Written by Manya Pandey, a first-year undergraduate student.
Ludo is one of the most popular games in Indian households and emerged as the most downloaded game during the COVID lockdown in India, surpassing even global favourites such as pubg and fortnight!
Did you know modern ludo was created during the late Victorian era?
With a game as simple as ludo, you wouldn’t expect much complex ancestry but it’s actually a simpler version of a very old Indian game known as Pachisi, which interestingly is closely related to the infamous game of Chausar, played in Mahabharata (more about this in the history of ludo section below).
A quick look at how to play Ludo
Ludo is a multiplayer game which could traditionally accommodate only four players but lately, a lot of apps and online versions offer six to eight-player options. Fundamentally it’s a dice game in which each player’s token is marked with a different colour, typically red, blue, yellow and green.
In most popular versions, the game opens with a roll of six or one and the objective is to send all four tokens to the winning square or home, which is in the centre of the game. The fun part about the game lies in beating each other’s tokens and locking them back in their owner’s yard or their coloured spaces. Let’s shed some light on the rules here.
Rules for how to play Ludo
1.The pieces in ludo only move forward and players alternate turns in a clockwise direction.
2. To enter a token into play from its yard to its starting square, a player must roll a six or one.
3. If an opponent’s token is blocking the pathway, you may roll the right digits to land on the same space and capture it.
4. Every player who rolls a six earns a “bonus” roll and if the bonus roll results in a six again, the player again gets to roll.
5. third time is not the charm, because, in ludo, three sixes in a row are termed invalid
6. You can fortify your defences by doubling on your tokens and forming a “block” which means if two of your tokens stand in the same space, no opponent can capture them till they are stacked on top of each other.
7. Each captured token goes back to its owner’s yard and can only be re-entered into play when the owner rolls a six.
That was how to play ludo, next up is a short history lesson which will cover
- A short history of Ludo
- Founder of the game
- Evolution of ludo board
- 10 Facts About ludo
Why play Ludo?
On the surface of it, ludo looks like a game of chance, but it’s somewhat a strategy-oriented play which promotes critical thinking and spatial reasoning.
The dice may award unwarranted digits but each move is in the player’s hands, the choice to capture an opponent or to stand on a safe square lies entirely in individual control.
In fact, African ludo has a lot of additional rules that increase the difficulty levels of the game. We have discussed such interesting global variations in a later section covering some fun facts about ludo.
Games like ludo involve consideration of unknowns in one’s blueprint and can be a great method to intercept the art of war, which is probably why Mughal emperors such as Akbar, the great loved the game so much. Learn more about it here in the history of the Ludo game.
History of Ludo
Ludo originated in Ancient India.
The first description of any game like Ludo seems to have been written in the 16th century. This was when a game called Chaupar – a somewhat similar game (was a common gambling sport) at the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar used to be played.
Historians are not sure about how much older than Akbar the game of Ludo is. But, it is said that some of the features etc seem to have existed in India as long back as the third millennium B.C.
So actually, in a way, Ludo has been present throughout Indian history – because some or the other variant of the game has been the centre of each era.
Chaupar or Chausar
This game (that sort of resembles Ludo) was played with sixteen pieces, three dice, and a board (made of cloth, usually) in the shape of a cross – that looked like this (note, this uses three long dice)
There are some other references to the game of Chaupar that are seen in the 19th and 20th centuries.
What’s interesting to note is the fact that Chausar was played with long dice (even stick dice) – these were more common in South and Southeast Asia. It was not played with the cubical dice.
Did you know that – Ludo is also one of the many games prohibited by Buddha?
He didn’t specifically ban ludo per se, but had an objection to games involving throwing dice as he probably considered such follies a cause of “negligence”.
Word also goes that Mughal emperors, especially Akbar were fond of the game, actually not the modern ludo but the older version Pachisi and used people instead of shells or pieces to play the game.
In fact, it’s rumoured that the emperor had special rooms tiled with the ludo patterns in their forts around north India. It’s no secret that a version of this household game, Chausar, led to the greatest of all wars, Mahabharata.
How was Pachisi different from Chausar?
Pachisi is often called poor man’s chaupar.
This is because it was traditionally played with cowries (or, kaurii) -which were small shells used by very poor people as money. It was not played with stick dice.
Historians have studied the equipment used in playing chaupar and pachisi and found that both the men (used as pawns) and the long dice and the cowries (for Chaupar and Pachisi respectively) go back to the third millennium B.C.
Some historians, however, believe that Ludo’s ancestor Pachisi was created around the sixth century CE, and can be found painted in the caves of Ellora, Maharashtra.
The first patent in the History of Ludo.
Pachisi, the ancestor of ludo was played with two or three elongated dice which were modified by an Englishman who went by the name of Alfred Collier. He introduced a cubical die with a cup and registered the first-ever patent in the history of ludo. His version of the game was called “the royal Ludo” and he set forth to patent it in 1896, in England. Later the game of ludo was then taken by the Royal Navy and converted into the board game known as Uckers.
The history of ludo has come a great way. From a game that was played on cloth, slate and boards using seeds, shells or dice, it has now been developed into mobile games and apps which can be played with friends and family from anywhere in the world at anytime. One can say, out of all traditional Indian games, ludo has seen the biggest technological acceleration.
The Ludo board
The board that we know now, didn’t always look like this and neither was it always a handy wooden or cardboard pattern. The board has evolved throughout the history of ludo although not as much as the dice did. Did you know, in older versions long rectangular dice were used in place of the tiny cubicle and a box that are much more popular now?
A short history of ludo can be traced through its board because the predecessor of ludo, Pachisi was played on a cross and circle pattern. Mostly drawn on a cloth and home spaces were absent. The board offers home columns or space to each player and is segregated into four colours (usually yellow, green, red, and blue ). Each home column is segregated with equidistant cross-shaped play spaces that are divided into small arms with six squares each. The centre of the board features a large finishing square, often composed of four coloured triangles indicating each player’s exit.
Founder of Ludo
Just like most ancient games, there is no officially recognised founder of ludo because there is such a short history of ludo available to dig from. There isn’t necessarily a shortage of information but there do exist very big gaps besides there are so many versions of the same game that nothing could actually be said about who and did it all began.
Facts About Ludo records
1. The largest Ludo board game was 11.20 m (36 ft 8.9 in) long and 11.20 m (36 ft 8.9 in) wide
This Guinness record was achieved by a group of six project management students from Offenburg University, Germany on 25 May 2019. Interestingly enough, this attempt was set as a task by their professor as part of their course!
2. The most people playing Ludo and its ancient version Pachisi simultaneously is 418.
Such a record was established by Primary students of the National Drama School in Greece on 16 April 2019.
3. The online Ludo dice roll is completely random
Digital dice are often accused of being pre-programmed but it’s run by an algorithm (some computer-coded instructions) that picks out an arbitrary number at each throw, similar to how a real dice would.
4. Mughal emperor Akbar played Pachisi (an older form of ludo) on life-sized boards and used real people as tokens