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The Ancient Origins of Modern Board Games

At the Smithsonian Institution's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the exhibit "Asian Games: The Art of Contest" reveals that many of today's board games have roots in much earlier versions. Curator Ann Gunter takes Liane Hansen on a tour of the show.

One easily recognizable older game is pachisi: four opponents receive four game pieces to be moved along a board shaped like a cross. The first player to get all four pieces back home wins. Kids know it today as parcheesi.

These games weren't just for recreation. India's Snakes and Ladders -- a precursor of Chutes and Ladders -- taught spiritual and moral lessons. In China, The Official Mandarin Promotion Game showed how to climb the ladder of bureaucracy.

The exhibit, organized by the Asia Society in New York, will end its Washington, D.C., visit May 15.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Liane Hansen
Liane Hansen has been the host of NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday for 20 years. She brings to her position an extensive background in broadcast journalism, including work as a radio producer, reporter, and on-air host at both the local and national level. The program has covered such breaking news stories as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Columbia shuttle tragedy. In 2004, Liane was granted an exclusive interview with former weapons inspector David Kay prior to his report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The show also won the James Beard award for best radio program on food for a report on SPAM.