Games have been with us as long as we’ve been intelligent creatures – there is just something innate about wanting to play. In this case, archaeologists found pieces from a game called “liubo” in feudal China.
It’s pretty interesting to look at the evolution of games throughout time. At their heart, games are models of some system, either real or imagined, that we get to interact with. Think of Risk! or Monopoly – they have a real-world analogue we can relate to – armies in the Napoleonic Wars or becoming a real estate mogul. Their rules follow some stuff of the real world – more money/armies means more power – but there are lots of simplifications or departures from the real world, too (could you really move your armies from Africa to South America as easily as you do from Eastern to Western Australia?). For the most part, board games seem to reflect trends and interests of the times.
The oldest board games like chess and backgammon have elements of eliminating your opponent by direct contact, much like ancient battles must have been. Monopoly came of age during the era of fast and easy money, and was probably even a protest of the robber baron age. More recently, the “Euro” games that emphasize strategy over luck and might as well as more cooperative-style games like Pandemic could indicate a kinder, gentler society is emerging. It’s probably easy to read too much into a connection between gaming and society, but I bet understanding the original rules of liubo would help us understand ancient (and probably modern-day) China better.