You’re unlikely to run into a game of Senet at your next board game meetup, however it’s a game with a lot of historical significance.
The board is made up of 30 squares in a 10 by 3, a handful of pawns and a set of sticks. So if you know how to play Senet, it can be easy to recreate and play.
Known History Of Senet
image via ancient games
Senet is one of the world’s oldest board games. With some of the earliest depictions of the game appearing on ancient Egyptian tombs in 3100 BCE.
In 1500 BCE Egypt Senet was used to represent the journey to the afterlife. The game had enough religious significance that it even appeared in the Book Of The Dead.
going out by day, taking any form desired to be taken,
playing the board-game senet, being in the pavilion, a living soul,Chapter 17 – The Book Of The Dead
Throughout history, the rules of Senet have mostly been lost or mistranslated. Religious symbolism has been added and removed from the game. Modern rule-sets are simply an educated guess at how the game would have been played.
How To Play Senet
Through many ancient depictions and snippets of text, historians have been able to piece together how the game of Senet might have been played.
What You’ll Need To Play
In order to play Senet you’re going to need a few things. The 10 x 3 game board, 10 pawns (5 of each type) and 4 Senet sticks.
Creating Your Own Senet Set
The Board: A modern Senet board consists of 30 squares in a 10 by 3 grid. This can be made on a piece of paper, ensuring the spaces are roughly the same size. The board also has a few glyphs written onto some of the spaces.
The Pawns: Senet usually consists of 10 pawns. 5 for each player. These can be anything as long as each player has 5, such as coins or rocks.
The Sticks: The Senet sticks are used for movement in the game. These can be made with 4 Popsicle sticks. One side of each stick should be painted white and the other black.
- Houses/Squares – The squares on the board that the player must move through
- Senet Sticks – The sticks used to determine how far you can move
Objective Of The Game
Senet is a game of strategy in which each player aims to get all their pieces off the board before their opponent. The first player to do this wins the game.
Pawns travel through the first row, then the second, and then the third. Turning when they reach the end of the row and going down the next row in the opposite direction. Once the end of the third row is reached the pawn is removed from the board.
To start the game each player places their pawns on the board.
The first player puts their pawns on the first, third, fifth, seventh and ninth houses. The second player places their pawns on the second, fourth, sixth, eighth and tenth houses.
Taking A Turn
Players take turns tossing the Senet sticks and then moving accordingly. How far they move depends on the result of the Senet sticks.
The very first move of the game is done by the second player, and must move the pawn on the tenth space.
Senet Stick Toss Meanings
There are 5 different possibilities when tossing the Senet sticks.
- 2 white and two black: Move two houses and then end your turn.
- 3 white and one black: Move 3 houses and then end your turn.
- 3 black and one white: Move 1 house and then toss again.
- 4 white: Move 4 houses and then toss again.
- 4 black: Move 5 houses and then toss again.
Occupying and Protecting Houses
Only one piece can occupy a house at any time. If a player lands on another players pawn, the pawns switch places.
However, a player can protect their house by having more than one pawn next to each other. If a pawn is touching another pawn of the same color, the opponent cannot land on either house.
If a pawn cannot move forward, it must move backward. If it cannot move backward either the turn is over.
- Trap: The 27th house is a trap, and transports any pawn that lands on it back to the 15th house.
- Safety Squares: Houses 15, 26, 28 and 29 are designated safety squares that cannot be attacked.
- The House Of Happiness: Marked by 3 lines on the 30th house, this is the final space on the board. Any piece that lands on this space is removed from the board. Pieces must land directly on this space, not pass it.
Due to the long history of the game, there are many ways to play Senet. So these are only the simplest modern rules. Some variations add additional special houses and rules.