You can now play ancient board games thanks to artificial intelligence

The Digital Ludeme Project's AI envisions thousands of possibilities to fill in the blanks on ancient games lost to time.

Close-up Of A Robot's Hand Playing Chess

Before an AI can beat the pants off of you, it must first understand the rules of the game. That may not be the point of the Digital Ludeme Project, per se, but it certainly is the logical conclusion to its years-long goals. Per a new rundown from Wired, researchers and anthropologists have teamed up to help fill in the blanks to countless ancient board games whose rules have been lost to the ages with the help of artificial intelligence programming... and it is badass.

Games like the Knossos Game and 58 Holes are first broken down into fundamental units of information called ludemes, which refers to elements of play such as the number of players, movement of pieces, or criteria to win. Once a game is codified in this manner, the team then fills in the missing pages of its rulebook with the help of relevant historical information, like when it or another game with similar ludemes was played and by whom. And that’s where AI steps in to lend a hand.

Giving humans a mulligan — As Wired explains, “Every hypothesis the team has about a game they’re studying is then fed through the Ludii software, where, after thousands of rounds of play-testing, its playability is assessed in just a matter of hours.” A lot of tweaking is involved from there, including human anthropologists’ input on aspects like playability and potential social decorums that may have factored into the game’s era.

Helpful for modern gaming — Given that the Ludii software is free and open to everyone, its implications go far beyond board game history. Its developers encourage modern game designers and players to test out the software themselves to help refine both archival games, as well as potentially their own works-in-progress. For everyone else: Welcome to your newest time-suck.