Is senet a game that can be played?
Yes! The concept behind the game is related to the challenges a soul would face on their journey to the afterlife. Scholars believe that living people would also play the game as a form of entertainment just like people today play board games.
Where can I find the playing rules?
Scholars aren't completely sure of the exact rules, but the basics are:
Player would throw a few sticks with marked and unmarked sides. The number of marks facing up determined how many spaces the player would move.
Presumably "normal" spaces would count for one move and the decorated spaces indicated a different scenario related to the type of challenge the space represented.
Is Senet related to Mancala?
Senet is not related to mancala. Mancala actually originates in West Africa.
Senet is more like many of the board games we play today with dice and pieces that much move from space to space through the board (which, in the case of senet, is three rows of ten squares each).
The game is meant to be a representation of the journey to the afterlife. Marked squares indicate monsters and other perils the deceased might face.
Do we know the rules for the game senet?
We don't know the exact rules for Senet, though scholars have a few guesses as to how it was played. We do know that it could have involved throwing sticks, knuckle bones, or teetotums (similar to dreidels) to determine the number of spaces the player would move on the board. The last five spaces on the board are marked to indicate that they are somehow different or special.
Was it played against a person?
Yes! Theoretically it was meant to be played between the deceased and a deity, but it was often played between living opponents.
Is this an Egyptian game?
Yes! It is! This object actually has two sides each with a board for playing the Egyptian games, senet and twenty squares.
Players would play by throwing marked sticks that determine the number of spaces they moved.
Are the rules of senet known? It looks kind of like Cribbage or Mancala.
The gameplay for senet is not well documented. Generally, we know that players would have thrown sticks with markings that determined the number of spaces you could move. The last five spaces were usually marked in some way suggesting that they represented some special rules.
The board in the mummy chamber is two sided and the side that is facing up is actually 20 squares!
20 squares originated in Mesopotamia and a single tablet from Babylonia details gameplay saying that each player has five pieces, each named after a different bird, that advance from the wider part of the board down the central aisle. This tablet says that moves are to be determined by the throwing of two astragali (certain bones).
Indeed! The game became very popular in Egypt as well and many two-sided gameboards like this one are known, senet on one side, twenty-squares on the other.
What did Ancient Egyptians do for fun?
Ancient Egyptians weren't that different from us in that respect. They played games like senet and twenty-squares; they went to parties with music and dancing. Religious festivals even included entertainment like live reenactments of myths.
I've never heard of those games.
We actually have a game board that has twenty squares on one side and Senet on the other in the Mummy Chamber!
How was this played?
What you're looking at is an example of what scholars call "twenty-squares" because we do not know the ancient name of it. It originated in Mesopotamia and was played as follows:
According to an ancient text, each player has five pieces, each named after a different bird, that advance from the wider part of the board down the central aisle. To decide how many spaces they moved they would use one of three methods.
The most common in Egypt was throwing sticks. They are simply a set (two or more) of sticks, usually made of wood, bone, or ivory and decorated and/or convex on one side. The way that the sticks landed when thrown determined how many spaces a player could move in a game.
Astragali, a particular bone from the tarsal (ankle) joint of hooved animals, were also used. Sometimes the bones would be marked but this was not essential because each of the four sides of the bone was naturally different.
Finally, a die-like object known as a teetotum could be spun and the marked sides would indicate the number of spaces.
It's a two-sided board and the side that we are seeing shows a game known as 20-squares since scholars aren't sure what it was called in antiquity.
The game originated in Mesopotamia and spread to Egypt from there. It seems that it got its start as a way of telling fortunes, but was also just played for fun.
Was senet actually played between living people, or was its presence just symbolic?
Both archaeology and ancient records suggest that the game was really played between living people as a form of entertainment.
This particular example helps support this too because it is a two sided board. One side is the Egyptian game, senet, and the other is a game that originated in Mesopotamia that scholars call, simply, "Twenty Squares," suggesting it was also a popular form of entertainment.