Chapter 1 The Origin

December 10, 2016

Lukboc (or "Liubo") was the most popular board game invented at around 500 B.C. in ancient China. Based on archaeological dating, the earliest copy of the game had appeared around the end of the Eastern Zhou dynasty. The game had reached its immense popularity during the Han dynasty (220 B.C.-280 A.D.) where all levels of the society including aristocrats, officials, merchants, scholars, and peasants were all indulging in the Lukboc craze. Surprisingly, its social significance had suddenly diminished after the period of the Three Kingdoms. Before the invention of writing paper in the late Han dynasty, game rules would have been carved on bamboo tablets or passed down through game demonstrations. Between the period of the Seven Warring States and the Qin dynasty (270 B.C. - 206 B.C.), many last remaining tablets would have been destroyed by countless battles. By the time of the late Han dynasty, rival state leaders had once again waged wars against each other, causing a big drop in the overall population and a wide-spread of poverty. Thereafter, Lukboc had disappeared from the Chinese society for nearly 1,500 years until now. Numerous copies of the game had resurfaced in a series of archaeological excavations that took place in between 1970 and 2000. As more copies of the game were found, attempts were made to reconstruct the rules from remnants of discovered artifacts, paintings, sculptures and poems in the recent years. Various designs among tombs from different geographical regions were unearthed. Because these burial sites were scattered all over China, archaeologists believed that Lukboc was once a common household item to own during the period. A similar game found in India has suggested that Lukboc was first brought to India by early nomad traders and Buddhist pilgrims. Indian traders might have spread the game to the Parthian Empire and as far as the Hellenic (Ancient Greece) regions. Lived between 287 B.C. to 212 B.C., Archimedes of Syracuse who was both a scientist and philosopher, had studied a great deal on the geometry of the polyhedrons. Perhaps inspired by the ingenious designs of Lukboc bone dice, his cuboctahedron and rhombicuboctahedron (two of the 13 Archimedean solids) were very similar to their Chinese counterparts. Based on these excavated polyhedral dice made of bones alone, we have reason to believe that they were first invented and used in ancient China. They had once represented the pinnacle of Chinese mathematics in the areas of geometry and combinatorics.


Lukboc had undergone several improvements in its designs, rules, and dice mechanics over the course of its development. Today, researchers and hobbyists can only decipher a rudimentary understanding of how the game should have played in the past, leaving us countless questions on the finer interpretations of its rules, while the quest for the original rules continues. Recently, Chinese historians have discovered rules written for a related game of Lukboc "Yueqi" in which both games may have shared a common set of playing rules. Just like in any modern board games, rules would change over time in adapting  to the changes of our society. Lukboc's success had come at a time during the rise of three separate religions in China - Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism from India.  Lukboc was viewed as a game of violence, according to the great philosopher Confucius. He had explained to his students that he would not join the social craze of Lukboc due to morality issues.  In a typical game, a player would use his "hawk" piece to kill his opponent's pieces to win. Because the game endorsed the notion of "killing", he sensed that it could provoke violence in the society of which contradicted his ideology. As recorded in history, indeed there were several high-profile murders related to the playing of Lukboc, some had led to royal rivalries and even wars among states.




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