It was like most any other night at my place. I was up late watching Praveen Mohan’s YouTube videos about Advanced Ancient Technology and just as I began to drift off into some other form of consciousness the analytics at YouTube took over and started showing me random videos. Up popped Irving Finkle playing the ancient game of 20 Squares which is better known as The Royal Game of Ur.
It got me all excited. It was the perfect mixture of all the things I love so much. Archaeology, Lost Ancient Knowledge, Magic, Divination, Entertainment, Toys, Games… the toy maker, oracle seer, and the anthropologist in me all wanted to squeal with delight at the same time.
As soon as the game was introduced I morphed into Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka. The first thing I thought was, I want a Royal Game of Ur, Daddy, and I want it now! I decided I would use the game board and basic rules Dr. Finkle shared as inspiration and do my best to recreate this game that is about 5000 years old into a proper file for laser cutting on my Glowforge. Now that I’ve done all the hard parts, all you need is access to any laser cutter to recreate this fun piece of history.
While designing the game using Inkscape I wanted to include a few new features that seemed somehow obvious after a few plays of the first version I made of the game. It was like the board started to communicate to me. I saw how brilliant and adaptable the board could be. The game board had aspects of both dice and card suits. Players could designate any symbol to be a wild card of sorts. Safe spots, play again spots, gambling spots (land on this or that symbol and players must toss another coin in the pot for the winner), etc, can all be invented by the players as they go along. The reason 20 Squares was the most popular game of ancient times was the ability to create different challenges to keep it interesting.
I wanted my design to be a container box that can hold all the pieces for storage. Being an old seasoned game maker, I like to create gadgets or simple mechanisms that feel good to the user to give the game playability. Where the game is normally indented I instead created coin slots in the lid so when a player gets a piece all the way to the end, they slip their playing piece into the slot with a gratifying ka-plunk sound. A simple change, but effective. Playing pieces that have made it out of the game no longer get mixed up with pieces waiting to get into play.
Another aspect I wanted to change was where all the playing pieces go before they are on the board. I like all game parts to always have a place. I don’t like the disorder of the pieces just being left wherever. They tend to roll off the table and get lost.
To remedy this, I created a stand and made the playing pieces into little donuts with holes in the middle that slip over a rod to keep them stacked up. This way the players can compare side by side how many pieces they have left to get through the course. It is also gratifying to remove a game piece of your opponent from the board, and return it to their stack. Take that you dog.
I know these two changes are not keeping with history, but what I love about great games is that they survive over the years only because they can be modified through time. The coin slots and stacking stand keep the game contained. Now it’s easy to get out of Mom’s way, pass the game back and forth, take a break and come back later, or move to another location. Plus it is now easier to see where you stand against your opponent. The changes bring form with function.
Rules to the Royal Game of Ur
A game for 2 players: I painted mine red and blue. The dice are four 3-sided pyramids. Each pyramid has four tips. Two tips have a hole, and two do not. You roll the four pyramids and count only the tips with holes that land on top. With this method you can roll a 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4.
Dice Variation: Casting Sticks are long rectangular dice that can only roll on four sides. They have a mark on only 2 of the 4 sides. Roll four casting sticks and count the holes that land on top. I find that the casting sticks are way easier to pick up than the slippery pyramids. The casting sticks must be cut from the thicker 1/4″ inch thick wood or acrylic, whereas the rest of the game is made using 1/8″ inch thick wood.
- The object of the game is to race your opponent and get all your playing pieces into your coin slot first by an exact roll of the dice.
- Player 1 rolls the dice and moves the amount rolled. See red and blue arrow on illustration above to see where each player starts and ends game play.
- Player 1 and 2 take turns.
- With each roll of the dice you can put as many or as few game pieces into play on the board at the same time based on your strategy.
- The center aisle is shared by both players and is where the battle takes place. Remove your opponent’s game piece from the board when you land on their square.
- The 5 Stars on the board are special squares. When you land on a Star you get another roll of the dice, and you are safe from being removed from the board while on that spot. Not only are you safe while on the Star, you are keeping your opponent from landing on it as well, since they cannot land there and take you off the board.
- You must enter the coin slot by an exact roll. If you are out of game pieces, or cannot make a move, you forfeit your turn.
- First player to get all their game pieces into the slot wins.
You will need access to a laser cutter, 1/8″ inch thick plywood, white glue or super glue, red and blue (or some other combination) paint or paint pens to color the game pieces and decorate your board.
Settings for Glowforge Laser Cutter
- PINK: Engrave (HD Graphic)
- BLACK: Score (Hi Def)
- RED: Cut
- BLUE: Cut
NOTE: The process will take 2 hours or more on the Glowforge.
Putting the laser cut pieces together. White glue or super glue will do.
- The box has 5 parts to glue together. 1 bottom, 2 long sides, 2 short ends. You do not glue the game board lid.
- Notice that the bottom piece has two small square holes on one end. Also notice that one of the short ends has a slot. The tab with the slot glues into the bottom end near the two small square holes.
- Glue on the 2 sides and remaining end.
- Place the lid on top so the box dries correctly, but make sure you don’t glue the lid!
- Clamp the box together, square it all up, and allow it to dry.
- The stacking stand has 4 parts. There is an oval base, 2 swords, and the C-Pin. See illustration above. You do not need to glue it together, in fact it is nice to take the stacking stand all apart and store it inside the game box.
- Push the short end “handles” of the 2 swords into the 2 square holes in the oval base.
- Push the tab that extends from the oval base into the end slot so it enters inside the box. The tab will line up with the square holes inside the box so you can lock it all down using the C-Pin. Stack game pieces on the sword pegs.
- The pyramid dice have two parts. Push the tab in a small triangle into the square hole in the center of a larger triangle. Make sure you put it in correctly making a 4 sided pyramid, it’s easy to get it wrong. The inner edge of the small triangle should never extend beyond the edge of the large triangle. Once you figure it out, glue the tabs into place so you have 4 pyramid dice.
- Paint 7 game pieces red, paint the other 7 blue. (or any 2 colors you wish.)
- Decorate the game board or leave it as is.
- I also include a file for Casting Sticks, but they must be laser cut on 1/4″ thick material (the game is cut from 1/8″ wood.) I prefer to use bright colored acrylic for that plastic dice feel.