All Things Assyrian
The Ancient Assyrian Game of Pah Tum
By Lenny Flank
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Pah Tum is a game from the ancient civilization of Assyria, one of the first urban centers which flourished along the Tigris River Valley in the Middle East about 3800 years ago. Archaeological digs have uncovered partial game boards including an ivory example in the tomb of an Egyptian scribe named Reny-Seneb from 1800 BCE. (Reny-Seneb must have liked games, since he also had a game set of Hounds and Jackals in his tomb.)

The rules are simple, but, as reconstructed, the scoring system is rather obscure, and is based on the length of continuous lines of playing pieces that each Player is able to make.


The game board is made up of a 7x7 grid of squares, giving a total of 49 square playing spaces.

Each Player has 22 pieces of their own color.

In addition, there are 5 Boulders of a different color.

To Play

The game begins with an empty board. One of the Boulders is then placed in the center square. Next, each Player takes a turn placing a Boulder anywhere on the game board until all of the Boulders are on the board. These now represent un-playable spaces. Since their placement is entirely random and varies from game to game, this makes every game of Pah Tum unique.

Now, each Player alternately places one of his game pieces at any space on the board, one piece per turn. The aim is to get as many of your own pieces in a straight row, either vertically or horizontally but not diagonally, as possible, while at the same time blocking your opponent from doing the same. In cases where a line of pieces turns a corner, for example if it runs horizontal before turning to run vertical, this counts as two entirely separate lines--one for each row. (The piece at the turning point will therefore be included in both lines.) The longest possible score is with an edge-to-edge seven spaces, and a line that runs completely down one edge and then all the way across to the other side of the board counts as two separate seven-space lines.

Players continue placing their game pieces until the board is completely filled up. No piece can be placed where there is already a Boulder.

The Assyrians were highly math-oriented, and their math tended to be related to astrology and astronomical observations. So the scoring system for Pah Tum, as best we can reconstruct it, is rather complicated: for each continuous string of three or more pieces (single pieces and doubles do not count, and Boulders end any line that goes through them), a number of points is awarded. This is calculated by taking the total number of game pieces in the string, adding one point for each piece, and then adding to this number the total point scores for two strings of length one piece shorter. It is not known why the Assyrians chose this particular method of calculating points, but it may have religious or astrological significance.

In any case, to save everybody a lot of math, these calculated values turn out to be:

String LengthPoints Scored
1 or 2 pieces Zero
3 pieces3 points
4 pieces10 points
5 pieces25 points
6 pieces56 points
7 pieces119 points

The Player with the highest overall point total, wins.

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