Games People Play: The Evolution of Games Through the Ages

4 minute read

From ancient board games played thousands of years ago to the Olympic games that we still enjoy today, games have been a part of society for as long as recorded history. At M.S. Rau, we are pleased to offer a finely curated selection of the most historically important and exciting antique games and gaming mechanisms on the market today.


Every ancient civilization had ways of socializing and having fun. Ancient Egyptian, Roman and Mesopotamian societies used board games not only for social pleasure, but also for various religious and fortune-telling practices. For instance, the Egyptians believed that the board game Senet represented a human soul’s movement through different parts of the afterlife.

Chess, however, was likely developed as a non-religious game. Earliest versions of chess come from India and Persia, where the game surged in popularity in the 9th century. China, Japan, Thailand, Korea and Burma all developed their own slightly different variations of the game. By the 10th century, chess was being played in Spain, Italy and Germany, but the chess rules we know today didn’t take root until the 15th century in Europe.

This amazing chess set is made up of two teams of emerald and ruby pieces, each carved from a single gemstone. It features more than 1700 carats of rubies and 1100 carats of emeralds, painted with 24K gold detailing. Shop the Chess Set »

This Cuban mahogany wood table looks like your average dining table at first glance, but a turn of the ormolu crank in the middle of the tabletop reveals some very exciting hidden features! Turning the crank releases the six gaming drawers from the table’s frieze, including Parcheesi, cards, chess, checkers, and cribbage. Interestingly enough, the Parcheesi that we know today was developed from an ancient Indian game called Pachisi. One 16th-century Indian monarch loved the game so much that he had life-sized boards constructed in all his palaces so that he could impress his guests by playing the game with members of his harem as the game pieces.

Another turn of the crank in the table releases six scorekeeping drawers for each player, including inkwells, paper pads, nib pens, ashtrays, and cut glass tumblers. Turning the tabletop itself reveals four cut glass decanters in the center of the table, ready to fill each of the tumblers. Let the games begin! Shop the Games Table »


Many of the first ball games were documented in ancient Greece and Rome. In Western Europe, however, various types of “ground billiards” emerged during the Middle Ages, from which modern-day games such as golf and pall mall evolved. One of the most popular of these games was croquet, which became immensely popular in Victorian England in part because it was a game that was acceptable to be played by both men and women. Our miniature croquet game is concealed in an elegant walking stick, ready to go with you wherever you adventure and leisure. Shop Walking Sticks »


It is thought that billiards was one of the first table games, with a few variations including carrom (or pocketless billiards), pool (or pocket billiards), and snooker. Snooker was invented by British Army officers in India in the 19th century. Though it looks quite a bit like pool at first glance, the rules and balls are slightly different. In snooker, all the balls are solid colored and each one has a value assigned to it. Additionally, there is a specific order in which the balls need to be pocketed. But the most glaring difference between the two games is the size of the game table, with snooker tables being significantly larger than a standard sized pool table.

Our Australian snooker table is quite an impressive example of such, with intricate carving depicting the history of the country all around the sides of the blackwood structure. It was in fact exhibited in a Colonial and Indian Exhibition that was held in London in 1886, and is listed as such in the official catalog of the event. The British royalty were so intrigued by it that is was taken to Buckingham Palace where the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) played on it! Shop the table »

 

In the 20th century, gaming had a rebirth with the slow establishment of legal gambling in certain parts of the United States after prohibition ended. Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, leading Las Vegas to become the hub of activity that it is known for today, with other towns such as Atlantic City following in the coming decades. This Victory Chief model slot machine was first introduced during World War II, designed and built by O.D. Jennings & Company in Chicago, who are still known today for their highest level of quality and craftsmanship. Shop Slot Machines »

While gaming today takes on entirely new forms through the advent of technology, these classic examples retain all of the nostalgia and history of the time-honored traditions of gaming. View more of our gaming antiques by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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