“Senet was a popular board game in ancient Egypt and may possibly be one of the ancestors of Backgammon. People of all levels of ancient Egyptian society played it and some believe it had religious meaning. Senet was the favorite pastime of king tut and in fact his mother in-laws name "Nefertiti" can be traced to one of the symbols on the gameboard”.
The popularity of this game is evident from the number of sets that have been found in Egyptian tombs, from those of commoners to those of the Pharaohs. So far, almost fifty sets have been discovered, many of them in perfect condition with the pieces and "dice" (either knucklebones or sticks) still intact.
The oldest known reference to Senet is in a wall painting in the tomb of the Third Dynasty Pharaoh Hesy (c. 2650 BC), which shows the game being played with seven pawns per player (sets and paintings have been found with as many as ten pawns per player). These first paintings show Senet being played between two players, but later paintings show a single player playing against an invisible opponent. From these two different depictions, it is very possible that Senet began as a game, but later acquired a magical or holy quality and became something of a ritual in and of itself. This situation does have parallels in our era; witness the mystic aura Chess has developed in movies such as The Seventh Seal and works of literature where the hero plays Chess (or a similar game) against Death, the Devil, a god, etc.
Oddly enough, no rules for Senet have ever been found, either written on papyrus or painted on a tomb wall. It appears as though the game may have been so popular that it was taught entirely by word of mouth from one player to another, because almost everyone knew how to play it anyway. Still, a number of people have created what they believe are the closest reconstructions of the rules of Senet, based on tomb paintings of the game, references to it in Egyptian writing, and by looking at its descendants: games such as Dublets, Tables, and our modern Backgammon.
The squares are numbered on the
first row 1-10 from left to right, on the second row 11-20 right to left,
and on the third row 21-30 left to right. The pieces, or Pawns, follow the
path of the numbers, left to right on the top row, then right to left on
the middle row, and left to right on the bottom row (or in some versions,
the reverse of that).
The Senet board is made up of 30 squares in three rows of ten squares apiece,like so:
Squares 26 through 30 have symbols on them, as does square 15, which in some variations is the starting point for the pieces. In some sets, square 30 does not have a symbol, but is rather painted a different color.
What follow are two reconstructions of the rules. Which one is closer to the original (if either) is impossible to say, but both sets of rules are fun to play, and the player is invited to create his own variants of Senet.
The game board is composed of 30 squares: 3 rows of 10 squares each. If we
number each square, the board can be represented like this:
|The Bell Variant (created by R. C. Bell)
Each player has 10 pawns. Four two-sided sticks (one side painted) are
thrown to determine movement.
|The Kendall Variant (created by Timothy Kendall)
A summary of Timothy Kendall's work on the reconstruction of the rules of Senet is given in the book by Lhôte.
The winner is the first player to move all his pawns off the board.
Each player receives seven pawns. The pawns of both players alternate along squares 1-14. The fifteenth square is treated as the starting square. In the oldest games this square featured an ankh, a "life" symbol. Throw the four casting sticks to determine the move: each blank side up counts as one point. If all four marked sides come up, it counts as five points. Move one of your pawns a number of squares equal to the number of points you "rolled."
If a pawn is moved to a square occupied by an opponent’s pawn, the moving pawn is placed in that square and the opponent’s pawn is placed in the square that pawn started the move from (they exchange their positions).
The special squares have the following effects on play:
Certain squares have special effects on play:
15 : House of Rebirth, starting square and the return square for the pawns reaching square number 27.
the starting square and the square pawns return to when landing on The House of Water.
26 : House of Happiness, a mandatory square for all the pawns.
all pawns finish a move here, even if they threw enough to move past it.
27: House of Water, a square that can be reached by the pawns located on squares 28 to 30 which moved back when their throws did not allow them to exit the board. They have to restart from square 15.
any pawn finishing a move on this square must go back to The House of Rebirth.
28 : House of the Three Truths, a pawn may only leave when a 3 is thrown.
29 : House of the Re-Atoum, a pawn may only leave when a 2 is thrown.
The winner is the first to move all of their pawns off the board.
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