Backstage access to our collections: Games!

Games have been played throughout the history of mankind. A number of games still played today, such as draughts and chess, are thousands of years old. The oldest known board game is ‘Senet’, which has been referenced in Egyptian hieroglyphics dating from 3100 BC.[1] ‘Senet’ was considered a game of luck or fate, and boards were often placed in graves to help the deceased through the afterlife.[2] Hurstville Museum & Gallery is fortunate enough to have an interesting selection of games in its collection.


Wooden knucklebones

The origin of the game of knucklebones [1] is unknown but is thought to have originated in Ancient Egypt.[3] The knuckles used for the game were originally made from animal bones, and as technology advanced, later editions were fashioned out of brass, ivory, marble, stone and plastic.

old maid

1980.1495 – Old maid playing cards

Playing cards are thought to have originated in China and were slowly adopted worldwide.[4] Different countries would have different suits; for example, playing cards from Hispanic countries would include chalices, swords, money and batons rather than the diamond, heart, spade and club used in England and France.[5] The origin of the card game ‘Old maid’ [2] dates to the 17th Century.[6] This pack of cards was manufactured specifically for this game.

magic robot

2001.14 ‘Magic robot’ board game.

An example of a more ‘modern game’ is ‘Magic robot’, [3] which dates from the 1950s and is an example of a ‘curiosity game’.[7] The robot figure would be placed in the centre of a set of questions and rotated to a specific question. The robot would then be placed in the answers circle where the robot, using a magnetic mechanism, would rotate itself and select the correct answer.


‘Collection online – Game piece’, The British Museum,

Egan Morrissey, Tracie ‘See decades of little old ladies from 130 years of Old Maid’, Jezebel,

‘Oldest board games in the world’,,

Parlett, David. ‘Who invented playing cards?’ The Guardian,,5753,-2647,00.html

‘Retro 1950s toy: The magical amazing robot’, EE times,

‘The amazing magic robot board game’, Te Papa,

Zwang, Danielle. ‘Senet and twenty squares: two board games played by Ancient Egyptians’, The Metropolitan Museum of Art,

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