Ancient Egyptian Senet Game (Rules and Instructions)

Were the Egyptians trying to reconnect with the dead? Pass, move, and block your opponent’s game pieces in the ancient Egyptian game known as Senet. Read on to learn the Senet game rules, history, and how to play!

This two-player strategy game involves critical thinking and forethought to play successfully! Use strategy to outsmart your opponent by first transferring all of your pawns around the game board and exiting them piece by piece to win.

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This Senet game rules guide will cover the following:

  • What is Senet?
  • A brief history of Senet
  • What you’ll need to play Senet
  • Senet Rules
  • How to play Senet (Video Tutorial)
  • FAQs

Read on to learn how to play Senet.

What is Senet?

Players race against each other in this ancient board game called Senet. Two players, each with their colored game pieces, move strategically around a board of thirty spaces to beat their opponent to the finish line. 

Number of Players: 2 players

Ages: 6+

Difficulty: Easy

Length of Play: 30 minutes

Category: Strategy

Similar to: Mancala, Backgammon, Go

Main Objective: The first player to successfully move all their pieces off the board wins.

Why We Love It: Senet is easy to learn and set up. It also comes packaged in a tidy box, making it great for travel and on-the-go play. 

A Brief History of Senet

According to the Egyptian Art department in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, historians believe Senet existed between 1550-1295 BC. Senet game boards have been discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs. 

Even a painting of Queen Nefertari playing Senet was found in her tomb. 

Senet means passing, which may refer to the movement of game pieces across the board. However, some historians think that the game represents the passing from life to death in the afterlife. 

Egyptians might have played as a cultural outreach to reconnect with dead ancestors. 

Both commoners and royalty alike were known to play Senet, and for many, the game was played using a simple grid drawn on the ground. The ancient Egyptians most likely used bones instead of dice sticks when playing. 

Over the years, the game and its pieces have become more elaborate. Some Senet games today use pegs of white and black instead of cone or silo-shaped pawns.

What You’ll Need to Play Senet

Everything you need to play is included in this boxed set.

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The complete game box contains: 

  • 1 wooden board with a built-in storage drawer
  • 5 green silo pieces
  • 5 natural wood cones
  • 1 traditional die
  • 5 wooden dice sticks

Area of Play

Begin by placing the Senet board horizontally between both players. The board is made up of three rows of 10 squares. Game pieces move around the board in a serpentine pattern.

Each player selects 4 or 5 of the same game pieces- the cones or the silos. Depending upon the gameboard you use, the pawns may be shaped or colored differently. 

Place the Senet sticks nearby because you will use them like dice. 

Place the game pieces in an alternating pattern along the first row of the board to begin set-up.

Senet Rules

The first player starts the game by tossing the Senet sticks down on the table. 

  • If all the sticks land face-down, you can move 5 spaces and get to play again. 
  • If one stick lands facing up, you can only move 1 space and get to play again. 
  • If each stick lands face-up, you can move 4 spaces and play again. 
  • If only 2 or 3 sticks land facing up, you can move that number of spaces. 

Game pieces move in a serpentine pattern around the board. Players can select any piece to move on their turn. 

If a player moves a piece to a space already occupied by their opponent, trade spots with the opponent’s piece. 

You cannot land on your opponent’s space if they have more than one game piece side by side on the game board. 

This creates a handy strategy that prevents further movement from your opponent. Their pieces can get trapped behind a pair of your adjacently placed pawns, restricting them from passing over your pawns to moving toward the finish line!

The gameplay moves on to the next player if you cannot move on your turn. 

There are specific markings designating spaces on the board: 

  • The Power of Life: Safe space; your opponent cannot move your piece
  • The House of Beauty: Safe space; your opponent cannot transfer your piece
  • The House of Water: Landing on this space sends you back to the House of Life square; players must roll again
  • The House of Three Spirits: Safe square; must roll a “3” to leave the board
  • The House of Twos: Safe square; must roll a “2” to leave the board

Some game boards also have a Single space which requires a “1” to leave the board. 

The first player to exit all of their pieces from the board wins!

How to Keep Score in Senet

No specific or numerical scoring is used to play or win Senet. However, because this game is so old, there may have been variations in gameplay rules and strategies throughout its evolution.

How to Play Senet – Video Tutorial

Frequently Asked Questions 

Is Senet the oldest board game? 

Due to the lack of information from centuries ago, it is difficult to know which board game is the oldest across the globe. However, Senet is among the oldest games played and was developed in Egypt around 3000 BC. Games such as Backgammon and Checkers are also similar in age. 

Is Senet similar to chess? 

The short answer is no, not really. Senet’s Egyptian game portrays similar rules to games such as Backgammon or Mancala as opposed to Chess. It is a two-player strategy game, but the gameplay does not lend itself to the rules of Chess. 

Is Senet still being played today? 

Senet has been played for centuries, and although it is ancient, it is not commonly played today. 

There is a similar game called Twenty Squares which follows similar gameplay and may have been played during the same time as Senet. 

What was the purpose of the Senet board game? 

The origin of this game was called “passing through” because the pieces move through the game board and exit at the end of the game. However, many believe that Senet was also played as a form of communication between the living and the dead. 

Other Games Similar to Senet (Our Guides)

If you enjoy playing historical games, check out these other fun two-player strategy board games:

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