Developments in the French language give us information about board games. We start in the year 1300.
In 1300 the French played chess on a chequered board and draughts on a lined board, see below.
The name of the chequered board was eschequier, 'chess board', a derivative from the game name eschecs = 'chess'. In English, in architecture a pattern of dark and light squares is called check pattern. In France in1300 this pattern was called à eschequier, literally "like a chess board".
In the 14th c., the game on the lined board was transferred to the chess board. The game acquired a new name then: jeu de dames. About 1500, French draughts players felt the need for a word for 'draughts board'. They coined the word damier, derived from the game name dames. The expression à eschequier became obsolete. It was replaced by en damier, literally "like a draughts board". Why? It seems obvious: because the 64 squares board was identified with draughts, not with chess. From this development we may conclude that in France about 1500 draughts was more popular than chess and that chess was a minor game.
About 1500, the French played board games on a so-called gaming box, see below. The current type of gaming box had a tables pattern on the inner side, and a chequered pattern for chess and draughts and a pattern for morris on the two outer sides. In France this type of furniture was called tablier à jouer, literally "board to play games with". But an ardent chess player could call his box eschequier, because he especially used it for chess. An enthusiastic draughts player called the box damier.
Between 1500 and 1550, damier became the common name for the gaming box. This could only be possible, if the gaming box was almost exclusively used for draughts. Again I conclude that in France in the first half of the 16th c. draughts was more popular than chess (and also than tables and morris).
When damier lost its sense of 'draughts board', the French language needed a new name for a decoration by a block of squares: the form échiqueté rose. But en damier survived up to the present day.
Gaming box, inner side [Voigt 1999:210] Gaming box, outer side [Voigt 1999:214]
A short comment. In my youth I learned that chess was the game of emperors and kings. But not any trace of chess in Versailles, whereas there are proofs that at the court draughts was played; see these three grandsons of Louis XIV, Versailles c. 1690 [Pitti Palazzo, Florence]. And which game was John Frederic of Saxony playing in his French prison in 1549? [Antonio Moro, Castle of Gotha (Germany)]. Certainly, we see chess pieces, but the position on the board is a draughts position. Was I raised so poorly, or does our view on the past need reconsideration?