I made a replica of the Royal Game of Ur. It is based on the dimensions of the board found at the royal tomb excavation now on display at the British Museum.
The Royal Game of Ur, also known as the Game of Twenty Squares, refers to an ancient game represented by two game boards found in the Royal Tombs of Ur in Iraq by Sir Leonard Woolley in the 1920s. The two boards date from the First Dynasty of Ur, before 2600 BC, thus making the Royal Game of Ur one of the oldest examples of board gaming equipment found, although Senet boards found in Egyptian graves predate it as much as 900 years. The Ur-style Twenty Squares game board was also known in Egypt as Asseb, and has been found in Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb, among other places. Discovery of a tablet partially describing the game play has allowed the game to be played again after over 2000 years, although reconstructions of the detailed rules have differed widely.
Board, dice, and pieces
The game of Royal game of Ur is played on an unusually shaped special board. To understand the shape of the board, first draw grid of 3 x 8 squares. Then, counting from the left, eliminate from the top and the bottom row, the 5th and 6th squares. You should be left with a block of 4 x 3 squares connected to a block of 2 x 3 squares by a bridge of 2 squares in the middle. Although boards with various patterns have been found, the only consistent factor has been that five of the squares on the board have rosettes inscribed in them and the consensus has been that these squares have a special significance. On the top and bottom rows, a rosette should appear in the second square from the right and the first square from the left. A fifth rosette should appear in the fourth square from the left in the middle row.
The boards found at Ur have been accompanied by small round counters, each with five white dots on them, seven light and seven dark. Also found have been six pyramidal dice each with two dots on two of the four corners. These are simply binary lots – throw three dice and count the number that land with a spotted corner upwards giving a number from 0 to 3.
Path the pieces take
There have been 2 suggestions by renowned games historians as to what path the counters take around the board. The consensus is that entry to the board is made into the outer row on the fourth square from the left going left. One player enters on the top row, the other on the lower. When the counter reaches the corner (with the rosette), it moves to the middle row and travels along in the reverse direction. It is the middle row that introduces the conflict and excitement.