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A senet game board and pieces, from the Ancient Egyptian wing of the Royal Ontario Museum.
Alternate Names

References to this game from ancient Egyptian scripts speak of s’n’t, as the Egyptian alphabet did not use vowels. Most authors and historians will fill in the missing vowels with two e’s to render Senet, but others may speak of Senat or any other variation. The game is also referred to generically, but appropriately, as Thirty Squares.

No. of Players

A Senet board, five each of black and white counters, and four binary dice are required for play. The board shown above is one of several Senet boards that have been found. The original dice used were four half-cylinders (sticks cut in half lengthwise and painted on one side). When tossed they would land with zero to four upturned painted sides for a total of five possible outcomes. A normal six-sided die may be substituted, by simply rolling again after an outcome of six.

Printable Senet Board

Senet was probably the most popular game of ancient Egypt and its earliest record comes from about 2650 BCE. Many references, depictions, and playing materials of this game occur throughout the history of the Egyptian Dynasties and a board was even found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen. The boards found are manufactured from a variety of materials, indicating its popularity with different social classes. It is likely that this game evolved into the Roman Empire game of Duodecim Scripta which, in turn, is probably a precursor to Backgammon of today.

This game is almost certainly a race game and thus the objective is for all of a player’s counters to reach the end. 

It is not known exactly how this game was played but the reconstruction described here is probably plausible enough. Alternate turns entail casting the four sticks which dictate the movement of the counters. One stick thrown out of four with a flat side up allows the player to move one counter forward one cell, two flat sides up for two cells forward and so on. Throwing all four sticks and showing no flat sides up means the player cannot move and loses their turn. Although, a variation may say this allows for five or six moves forward and may also warrant another throw. The counters start by entering at the opposite corner from the special markings moving in an S-shaped route around the board. No two counters may occupy the same cell and landing at an opposing counter's cell send the opposing counter back off the board to be entered again at a later turn.

The specially marked squares at the end of the route are given different meaning in different reconstructions. Here, we will say that the first symbol along the route is the "Venus Symbol" and this is a cell that every counter must land at before it can proceed any further. The symbol marked with an "X" right after it is a "Death Symbol" and if a counter lands at it (movement is compulsory) it must exit off of the board to be entered again with another throw. Counters must bear off by exact throw of three, two, or one flat sides up from the cells marked as such.

There is great variation in the designs on the boards found from ancient times. They will often incorporate different designs on different squares that may represent safe places where a counter may not be captured, shortcuts advancing a counter further, or traps that send a counter off of the board to start all over again. Doubling up of friendly counters on a single may or may not be allowed. If allowed, further rules may be adjusted to dictate how “twins” or pairs of counters may be captured and if they may block opposing counters from passing or not.