instead of 6, and the basic pattern holds. In addition, certain numbers – 1, 4, and 6 – grant a player extra throws.
As the players move through the houses, some of these houses affect the player and are marked with hieroglyphs. These houses can give a player good fortune, such as the House of Rebirth and the House of Repeating Life, where a player receives a bonus turn. Other houses do not provide good fortune, like the House of Netting – a barrier where a player can no longer continue to move – and the House of Water – a barrier that will send the player back to a starting site. Other houses on the board give indication of how close a player is to getting off the board. On the House of Three Truths, a pawn needs to move 3 spaces in order to get off the board and from the House of Re, the pawn needs to move 2 spaces to get off the board. The House of Rebirth, House of Repeating Life and the last three houses on the board are Safe Houses. These safe houses can help a player against an opponent.
In addition to the special houses, other rules apply. For example, two pawns cannot occupy the same house. If a pawn lands on a house occupied by the opponent, then the active pawn can jump over (if active pawn has enough steps) or switch places with the opponents’ pawn. However the resting pawn is protected if there are two of the same pawns next to each other. An active pawn cannot move if three of the opponents’ pawns are next to each other – this forms a block. An opponent cannot attack a pawn if the resting pawn is on a Safe House.
Again, there are variations to how this game is played, especially when it comes to the various houses. The game is recreated in specialty game stores and just like in ancient times, it is fun for the whole family. Join us as we play the Game of Passing like the Ancient Egyptians every 3rd Saturday of the month at 12:30 pm!