Do you know how to play Chinese checkers? Most likely, you’ve done it or at least heard of it. Many people are familiar with the board game and may have played it as kids. Still, not many people know the surprising history of the game.
First, if you are one of the few people who has never played Chinese checkers, we will tell you how to play and what the rules are. Basically, each player has 10 pegs of a different colour that are placed in a triangle corner on the board.
The goal is to get all of your pegs to the other side of the board by jumping over other pegs (but not more than one). In this game, the pieces are never taken away; they are only moved (via Masters of Games). So, now that you know all of that, where does Chinese checkers come from? The Loveland Reporter-Herald says that it comes from a strange place: Germany.
The Origin of Chinese Checkers in Germany
Some people might be surprised to learn that Chinese checkers did not come from China, and it’s easy to see why. Even the name says so, and it’s not called German checkers. But according to the Loveland Reporter-Herald, the board game was first made by Bill and Jack Pressman in Germany in 1892.
They called it “Stern-Halma” at the time. The Chinese checkers board is shaped like a star, which is also the name of the game in German. The Pressmans got the idea for their game from an old American board game called “Halma,” which is similar.
It’s nothing new for new board games to be based on older ones. Even checkers was based on an older game. In 1928, both of the Pressman brothers decided that the name Hop Ching Checkers wasn’t good enough for selling the game. So, they thought of renaming it Chinese checkers, which is what we all know it as today (via Plansponsor).
The Game Grew Popular in the 1930s
L. G. Ballard, a businessman, saw that Chinese checkers had a lot of potential and decided to make his own version. According to Kansapedia, Ballard had his own idea for a slight change to the game of Chinese checkers.
He called it “Star checkers,” and he soon started sending out a lot of them, about 15,000 a month to be exact. Ballard had sold other things before, like pot lifters and towel racks, which gave him experience.
In April 1938, an ad for Star Checkers appeared in the Kansas Business Magazine. The game is also shown at the Kansas Museum of History. Ballard even made a machine that made it easier to make and count marbles, which were the game pieces in his version of the classic game.
According to the book “Encyclopedia of Play in Today’s Society,” the toy company Milton Bradley, which also made games like Life and Connect Four, didn’t patent Chinese checkers until 1941. This made it official that they owned the game and all of its variations.
There Are Multiple Variations of Chinese Checkers
If you thought there was only one way to play Chinese checkers, you would be wrong. The game has many different ways to play. It’s not too crazy of a fact, since the history of board games can be pretty long, and some of the most popular games have very strange pasts. And the same thing is true for Chinese checkers.
One of these is Rubido, a modern version of Chinese checkers that, unlike the original, has different levels of difficulty (from “Encyclopedia of Play in Today’s Society”). Chinese checkers, which moves quickly, is another type.
HowStuffWorks says that this version is different from the original in that you don’t have to jump over pieces that are right next to you. Instead, you can also jump over pieces that are farther away, which makes the game go a bit faster. There is sure to be a version that everyone will like, no matter what they like best.
The Unfortunate Racism in Chinese Checkers History
Even though a lot of people like Chinese checkers, there is one bad thing about it that we should probably talk about: racial appropriation. Even though this product wasn’t made in China, the people who made it used racial stereotypes to make it look as Chinese as possible.
That’s Mags points out that the original board tried to sell itself to westerners as something exotic by using chop-suey font, images of dragons, and other Chinese stereotypes.
Scholars call this “Orientalism.” Edward Said defined it in his groundbreaking book “Orientalism” as “the basic difference between East and West as the starting point for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and political accounts about the Orient, its people, customs, mind, destiny, and so on.”
The book goes into detail about how colonialists made and spread false ideas about Asia. The game of Chinese checkers was made because of these same colonial prejudices. It is a relic from the past that still haunts us today.
The Game Is Still Popular Today
Chinese checkers has a long history, a lot of different versions, and a little bit of racial drama, but one thing is still the same: it’s still popular all over the world. Even though the game wasn’t made in Asia, WorldAtlas points out that it is still played a lot in many Asian countries, especially in East Asia, and is also popular in Europe.
Super Chinese Checkers is a version of this game that is played all over China and even has fans in France. This version moves faster than the original, but the rules are still the same (via How Stuff Works). In Europe, Super Chinese Checkers was changed in the 1970s into a game called Anri.
This version has easier rules and is better for two players than the original. This shows that the game has spread to different cultures from where it started (via Board and Pieces). What are you waiting for if you haven’t done this popular thing yet?