Blog - A Game with 500 Years of History

A Game with 500 Years of History
By emma brennan 6/13/2017 12:46 AM

Board games have a special power in both responding to current events and physicalizing the culture that created the game. Games have also been used to teach children about social structure. In the 20th century, some games were used to teach children about Kings, Queens and the British world view. These artifacts act as a mirror into the society of the time, by selecting certain images, text and format to reveal the attitudes and perspectives of the people.

Certain game collectors such as Richard Ballam have made generous donations of over 1,500 games to the Bodleian Libraries. Other collectors like Adrian Seville focus their inventory on specific games. For Seville, the Game of the Goose is a quirky board game that he has collected over the years. The game was invented in the 15th century and remains in production. Although the rules are very simple (players roll a dice and race to the 63rd spot), each version captures a moment in history. The players maneuver through the board, leaping ahead or retreating backwards. The images include everything from aristocrats and Richard M. Nixon to shipwrecks and cash bribes. Speckled throughout are “advertisements for dolls, tires biscuits, breath mints and gas lighting” (Eve M. Kahn).

The diversity of themes responds to the long life of the game. Each version adapts to the events of the time. Francesco de Medici in Italy sent a copy of this game to King Felipe II of Spain during the 16th century. It became one of the most popular games in Europe during that time. By 1851, it had been copied by the American publisher J.P. Beach of New York who entitled it The Jolly Game of Goose. An 1855 edition simplified the name to The Game of Goose. Overall, it is an easy racing game decorated with themed illustrations; "the main principle is one shared with Snakes and Ladders as well as the later Game of Life: virtue is rewarded and vice is punished" (boardgamegeek).


Below are a few versions from the long history of the Game of the Goose.


1588 - Etching / 1598 - Etching


1625 - Lithography, Engraving


1640 - Woodcut


1783/1810 - Lithography, Engraving


















Images courtesy of Luigi Ciompi and Adrian Seville