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20 Squares

Period

Ancient

Region

Southwest Asia

Description

Twenty Squares appears for the first time at the beginning of the second millennium BCE. It seems to be derived originally from the the Royal Game of Ur, becoming particularly popular in Iran, the Levant, Egypt, and Cyprus in addition to Mesopotamia during the Late Bronze Age (1700–1050 BCE), and continued being played in Mesopotamia in to the Seleucid period, at least until the second century BCE. Two cuneiform tablets which attest to the rules of the game as played in Seleucid times have recently been translated, providing the rules below (Finkel 2007; Wee 2018). There has been some discussion over the ancient name of the game. The best argument is made by Wee (2018: 870) who identified the name as É er-bé-et-ta, "Room Four," which he also finds in other cuneiform tablets. Others have pointed to a Middle Kingdom Egyptian tomb painting at Beni Hasan which may show two men playing the game, accompanied by the caption "iseb" or "aseb" (Crist et al 2016: 85–87). Earlier scholars assumed that a game named "tjau" mentioned in some Late Period Egyptian texts was this game (e.g., Peterson 1974: 853), but that has been rejected by more recent scholars (Pusch 2007: 84).

Rules

Boards consist of a grid of 3x4 squares and a continuation of the central row in the grid that extends for 8 further squares. The game is played with two astragals as dice: one from a sheep and one from an ox. The sheep astragal provides the base value for the roll, and the ox astragal serves as a bonus. Rolls of the sheep astragal produce values of 1, 2 ,3 or 4. The ox astragal produces a "yes" or "no" value. If "no" is rolled, the values remain the same. If "yes" is rolled, the value of the first roll is boosted to 5, 6, 7, or 10, respectively. These rules are proposed by Finkel based on the values of moves provided in the cuneiform tablets (Finkel 2007: 21–22). Each player starts play on one of the right corners of the 3x4 grid, proceeding left down that row to the opposite corner, and then right down the central track, which both players use, with the goal of moving off the end of the track. If a player lands on a square occupied by the opponent, the opponent's piece is removed from the board and may reenter on a subsequent turn. Rosettes on certain squares in the central track mark spaces where a player is safe from being sent to the beginning. Rosettes in the corners allow a player to roll again when a player lands on them. A player wins when they remove all seven of their pieces from the board by rolling the exact number of spaces left in the track, plus one.

Origin

Mesopotamia

Ludeme Description

20 Squares.lud

Variants

Royal Game of Ur
Board: Earliest version of the game of Twenty Squares. 4x3 grid and a 3x 2 grid connected with a "neck" of two squares.
Pieces: cylindrical discs; tetrahedral dice

Simple Twenty Squares
Board: Twenty Squares game; unmarked spaces.

Marked Twenty Squares
Board: Twenty Squares board with spaces marked in spaces 4, 8, 12, 20, and/or 20

Twenty Squares Liver model
Board: Twenty Squares board with the central long track bent to one side; board in the shape of a liver for divination

Double Twenty Squares
Board: Two twenty squares boards connected via the long central track forming a dumbbell shape with 31 playing spaces and spaces marked at 4, 8, 12, 16, 20 on each board.

Evidence Map

108 pieces of evidence in total. Browse all evidence for 20 Squares here.

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Sources

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Reference ID

DLP.Game.7

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