The Royal Game of Ur , also known as the Game of Twenty Squares or simply the Game of Ur , is a two-player strategy race board game that was first played in ancient Mesopotamia during the early third millennium BC. The game was popular across the Middle East among people of all social strata and boards for playing it have been found at locations as far away from Mesopotamia as Crete and Sri Lanka. At the height of its popularity, the game acquired spiritual significance, and events in the game were believed to reflect a player’s future and convey messages from deities or other supernatural beings. The Game of Ur remained popular until late antiquity, when it stopped being played, possibly evolving into, or being displaced by, an early form of backgammon. It was eventually forgotten everywhere except among the Jewish population of the Indian city of Kochi, who continued playing a version of it until the 1950s when they began emigrating to Israel.
The Game of Ur received its name because it was first rediscovered by the English archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley during his excavations of the Royal Cemetery at Ur between 1922 and 1934. Copies of the game have since been found by other archaeologists across the Middle East. The rules of the Game of Ur as it was played in the second century BC have been preserved on a Babylonian clay tablet written by the scribe Itti-Marduk-balāṭu. Based on this tablet and the shape of the gameboard, British Museum curator Irving Finkel reconstructed the basic rules of how the game might have been played. The object of the game is to run the course of the board and bear all one’s pieces off before one’s opponent. Like modern backgammon, the game combines elements of both strategy and luck.