Senet is one of the most famous of the Egyptian board games. Over fourty Senet boards and peices have been found in several tombs, including the young boy king Tutankamun. His board (shown above) was made of Ebony and Ivory inlay, and it is gilt with gold. Notice how the board is built on lions feet and made to stand up high enough for two seated players to reach the peices without strain. Below the board you can see examples of both knuckle bones and throwing sticks. These are two ancient forms of dice used in the game.
Senet boards were also carved into the rock face of many quarries sites and near the work camps of the pyramids where the workers would play the game during their breaks. The game is one of the oldest board games in the world. The earliest peices have been found in First dynasty tombs, and the first boards were found in third Dynasty Tombs. We are unsure if the peices were used in a earlier game, but it seems likely that the game of Senet has been around much longer than previously supposed.
The game is also shown in many art forms, the earliest known representation of the game was found in the tomb of Hesy (Third Dynasty circa 2686-2613 BCE). The earliest representations of Senet show two players facing off. Later images showed the player facing a invisable opponant. Senet may have started off as a way to pass the time, but it ended up having a more ritualistic meaning, where the player may have been in a contest with some ethereal being.
Early boards also had very little ornimentation, they were usually just a set of 30 squares carved into a stone or wooden surface. Later Senet boards were often carved or inlaid with symbols and depictions of the afterlife. The premise of the game may have been the journey of the soul through the trials involved in reaching the afterlife.
Senet boards were usually made of stone, fiance, or wood. The throwing sticks were made with wood, and sometimes had a Ivory side, and a Ebony side. Many were shaped like fingers, or jackal heads. Four throwing sticks were thrown, and the throw resulted in a number depending on how they landed. They are rounded on one side and flat on the other, this makes the odds of landing on the rounded side less common. Knuckle bones are the bones from a young lamb's feet, before the bones fuse together in adulthood. The Egyptians used knuckle bones in place of throwing sticks (or prehapse in conjunction) as dice. The way that the bones landed decided the number rolled. The "pawns" or markers used on the board were usually made with Fiance, a pressed quartz composite clay that was dyed in either blue green or red. Their shape was usually cone-like shaped somewhat like a phallus, or spindle-like, with a almost hourglass feminine form.
The rest of our knowledge of Senet is very limited, due to the fact that we have yet to uncover any documents recording how the actual game is played. However several archeologists have theorized on the rules basing them off of images of the game in play.
With a little skill and hard work you can make your own. I personally reccomend going this route because a senet board is not too difficult, but it can be a constant source of pride. (I took my board to the line for the StarWars premere, and we all had a great time playing it, and Mehen during the long wait.) I reccomend making a wooden board with squares burnt in for game play. You can buy beautifull hardwoods and burn them with either a specialized wood burning tool or a soldering Iron, picked up in any hardware store.
You can make markers with fimo or oven dry clay painted with acrylic paints to make them different colors for the two different players. The throwing sticks can be made by sawing a 1/2 inch wooden dowel into two even sized sections about 3 1/2 or 4 inches in lenth and then carefully splitting them in half with a thick butchers cleaver and a wooden mallet and then sanding the split sides. Pour some wood stain into a paper plate and dip the rounded side into the stain so that the rounded half of the stick is dark and the split side is still light, you can then varnish the sticks after the stain dries.
Knuckle bones are a little harder to come by. If you can find a butcher willing to sell you the legs of a young lamb (or goat, I've heard they work too) Then you will have to strip the bones of flesh, then scrub them with a bleach and water mixture to remove the rest of flesh and let the bones dry and cure. If you happen to have acess to redworms, (you can buy these in pet stores, they are used to feed some reptiles and fish) then you can put the bones and flesh into a bucket with the worms and they will do the job for you! Just make sure that you put the bucket somewhere cool and far away from your house, and that it has a lid with a lot of holes in the top for ventilation. I reccomend buying more sheep legs than you will need, because Ive heard they often come mishaped, and you may loose a few in the cureing process due to splitting as they dry.
Now that you have a board, (assuming you are still interested after all that work!) you will need some rules of game play. There are several sites on the internet that have various rules to play Senet, designed by Egyptologists and game enthusiasts (Game Cabinet Rules, Senet Game of Egypt webpage, Jim Loy's rules ). But I play a bastardized version of the game that I gleaned snippets of rules from several of the different versions and put them together into a game that made sense to me.
I put all ten peices of on the board at the start of the game, with the peices alternated between cones and spools. Then the players each throw the sticks, and the first person to get a one goes first. They throw the sticks untill they get a 2 or 3, keeping each roll seperate, moving them at the end of their roll cycle. For instance if I rolled a 1, a 4 and a 2 I could move my first peice four times and a second peice two spaces, and the third peice one space. If the player gets peices side by side on the board they make a 'wall' wich the other player cannot break, but can jump over, however if their peice is not next to another peice the second player can (with a little luck) land on their peice and bump it back to where their peice was before they moved.
The peices move around the board untill they come to the last five slots, the first of wich is the gateway, each peice must land on the gateway before going any further. after the gateway is the water slot, in order to get out of the water one must roll a 4, wich is verry unlikely so you want to avoid this slot at all costs. In the next slot you must roll a three in order to move that peice off of the board, and the next one must roll a two, but the last slot can be safely left with any roll.
If a players peice is bumped in one of the last three slots their peice is put into the water, but they can choose to move the peice back to the middle slot of the second row, wich is marked with a frog, the symbol of reincarnation.
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