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World's oldest board game now played in Matarangi.

By Stan Stewart.

The British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley discovered five gameboards of the Game of Ur during his excavation of the Royal Cemetery at Ur between 1922 and 1934. Dated around 2,600 – 2400 BC Wooley named the game the "Royal Game of Ur". Other archaeologists later found similar boards in other locations in ancient Mesopotamia.

It seems that this game and similar board games were played by pharaohs, kings, and people in high office in the ancient world. Their value to the player was such that the games were buried with rulers in their tombs. It is now believed these games were played by the ancients to sharpen their minds and to develop strategic thinking that could be used in warfare. It is also suggested that some game players thought playing these games could establish a closer tie with the divine.

Believe it or not, this game and other ancient games are manufactured and played in Matarangi. This is how it came about. David Key who has a keen interest in ancient board games saw this ancient game explained and played on a BBC documentary. David wanted one for himself. As it was not available for sale, David decided to make it for himself, and with his laser printing skills, he did just that.

David has been making games and other wooden items on his laser cutter for four years now. His interest in games has allowed him to research and produce several games whose history in some cases spans thousands of years.

Among the most popular titles in his offering is the game Hnefatafl otherwise known as Viking Chess. The game is a one of a series of Tafl games which are all played on square boards with an uneven number of squares per side ranging from 5 to 19 squares. All the games in the Tafl series are two player games which have uneven sides. Hnefatafl is played on an eleven-by eleven board with 24 attackers against 12 defenders and a king. The game is easy to learn as all the pieces move the same way and the objective of the game is plain. Some may initially think that the uneven sides are unfair but seasoned players will know that there is little advantage to either side.

The games he sells are mainly made of wood and have instructions, including a brief history of the game. All required playing pieces are included, usually within a drawer which is part of the board making the games self-contained and robust. David is also open to suggestions of games from history which might be produced sometimes applying his own spin to the design while being true to the original rules of the game. He currently produces seventeen games some of these will be familiar to many and some which are not so well known.

You can see David and his games most Saturday mornings at the Whiti Citi Market in the Square beside the information centre in Whitianga as well as some weekends at the market in Matarangi and the occasional craft show that he and his wife attend. David is always open to orders by e-mail where postage is charged at cost.

In a world saturated by TV, streaming channels, Tik Tok etc David believes in the values of games. He says that the playing of physical games is a much more social event, with the interactions being much better for all involved than the artificial environment of the computer screen.

Current Games are: Two Player Games

Agon – also known as Queens guard – French around 1760.

Backgammon – Ancient game of luck and a surprising amount of strategy.

Captain’s Mistress – A game that reported so engrossed Captain Cook on his long

voyages that it became known as his mistress. The name stuck now rehashed as

Connect four.

Chequers – Also known as Draughts – Probably up to 5000 years old.

Crib – Card Game – Standard two track and now triple track available.

Go – Chinese game about 4250 years old – The game that has been played the longest

through history.

Hnefatafl – Also known as Viking Chess – about 2000 years old.

Mancala – Middle eastern game of strategy.

Nine Mens Morris – Originally called Mill – Roman about 2000 years old.

Reversi – origins could be as early as the 14th century but officially English around 1880.

Royal Game of Ur – about 4500 - 5000 years old – race game.

Senet – Egyptian – though by some to be the oldest board game in history about 5500

years old.

Multiplayer games:

Chinese Chequers – Originally invented in England 1842 under the name Hoppity 2-6


Keezen – Dutch game – Old rules modern extendable board 2-8 players.

Variable Snakes and Ladders – Modern game with a slant on a classic. Two to many


Contact David at

Caption: David Key at the markets.


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