In the introduction to Sedentary Board Games of India, published in May 1999, Irving Finkel stated that the Anthropological Survey of India, in a joint venture with the British Museum, was going to carry out an ‘Anthropological Investigation of the Board Games of India’ (subsequently called the ‘Indian Board Game Survey‘).

The importance of India, and south Asia in general, in board gaming terms cannot be overstated – it is the probable origin of chess, and has a rich history of race, hunt, war and mancala games. But while Chess is comprehensively covered in H.J.R. Murray’s monumental History of Chess there is remarkably little research available in western languages on the other games. A number of articles were published in journals over the years, were referred to by Murray in his 1952 History of Board Games other than Chess, and were subsequently republished in Sedentary Board Games of India (1999).

At the 2001 Board Games Studies Colloquium Dr Finkel presented a preliminary report on the Indian Board Game Survey – though nothing subsequently appeared in the journal Board Games Studies.

Subsequent colloquia touched on the Indian contribution to gaming, but still nothing much appeared in print:

2002:
Board games from the city of Vijayanagara (Hampi) (1336-1565). A survey and study, by R.Vasantha
Folk board games of strategy in Tamilnadu, by V. Balambal
A contribution to the history of Backgammon from an indological point of view, by Micaela Soar and Irving Finkel

2003:
An inquiry into the earliest game boards, pieces, dice from India, by R.Vasantha
Special features of some traditional board games of Tamilnadu, by V. Balambal

2005:
The arrival and spread of pachisi from India, by Irving Finkel

2008:
Revival of traditional board games — prospects and retrospects, by V. Balambal

2009:
Bondage of Indians with Board Games from Ancient to Modern Times, by V.Balambal
The Game of Chaupad in India, by Ute Rettberg

2010:
A very early counting system in traditional Indian games and some implications, by Irving Finkel

Ancient Board Games in Perspective edited by Dr Finkel and published in 2007 added some extra information on India in the history of backgammon, and India and the Far East Game boards at Vijayanagara, but given its focus on games in the past it had nothing very much to say about the more recent gaming traditions of India.

Currently the web site of the British Museum, where Dr Finkel is Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian script, languages and cultures, and which will publish the Indian Board Game Survey, states that it is a ‘major report in preparation‘.

Game historians, enthusiasts and anthropologists are by nature probably very patient people, but this month marks the eleventh anniversary of the first mention of the Indian Board Game Survey in Sedentary Board Games of India, and the ninth anniversary of Dr Finkel’s preliminary report. Does anybody know whether the final report going to be published any time soon?

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The works of the ethnographer Stewart Culin are amongst the most important sources of information on games played by the Native Americans, in Korea, Hawaii, and in the Philippines and amongst Chinese immigrants in the US.

Many of his works are easy to find; some of the shorter ones can be read on the website of the Elliott Evedon Museum of Games in Ontario, and modern publishers have recently reprinted both Korean Games: With Notes On The Corresponding Games Of China And Japan (1895) and Games of the North American Indians (1907)

One work, however, has always proved difficult to find either in printed form or on the internet.

The 1896 Annual report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, otherwise known as the Annual Report of the U.S. National Museum (1896), contains a 237 page paper by Culin entitled ‘Chess and Playing-cards’.

This paper, although nominally about chess and playing cards actually contains some of the earliest information on games such as Nyout, Zohn Ahl, Tab, Asian backgammon games, various Pachisi variants, Asian chess variants, Go, Fox and Geese and Tiger Games.

Where original copies can be tracked down they very expensive (some booksellers quote prices of around €250 ($360). Even the 1976 reprint can cost €70.

However the paper can be found on the internet here. It is a large file, though, so be prepared, and Culin’s paper only starts on page 665, but it is an essential part of any games library.