Ur – Lesson Plan 2 (College Level)

Royal Game of Ur: Serious games in mobile contexts.

Lesson overview:

The Royal Game of Ur, with its emphasis on speed, good fortune, and high stakes, was a ludic analogue to the real-life mobility of merchants and travelers who traversed the sealanes, mountain passes, and carefully curated terrestrial routes of the ancient Near East. In pursuit of their own fortunes, they shaped the economic outcomes, communication flows and realia of daily life, from the tokens of elite privilege to the finished textiles and raw materials that filled the market towns of the ancient world.  Board games such as the Royal Game of Ur were social lubricants for the human interactions across boundaries of ethnicity, homeland, and profession on which such trade relied: both the dynamics of gameplay and the lapis-lazuli and carnelian inlays of our referent board resonate with the lives they lived. 

Learning objectives:

  • Understand the larger cultural phenomenon of games at the intersection of cultures.  
  • Engage with ancient correspondence from Assyrian Trading colonies and Amarna-period Egypt to gain insight into the relationships, emotions, calculations and hopes of those engaged in ancient trade and exchange.
  • Experience, through gameplay, a second route into the experience of competing for success in the ancient economy of the region.
  • Gain a more nuanced understanding of the concept of serious games.


Lesson Steps:

  1. Read selections of scholarly articles addressing the broader phenomenon of games as social lubricants, located at multiple levels of material refinement and socio-economic strata.
    • Sources: See bibliography below.
  2. Read correspondence between Old Assyrian merchants, and selections from the Amarna letters.
    • Sources: See bibliography below.
    • In a group: Lead a discussion on the personalities, levels of wealth, ambitions, and frustrations in these letters.
    • Discussion Points:
      • What light do these cast on the challenges of moving across cultural boundaries?
  3. Play Ur, a digital version of the Royal Game of Ur, on Steam:
  4. Begin the game by selecting your identity –
    • a seaborne Mediterranean (Jason)
    • a Sumerian (Enmerkar)
    • or an Egyptian (Wenamun).
  5. Note the cultural roots reflected in the exclamations you and your AI opponent make as you move about the board.
  6. Return to the personal letters from Assyrian and Egyptian archives.
    • In a group: Discuss how has a simulated engagement offered new light on these individuals.
    • Discussion Points:
      • How do winning, losing, bragging, and complaining in game play map onto the tensions, hopes, and demands of these letters?

Resource Bibliography:

  • Becker, Andrea. 2007. “The Royal Game of Ur,” in Irving Finkel, ed., Ancient Board Games in Perspective. Papers from the 1990 British Museum colloquium, with additional contributions, 11-15.  
  • Crist, Walter, Alex de Voogt and Anne-Elizabeth Dunn-Vaturi. 2016. “Facilitating Interaction: Board Games as Social Lubricants in the Ancient Near East,”  Oxford Journal of Archaeology 35(2): 179-196.
  • Hillbom, Niklas. 2000. “Minoan and Eastern Mediterranean Games and Game Boards,” Opuscula Atheniensia 2000: 25-26.
  • Talloen, Peter. “Rolling the Dice: Public Game Boards from Sagalassos”, Herom 7 (2018): 97-132.
  • de Voogt, Alex, Anne-Elizabeth Dunn-Vature, Jelmer W. Eerkens. 2013. “Cultural transmission in the ancient Near East: twenty squares and fifty-eight holes,”  Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013): 1715-1730

Lesson Assessment:

Assess this assignment based on the following.

  • Group participation in discussions.
  • Individual participation in playing the game.