Can you spot why this board configuration would never happen during an actual game of Parcheesi and must have been set up by the photographer for aesthetics?

©iStockphoto.com/JackValley

Did you know that countries have official board games? It's true -- and India's national game of Pachisi not only carries that honor, it has also maintained worldwide popularity for hundreds of years.

Parcheesi is the copyrighted American version of the venerable game, nearly identical aside from the spelling. Both are cross-and-circle games, a name that derives from the board's cross (or plus) shape and the circular flow of play around it. Pachisi classically used a board made of cloth with a home space in the center, where the cross's arms met. Today, Parcheesi boards look similar but are usually made of wood or paperboard. The game can accommodate two to four players (one for each arm of the cross).

In addition to the board, Parcheesi uses two sets of pieces for play: pawns and dice. Traditionally, pawns were small, beehive-shaped wooden pieces, although they may be made in different shapes and from different materials today. And while today's Parcheesi sets use the six-sided plastic dice that we see in many modern board games, Pachisi originally used either three elongated, four-sided wooden dice or six two-sided cowrie shells [source: Masters Games].

Since Parcheesi can be played with a small group, it's great for family game night or for playing with friends. The rules of Parcheesi, which we'll explore in more detail on the next page, also offer opportunities for parents and teachers to help children strengthen their skills in strategy and math.

Yes, we said the M word. But don't worry -- Parcheesi isn't the board game equivalent of sneaking broccoli into your kid's brownies. It's actually a fast-paced, fun way to pass a few hours -- with a rich history to boot.