Traditional games have maintained their popularity for centuries because they can be played again and again and still be entertaining. All the board games on this list can easily be made with a pen, paper and a few tokens, which make them great for quick and easy boredom busters, too. Not only that, but playing traditional games from around the world will teach your children about other cultures.
The games on this list are known as abstract strategy games and they fall into several categories based on the objective of game play. Abstract strategy games rely on player’s thinking, logic and visual perception skills. They do not rely solely on chance or athleticism! (Good news for many of us, ha ha ha)
How to use this resource:
I’ve arranged the games by general geographic location. At the bottom of this article you will find a list sorted by type of abstract strategy game. Each game introduction links to detailed written instructions, where you can also find a printable game board for most of the games. If video instructions are available for any of the traditional games, I’ve included them here.
Table of contents
Games from Asia
Watermelon Chess, or Xi Gua Qi, is originally from Hangzhou, China. It’s a battle game and totally unrelated to regular chess!
Pong Hau K’i, is also played in Korea, where is is known as Ou-moul-ko-no. It is a blockade game in which you try to prevent your opponent from moving.
Five Field Kono, or o-pat-ko-no in Korean, is a battle game. It operates on the same principle as the better known “Chinese checkers.”
Kaooa, also known as “Vulture and Crows” is a hunt game for two players. The star-shaped board adds a fun twist.
Lau Kata Kati is from the Lower Bengal region of India. It is a battle game for two players that has a butterfly shaped board game and nine tokens per player. Like other battle games, the goal is to capture all of your opponent’s tokens.
Tchuka Ruma, a traditional game from Indonesia, is part of the family of mancala games, versions of which you can find on several continents, particularly Asia and Africa. It is a solitaire game we made it into a multiple player game by racing to see who could solve the puzzle first.
Mancala games are games of transfer usually played with stones in boards with multiple depressions.
Len Choa is a hunt-type game in which one tiger goes up against six leopards. Roar!
Tapatan is a three in a row game and may seem familiar to many players. Similar positional “in-a-row” games are played around the world, such as three-men’s morris or Achi (played with four tokens per player).
Traditional Games from Africa
Queah is related to the draughts family of abstract strategy games. Draughts games include the very familiar checkers and generally pit opponents with an equal number of tokens against each other using diagonal moves.
Tsoro Yematatu is another three-in-a-row game for two players. It uses a triangular board.
Dara, a three-in-a-row game is very different than the other positional games included in this article. It’s a bit more complicated to learn but once you get the hang of it, it’s just as fun as the others.
Shisima is a positional game from Kenya. Shisima means “water” and the tokens represent water bugs trying to skitter along to the the water source in the center of the board. Shisima uses an octagonal board.
Nine Holes is a familiar game to many. It is a positional game popularized in Britain and similar to tic-tac-toe (aka naughts and crosses).
Fox and Geese is a hunt game played in many European countries, dating back to the 12th century C.E.
Pentalpha is a solitaire brain teaser played on a star shaped board. I believe it is from Crete, but I am not 100% certain of that.
Solitaire, also known as Patience is more commonly known as the name of a popular card game. However, it is also the name of a peg board game that originated in 17th century France. It was also widely played in Britain.
Mū Tōrere from the Māori people of New Zealand is a blockade game played on an unusual star-shaped game board.
Lu-Lu is a dice game from Hawai’i. This obviously isn’t a board game and it is a game of chance, rather than an abstract strategy game but I wanted to include it anyway. Lu-Lu dice teaches basic math skills and uses flat dice you make yourself (or use our printable). I don’t have a video but click on the image to transport yourself to the written instructions!
Traditional Games from The Americas
Picaria was played by indigenous peoples of Southwestern North America. It is a three-in-a-row game thought to have been adapted from games introduced to North America by Europeans.
Kolowis Awithlaknannai was played by the Zuni people in what is now occupied by New Mexico. It is a battle and capture game in the Alquerque family of games.
Games by Type
All in a row:
- Nine holes
- Tsoro Yematatu
- Five Field Kono
- Mū Tōrere
- Pong Hau K’i
In these games, it is typical for one player to attempt to block, and the second player to capture.
- Fox and Geese
- Len Choa
- Watermelon Chess
- Kolowis Awithlaknannai
- Lau Kata Kati
- Tchuka Ruma
- Tchuka Ruma
- Lu-Lu Dice