Race game is a large category of board games, in which the object is to be the first to move all one's pieces to the end of a track. This is both the earliest type of board game known, with implements and representations dating back to at least the 3rd millennium BC in Egypt, Iraq, and Iran; and also the most widely dispersed: "all cultures that have games at all have race games." Race games often use dice to decide game options and how far to move pieces.
Types of race games
They may be categorized by their ratio of luck to skill. Other classifications include geographical distribution or derivation; and shape of track (including spiral, cross and circle, and square—either boustrophedon as in Snakes and Ladders or "labyrinthine" as in Thaayam).
Simple race games involve pure luck. Each player has only one piece to move, and the outcome of the game is thus totally dependent on chance. The Game of the Goose is the progenitor of most simple Western race games, although Snakes and Ladders is descended from games of India, Nepal, and Tibet. The ancient Egyptian game Mehen was likely a simple race game.
Complex race games combine luck and skill. Players have more than one piece to move (typically four), and so choices of move can be made that will put a player in advantageous positions. Many modern complex race games including Ludo, Parcheesi, Trouble, and Sorry! ultimately derive from India's Pachisi and Chaupur.
Multiplex race games greatly increase the role of strategy, while retaining the element of chance. Backgammon, the most well-known representative of this category, is a member of the Tables family of games, which also includes Trictrac, Nard, and Acey-deucey. The ancient Egyptian game Senet and the ancient Mesopotamian Royal Game of Ur were almost certainly race games, and may belong to this category.
Strategic race games eliminate (or render trivial) the element of chance. Examples are Bantu and Hare and Tortoise.
Not race games
Many board games share some characteristics with these games, but are not categorized as race games. For example, the characteristic roll-and-move mechanism of race games is also found in running-fight games, but here the object of the game is not to finish first, but to capture and remove enemy pieces from the board. Similarly in games as diverse as Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit, players roll-and-move to spaces which may help or hinder their progress, but there is no physical "finish line": a win is not attained positionally, but rather by the collection of assets.
It is possible to broaden the definition of the term "race games" to comprise all board games in which the winner is the first to attain a specified position. In addition to the race games specified above, the category would then include games such as Hex, Agon, Chinese Checkers, and Tic-tac-toe. However, board game surveys generally follow Murray in assigning games played on two-dimensional fields to a separate category, such as Murray's "Games of Alignment and Configuration", keeping only linear games (as defined above) in their "race games" category.
- Parlett 1999, p 34.
- Parlett 1999, p. 34–106.
- The Trictrac Home Page by David Levy
- For example, de Voogt (1995).
- Murray (1951, pp. 4, 37–52). Cf. Bell's "Games of Position" (1960, pp. 91–112; 1969, pp. 55–70), and Parlett's "Space Games" (1999, pp. 8–12, 109–182).
- Bell, RC (1960), Board and Table Games  (rev. 1969 and rpt. with vol 2 as Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations Mineola, NY: Dover, 1979 ed.), London: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-486-23855-5
- Bell, RC (1969), Board and Table Games 2 (rpt. with vol 1 as Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations Mineola, NY: Dover, 1979 ed.), London: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-486-23855-5
- Murray, HJR (1951), A History of Board-Games Other Than Chess (rpt. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2002 ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-827401-7
- Parlett, David (1999), The Oxford History of Board Games, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-212998-8
- de Voogt, Alexander J. (1995), "A Classification of Board Games", in de Voogt, Alexander J., New Approaches to Board Games Research: Asian Origins and Future Perspectives, Leiden: International Institute for Asian Studies, pp. 9–15, ISBN 90-74917-10-0