The theme of our Girl Scout day camp this year is Ancient Egypt, which has got Julia and me especially interested. I've been thinking for a long time about making a senet board, but when I saw this mehen game somewhere recently, I thought, "Oh, we could make one for day camp!" Those girls who were tired of playing Dollar, Dollar -- and thankfully, there were some -- really enjoyed playing mehen instead.
"Mehen" means "coiled one" and refers to the snake deity who coils protectively around the sun-god Ra on his journey through the night, and the name is also given to this game, for obvious reasons. Like senet, many boards but not the rules have survived, and so there are many different theories about how it was played.
We made our game out of Sculpey polymer clay one afternoon last week. This version is loosely based on the instructions in Philip Steele's book Ancient Egypt. We used 2 1-lb blocks of terracotta-colored clay, and a 2-oz package each of gold, yellow, blue, and silver. We rolled the clay into a ball and flattened it out using a large dowel for a rolling pin, until it made a large circle about 3/8-in/1cm thick, then scored the "snake" outline. (I decided not to make the little handle-like projection that some boards have, since that would be vulnerable to breakage.) The tokens are made with 2g each of two colors, gold and yellow for one set, and silver and blue for the other, and 4g each of the two colors for the larger "lion" token. After the Sculpey was baked, we were supposed to rub diluted green paint on the board, so that the lines would stand out, but haven't done that yet.
You will also need a die or counting sticks to play.
This is how you play:
Start all of your counters on the board before advancing any of the other pieces. A throw of 2 ends your turn (it was 1 in the rules I based our game on, but we couldn't resist the snake eyes, of course!). When you approach the center, you must throw the exact number needed to land there. Once at the center, turn your token over for its return journey. When your first token gets back to the start, your lion (the single larger piece) can begin. The lion moves the same way as the other tokens, but on its return journey, it can "devour" any of your opponent's players in its way. The winner is the player whose lion has devoured the most tokens.