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Old toys

Expensive old toys

Old toys and classic games are nowadays part of famous collections.
Trains, planes and cars models, dolls and dollhouses, rocking horses, optical toys, wood construction, and all other kinds of old toys and classic games are collected from nostalgics and amateurs in desperate need for a dip into past amusements.

Today, many old toys and classic games of our great-grandfathers, are considered   real artefacts , and are collected by many amateurs willing to preserve our history and traditions.

Old authentic toys (There are a lot of fakes in circulation) can be really expensive; for example the value of a rare small toy made between 1880 and 1940 can cost from £400 to £1500, and there are some unique pieces valued thousands of pounds.
Old Toys and classic games can sometimes be interpreted as a cultural phenomenon, that reflects mores and traditions of a particular historical period.
However some old toys and classic games, seem more fashionable than others, and probably contributed to shape a old but still alive cultural heritage common to many countries and people.
This is true also for old toys and classic games whose origins are lost in history, like dolls, rocking horses and toy soldiers, and for more recent inventions, such as metal cars and trucks models.
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ancient roman puppetGreek and Roman games are one of the little known aspects of these ancient societies.
In Hellenistic and Roman culture skill games were a recreational activity both for children and adults.
Since prehistoric times is possible to recognize the so-called ancestors of games and toys among the archeological finds and in the works of Hellenic and Romans artists and poets:
We know for sure that in the fifth century BC, Crater, an Athenian playwright, wrote a play dedicated to skill games.
In ancient Rome writer Suetonius wrote two different books one on Greek kids games, and the other on the Romans ones: unfortunately all these works got lost and we know only a few certain things about ancient Greek and Roman skill games.
A lot of references are traceable in the works of philosophers, poets, playwrights who, helped us to understand that in every ancient game there was a deep educational theory to help and support kids development through the use of their skills.

In the ancient Roman world the expression “nuces relinquere” (leave the nuts), meant leaving childhood and becoming adult, because nuts were used by kids to play one of the most popular skill game in ancient Rome . The nuts were used like balls and thrown to to smash other nuts, just like in the modern bowling game.

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the board and the pieces of the Gomoku board game

the board and the pieces of  Gomoku

Gomoku (五目並べ) is a Japanese traditional logic board game, related with the game of Gobang (which uses the same board and pieces), and it’s also know in English countries as Five in a Row.
The rules of the game of Gomoku are in fact different and much simpler than the Gobang game and for this reason it’s a board game played mainly by children. But despite its simples rulres Gomoku is a strategy and logic board game more complex and difficult than Tic Tac Toe (also called Nine Mens Morris) and the modern Connect Four. Read the rest of this entry »

mahjong-piecesThe Mahjong (麻雀麻将),  is a board game for four players, born in China at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and now worldwide popular, especially in United States and Japan.

Its name means “bird of hemp” or “hemp sparrow”.

There are different versions about the birth of this board game, but the most legendary one tells that Mahjong board game was invented by a fisherman in China about 2500 years ago.

The story goes that a fisherman was on his boat and, during a storm, seeing his men worried and scared, he invented something to entertain them. It is said that the gods favoured the poor fisherman and inspired him the invention of a game with few pieces of wood. In a meantime, the fisherman carved the pieces with different symbols, and taught his men how to play this new board game. The crew was so interested in the game that soon forgot the storm.
The fisherman called the game Mah-Jong (hemp bird), remembering the little bird that always followed him during the fishing.

confuciusAnother legend attributes the invention of the Mahjong game to the great Chinese philosopher Confucius, around 500 BC.

This story (considered false by historians) has some curious correspondence with the reality: infact the pieces of the game called the “three dragons” represent the three cardinal virtues professed by Confucius: the red Chung (Benevolence), the green Fa (Sincerity ) and the White Po (love). It is said that Confucius had a great love for birds, and for this reason called the game  Mah-Jong (bird of hemp).

Many of the terms used in this board game, such as Chee and Kong, are explained with the Confucian origin of the game.

However, for historians, the Mahjong game was invented at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Some researchers sad that this game could come from the Madia (马吊) , another popular board game played in China at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty.

There are only hypothesis around the real inventor of this board game. Someone say that it was created by Chinese army officers, to pass the time during the Tai Ping Rebellion (1851-1864), others that the inventor was a noble of Shanghai between 1870 and 1875.

But we like to think that the game of Mahjong  was invented either by the fisherman or by Confucius, because we’re so fascinated by old stories.

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Knights Templars

Knights Templars

The triple wall is the pattern of the popular board game called  Nine Men’s Morris in England,  Morabaraba in South Africa, Naukhadi in India, Molenspiel in Germany and Jeu de Moulin in France. The triple square symbol was find in Italy, UK, Ireland and Afghanistan and in a lot other regions of the Middle East engraved or painted in holy places for Christianity and Islam.
The aim of the Nine Men’s Morris is to form a row of three pieces along the board’s lines and leave the opposing player with no moves.

This is the playing function of this geometric concentric figure, but  we can find the same pattern in ancient churches and in the Chinon tower in  France, engraved on the walls by Templar Knights kept prisoners during the Middle Ages.

Some researchers suggest that this geometric draw could be the symbol of an ancient and esoteric ritual made by  knights Templars.

the triple square symbol

the triple square symbol

Triple square France

The triple square symbol engraved in a French cavern

For example,  René Guénon, affirm that this symbol represent, in ancient religous rituals, a sort of holy centre where the world energies can reach the right power to involve a man’s mind on a mystic level.
The origins of the triple square are still unknown but without any reasonable doubt we can say that its symbolism is related to the centre and the balance of the world and the human spheres represented by the pieces of the game have to converge to find the perfect equilibrium.
The geometric scheme of the Nine Men’s Morris game represent the route that men have to follow to find themselves without lose the right way in unethical directions. In this sense the triple square has a manicheistic meanining  deeply related to the Middle Ages religious symbolism.
God is the origin and the centre of all the universe and everything has to point in His direction; it’s clear in this interpretation the religious and ethical meaning of this symbol directly derived from the holy circle used by ancient civilizations of the far East to show the solar wheel also called the wheel of life.

Solar Wheel

Assyrian Solar Wheel

All those clues made the researchers think that the symbol of the triple square in the Middle Ages was not used as a game but as a religious symbol and only after several years this geometric pattern was used as the board of the game known with the name of  Nine Men’s Morris.

Nine Men’s Morris game

The Nine Men’s Morris game derived from the triple square symbol

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Mesoamerican-ball-game

Modern reproduction of the ancient Mesoamerican ball game

The Mesoamerican ball game was a sport practiced by ancient Pre-Columbian cultures of Central America.
More than 3000 years ago The Mesoamerican ball game was very popular, the Maya called it pitsl, the Aztec name was ullamaliztl, but the game is the same.
This game was played with heavy rubber balls in open ended ball courts of different size with two vertical stone rings, one for each side of the court.
The aim of the game was to pass the ball in the stone goal and score the point.
We don’t know exactly the rules of this anciet game, but we know that Mesoamerican ball game could be really violent. In fact some games were played just for fun and recreation, some others were part of a ritual involving human sacrifice; for this occasions the game was played in Huge ball courts by two team of captives and the losers were sacrificed in a mystic/religious ritual.
The importance of the Mesoamerican ball game in ancient Pre-Columbian society is proved by  all the diufferent use this game by the Maya: the ball game was used as a recreational sport, as part of a spiritual ritual and as well to solve the disputes among tribes and prevent the warfare.

A Maya mural found in El Tajin, showing the sacrifice of a ballplayer.

Sometimes head of tribes play (but was more like a fight) the ball game to re-establish tribes hierarchy, and impose supremacy; this game was so important because it was like a social conflicts relief valve, it was a place where the disputes could be solved with a ball game match instead of a battle.
Probably the spiritual symbolism behind the ball game is the reason of the human sacrifices: the bal represents the sun and the scoring rings the sunrise; the solar movement is tied on fertility and the sacrifice of the player is the ritual of the death and the reborn of the sun. The game was a battle between day and night, born and death, life and the underworld.

This video is a modern reproduction of the ancient Mesoamerican ball game and of the Maya ball game rituals

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Aristotle-PlatoIn ancient Greece, board games where very popular, especially among the philosophers and their pupils. Plato once said “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”.
Hellenistic culture gave a lot of importance to games, ancient Greeks invented the Olympics and athletes were considered like heroes.
Philosopher used to teach their scholars using linguistic game and games simulations; philosophy itself was a form of game: to quote Plato once again Philosophy is “like playing an hard game”.
Like Dutch philosopher  J. Huizinga suggests In his book ”Homo ludens” all the stages and the development of philosophy manifest a recreational linguistic activity  in its deep essence: Philosophic rhetoric play  on words during the debates and the clash between the debaters assumed in public speeches the form of a win or lose game. Even in the written form, many ancient Greeks script are a sophistic game of question an answer.
Word games and speech competitions where a sort of recreational activity, used by Hellenic people to shape and rule their ancient society.The winners of those linguistic games where often famous philosophers like Aristotle, Socrates and Plato, great politicians like Themistocles and genial playwrights like Aristophanes.

This fundamental role of playing activities in the Hellenistic culture is manifested also in the Mythology, like in the Myth of  Theseus and the Minotaur.
The Labyrinth and the Theseus myth seems like a perfect representation of a gaming scenario that today could be easily used to develop a videogame:labirint-game Theseus (the player) must overcome different stages in a labyrinth scenario to fight and defeat the final Minotaur monster.
The connection between this myth and gaming was so strong that ancient Greeks invented a board game version of this myth called “labyrinth”, a  game for two, three or four players.
Like in the original Myth, the gameboard represents the labyrinth of King Minos where the monster half men and half animal is trapped. The player acting as Theseus must save the youths Athenians  sent as tribute to King Minos who used them to feed the Minotaur.
Each player has 4 pawns, one for each youth Athenian, the first player to bear off all the pieces at the centre of the board is the winner because, like Theseus, he has saved all the youths Athenians from certain death.

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