Like seemingly everyone these days, I’m pretty into board games. I love the camaraderie, the competition, the escapism and the challenge. Lots of people are slinging the phrase “golden age of board games” around, and I enthusiastically agree.
People all over the world play all sorts of games, and we’ve all been doing it for a long, long time. In fact, humans likely invented the first game before written language. Most don’t have the means for the high-end board games popular in Europe and the United States these days, but resourceful minds around the world find creative ways to play.
When I visited Bangladesh, Joly Begum told me about the importance of her children’s education, and she made it a point to emphasize the importance of recreation. She shared a few of the more common games they play during a school day and mentioned one game called ludu that the family also plays at home.
I asked if they would teach me how to play, and the interview turned into a party.
Ludu, as it turns out, is the game the British call Snakes and Ladders (in the U.S., we have the less treacherous Chutes and Ladders—safety first!). Innovative early designers created the game in second-century India, so I’m sure the game arrived in Bangladesh looooooong before 1943, when Milton Bradley introduced Chutes and Ladders.
Joly Begum warned me that she or her daughter, Sumya, usually come away with the ludu victories. I put up a good fight, but on this day, her eldest son, Emon, won.
In Zambia, I saw kids putting on an impressive display of creativity with DIY versions of jacks and billiards. They used dried berries for both games, adding charcoal and a stick for the latter.
Sports are generally more visible than other types of games when I’m traveling for work. Soccer, of course, is the most popular. A couple of times, I’ve been asked to put my sub-par soccer skills to the test, which is always fun. But my favorite run-in with the world’s most popular sport came in Guatemala.
There aren’t many flat surfaces in the Sierra de las Minas, so level land is prime real estate. The flattest piece of land was used as a soccer field. The only problem was that one of the goals was places at the edge of a steep drop-off. So when the team attacking the goal scores, the ball careens down the mountain. I was told that when that happens, to add insult to injury, the defending goalie has to retrieve the ball. It usually takes about 10 minutes, but they were undeterred from playing by the challenge.