Backgammon, the oldest game in recorded history, is believed to have originated in Mesopotamia.
In Greece, it is called "tabli" from Turkish "tavla"; in Persia, "shesh-pesh" (the "six-five" game).
I suspect GameOfGo holds the title most ancient. Check out http://www.cwi.nl/~jansteen/go/history/china.html (BrokenLink - 2003/08/26) for the something more substantial on this. I'm actually a little surprised that no-one's remarked on the relationship between Patterns and Joseki ... I should also mention a pet theory that the TaoTeChing actually began as a Go manual. Sure clears up the interpretation of Chapter 33. -- PeterMerel
I assume Wari is the same as (or closely related to) Mancala and Kalaha. -- OleAndersen
We on the C3 project take issue with the whole concept of builders. If your customer wants a point, then make the point. Don't move a piece because you think you might need it later, YouArentGonnaNeedIt. In fact, in XP both players sit on the same side of the table and advance their stones in the same direction after exchanging dice from their respective rolls to maximize their collective advantage. -- RonJeffries
My interest in this ancient game has been renewed by the ready availability of high quality opponents online. -- WardCunningham
It seems to me that the oldest games are running games. One must also think that games appeared before dice, and playing dice alone is much simpler than backgammon. So something must have appeared before backgammon.
My theory: some game, then dice, then running games, then backgammon.
I probably have a book on the subject, I will check and fix this.
Ok, I checked, it seems that backgammon descends from Pachisi.
Mancala is a running game without dice. Backgammon resembles it in many ways (the goal is to get your players to a home base, you get ahead by hitting other players blots).
Mancala, also called Wari, Omweso, and many other names is probably older than Backgammon. Boards for it were found in Luxor and Thebes. It is common in many places in Africa. Muslims took it to India, Indonesia and the Phillipines. Slaves in the Carribbean and South America played it. There are many varieties with different numbers of rows, pits, and different kinds of rules for continuing play and for what happens when blots are hit.
On Go and Joseki: yes they are patterns but another level of Go patterns is the series of Go Proverbs like "The enemy's key play is my own key play."
It's likely that the oldest game still played today is tag. This game requires no hardware at all, even spoken language is not required.