Playing against Complexity: Board Games as Social Strategy in Bronze Age Cyprus

Walter Crist III*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Social complexity requires people to create new ways of interacting with one another to counteract new social boundaries. Board games provide one avenue by which archaeologists may examine the ways in which people interacted. The act of play is liminoid, allowing for people to more easily overcome social boundaries to interaction, while also creating a shared experience for the process of grounding. Thus, games provide an opportunity for people to build relationships and also to negotiate their identity. This research counters previous assertions that only complex societies play strategy games. In Bronze Age Cyprus, middle-range society became increasingly complex with the development of urbanism and differential access to wealth, while also producing a particularly large corpus of ancient board games. Determining where games were played, and then analyzing the social context of games in those spaces using multiple correspondence analysis, it was found that people were more likely to be playing in public during periods of greater complexity. This is likely due to the performative aspects of play, allowing for the communication of status in different ways when games are played in public spaces. The pattern found shows the variation in the ways people incorporated games into their social strategies during periods of different types of complexity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101078
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019


  • archaeology
  • Cyprus
  • Board Games
  • Social Complexity
  • Social complexity
  • Play
  • Board games
  • Materiality
  • Bronze Age

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