4,600-year-old game software?

Play this modern take on an ancient Mesopotamian board game for fast fun.

The Royal Game of Ur, also known as the Game of 20 Squares, is based on board game equipment excavated at the site of the ancient Sumerian city of Ur in Mesopotamia. While no rules survived, the same basic game is still played in modern-day Iraq. Players roll dice to advance chits along a path, a classic layout that will be familiar to anyone old enough to master Uncle Wiggly, and one that some believe is an ancestor of backgammon. Ur from Tams11 is a free software game based on the ancient board game. You can play it against a virtual opponent or online against other people.

When you download and install Ur, the installer urges you to download the Tams11 Lobby, which is also free and acts as both a launcher for Tams11 games and a portal to the online gaming community. Since it requires registration but isn't needed to play Ur, we chose not to install the Lobby. We opened Ur directly. The game's interface is divided into three panels: the game board, a chat window, and a panel giving a roll-by-roll description of the action. Nine preset Phrase buttons let you quickly insert a variety of sporting comments like "Nice Try!" and "Brilliant!" into the chat. We matched wits with Klot, the game's virtual opponent. Each player rolls three-sided Sumerian dice to advance game pieces through a pattern along paths you can illuminate with a button; the first player to move all his or her pieces to the end wins the game. Klot kicked butt until we clocked the strategy; all you really need to remember is to advance a piece onto the board whenever you roll a one, and that landing on a Rosette lets you roll again. After a few tries, we clobbered Klot. The play was quick and exciting, and we could see how it could be popular with online players. The program offers few options, mostly sounds like the dice roll and appearance settings such as fonts. There's also a pop-up to manage phrase presets.

It's not surprising that the Royal Game of Ur would be fun and easy to play, since it's based on simple rules and timeless methods that Tams11's Ur does a great job of translating into the Cyber Age.

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