The Ancient Egyptian Game of Senet




  egyptian game senet

An Ancient Egyptian Senet Board (Photo by Keith Schengili-Roberts)

Senet (or the Game of Thirty Squares) is an ancient Egyptian board game that was already popular in 3000 BC, before even the use of hieroglyphic writing and still played into the early centuries of the AD period. This game while appearing quite popular in Egypt (with many complete sets being excavated from Egyptian tombs) and elaborate gaming boxes being found (often kept in a special draw) this game does not seem to have become widely popular outside of Egypt.


Until relatively recently Egyptologists were not sure how the game of Senet was played, however images from tomb painting and a recovered religious record (written on papyrus) describing a dead man playing the game in the afterlife to secure his soul have allowed them a mostly complete understanding of how the game was played. It is suspected that the modern game of 'Tah es-siga' (which like Senet uses throwsticks) was partially derived from Senet. It is also worth noting that sometimes knucklebones were used instead of throwsticks to play the game.


Some variations on the basic game require that players must throw the throwsticks to enter pieces on the board or that the second player must throw a one before they may join the game.


At the bottom of this page there is a link to a printable version of the Senet game board if you would like to play the game yourself, or just click the above game board picture.


Using Throwsticks in Senet:

To produce a score the four throwsticks are thrown hard onto the surface of the table. The throwstick is rectangular and has one flat (or smooth) and one rounded (or textured) side. The side facing up determines the score.


Throwstick Scores:

1:   1 flat 3 rounded

2:   2 flat, 2 rounded

3:   3 flat, 1 rounded

4:   4 flat

5:   4 rounded



Each player has seven playing pieces. The goal of the game is to move your pieces around the board from the starting positions along a 'S' shaped path and move them safely through the dangerous squares (26 - 30) which are specially marked. Tactics are important regarding the defense of your own pieces and blocking those of your opponent. The first player to maneuver all of their pieces off the board via square 30 wins.


To start the first player must score 1 and takes the light coloured pieces setting them alternately along the board (as shown in the diagram below).


The black pieces are then placed (again as shown in the diagram).


When moving you may land on an enemy square or swap places with an undefended enemy piece (with two pieces of the same color on consecutive squares being considered to be protecting each other, with neither being able to be knocked off).


Three enemy pieces on consecutive squares may not be passed by the opponent.


If a 1, 4 or 5 is thrown a second throw may be taken but a piece may not be moved until 2 or 3 is thrown.

You may use multiple throws to move more than one piece if you wish.


Throws must be used, with pieces being moved backwards if they may not move forwards. If moving any piece is impossible the turn is missed.


The Hazardous Squares (26 - 30):

26:  You may not move beyond this square until you have landed there by an exact throw, or you may exit directly if you throw a score of 5.
27: This is the most treacherous square (normally marked with a water hieroglyph) where any piece that lands here must go back to the first square and start again.
28: Must throw a 3 to exit.
29: Must throw a 2 to exit.
30: Must throw a 1 to exit.


The board setup:



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