The Surprising Origins of Classic Games

Classic games that we know and love, like card games, casino games and board games, have fascinating origins deeply rooted in history and culture. Occasionally, some of them even have spooky origins with elements of the supernatural intertwined with them, like the connection between playing cards and tarot cards. From mystical elements to influences from ancient warfare, these seemingly innocent games reflect a highly interesting tapestry of human intelligence and traditions. In this article, we unveil some of these interesting and little-known facts, exploring how these cherished games came about and persisted into the modern day.

Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash

The mystical roots of card games

Playing cards have a rich and diverse history, with historians not always agreeing on their origins but most believing them to have originated during the 9th century Tang dynasty in China. They were commonly used for drinking games, but also for divination in some instances, which is essentially the mystical art of predicting future events. The 52-card deck that we know in the modern age has obvious connections to the calendar, with cards representing the 52 weeks in a year and the four suits each of the seasons. Playing cards also share a deep connection with tarot cards, which are a supposed fortune-telling tool that still captivates imaginations today.

The interesting evolution of poker

Poker, with its many variations like Omaha and Texas Hold’em, is a very old game, but its exact origins are somewhat murky, adding a touch of mystery to its storied history. The game is thought to have evolved out of a Persian game known as As Nas, which dates back over 400 years. Poker was brought to New Orleans by Persian sailors, where it was combined with another game called Poque, which was French in origin. From there, it spread up the Mississippi river, throughout the western world and beyond, evolving into the game we know today.

Backgammon: tracing the dice through history

Backgammon is one of the world’s oldest board games, dating all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia about 5,000 years ago. Like chess, it’s a board game that was in actuality much more than just a game. It taught players about strategy and randomness, mirroring real life in certain ways. It was also used as a tool for diplomacy and social interaction. The game involves two players, 15 counters and a board comprising 24 points. Dice rolls dictate the movement of pieces and the strategy lies in anticipating where the other player’s pieces will go and countering them. Today, backgammon is popular worldwide, with various cultures adding their own unique twists on the game.

Chess: a game of royal strategy

Chess is another ancient game with somewhat uncertain origins, with many agreeing it was born in India all the way back in the 6th century AD. Originally known as Chaturanga, chess simulates a battlefield and was as much about military strategy as it was about sport. As the game spread through Persia, it became known as Shatranj. Reaching Europe around the 15th century, chess had evolved into the strategy game we know and love today. The game has come such a long way and passed through so many cultures that the theory and literature surrounding it is simply immense, reflecting cultural and philosophical nuances of various eras and locations.

Wrap up

By exploring the origins of these classic games, you get a taste for the rich history they’re steeped in, from the intriguing to the downright mysterious. Whether it’s the esoteric aspects of cards or the curiosities of chess, these games have woven their way into the fabric of many cultures from around the world, shaping social life and even ways of thinking about the world. Today, we take them for granted – as we often do with ubiquitous things – forgetting about where they came from and how they became so popular. Next time you play one of these famous games, share with your friends some of the awesome historical facts about their origins.




About Joel Levy 2599 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography