Archive for the ‘Victorian Board Games’ Category

Of board games and money

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

I tried to make some historical research today, but haven’t found much on the Internet.  I’ll try to stop by a library next week if I get the opportunity.  However, the following facts should be pretty useful for the game’s narrative :

Rich children would of course have the best toys to play with.  Toy fruits, vegetables, boats, jigsaw puzzles, tin toys, clockwork toys, etc… Whereas the poor children would use household objects to create their own toys  (wood, rags, sawdust, rope…etc)  I think having a visual contrast between the two archetypes (maybe two art styles and visual components for each (or some) board games?) would be pretty great.

Board games per say would be essentially played by rich children, the reason being that they were very expensive as they were handmade.  Ironically, some of these games and toys were made by other children, who would work up to 70 hours a week (which didn’t let them have much time to play, obviously!)

Another visual clue of the social classes we could put in our project is the actual place where the games would be played.  Rich people had big houses, so they would have playrooms.  Poor people had large families, but small apartments, forcing them to play outside most of the time since there was no room inside.

Next I’ll be looking into game companies, which could be another source of inspiration for our game.

First glimpse into the Victorian board games universe…

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

I started doing some research for our next project.  I read quite a lot of descriptions on the website provided by Jason, so I thought I’d make a summary here (especially to help me remember!)


  • A great deal of games focused on learning (reading, English history, coronations, animals, geographic facts, wars, etc)  However, apparently, these games fell out of favor during Queen Victoria’s reign, so I don’t know I much we can extract from that, since we’d need proper victorian-era board games…
  • Many board games would adress moral issues.  Many would show pictures of depicting moral situations.  The corresponding forfeit or reward shows how this situation implicates a good (honesty, benevolence, truth, etc) or a bad (pride, passion, sloth, etc) value.
  • Many board games were about traveling to the colonies, which I find very interesting.  One was about the Road to India, another about sailors from different empires coming back home and even one with traders trying to run their business while one player would incarnate a pirate trying to steal goods (easily the most interesting game so far)!
  • Of course, most games are British-centric.  In many cases, the objectives is actually to reach London.
  • Another interesting thing about these board games is the tone with which their creators wrote the rules and instructions.  They always insisted on politeness, fairplay between players, etc…There is a tongue-in-cheek humour in these texts, as show in the first post.   I’d love to play with that.
  • However, there are some obvious cultural disparancies between now and then.  Per example, a music-learning game would refer to the players as “Young Ladies”, because boys were not to be musically trained.  I personnaly think we do need to put this kind of reference in our project, only to show how absurd it was and to be faithful to this era.
  • Some games would be out of the norm that was created by most board games.  Per example, in one game, the player would get rewarded when landing on squares depicting laziness (like taking a lift from a friend), but would get punished game-wise after good deeds, such as helping a friend.


So far, I’ve seen 4 main types of games.

  • The first one is a traditional “race” board game, where the player goes from square 1 to square X, going back and forth on the way as he gets rewards of forfeits.  Throughout the game, he learns about whatever the game is about by landing on special squares and reading texts out loud.  Most of the time, the game is played with a totum, but it can also be played with numbers cards in a bag (there would blank (the player stays in place) and cross (the player goes back a few squares) cards).  The player spins the totum and progress with the gotten number (though in some game, like Road to India, he’d need to get a specific number.  Same thing near the last square, where you need the exact number to land on it) The actual player’s representation on the board game was sometimes a simple marker cut out of card or a pyramid.  Some games use counters as some kind of currency which the player will lose (and give to the common pool) or gain throughout the game.
  • A lot of board games, especially navigation games, were more open, meaning that the progression was not linear.  Instead, players would start from somewhere on a grid with the objective to reach another place.  Their movement would be determined by a a teetotum with the four (or eight) main directions : North, South, East, West.
  • A third kind of games were trading cards games.  The players would receive set-specific cards and would ask other players another card from a specific set to try to complete it.  The player with the most sets wins.  The cards would always have a common theme, such as proverbs or characters from famous tales.
  • Finally, the fourth kind of game would be the strategic kind.  I have not seen many of these on the website, but it stands without reason that they existed.  The mid-19th century was actually the time where chess got way popular and many other strategic games were frequently played.
  • Some of these games, because of their learning-oriented goals, let the player interpret the squares they landed on to figure if they should get a reward or a forfeit (a burning ship is obviously a setback, and a blooming flower a reward).  I think this is very interesting.
  • Finally, most of the time, the order of play was decided with a spin of the totum.  However, there were games where the players had to reach a consensus or another where the player who would read the rules would be the first to play (“for his trouble”, as said in the game).

And here’s a list of the games that I found the most interesting.  You can look them up on the following website :  I know some of them predates victorian era, but they can still inspire us in a way or another :

The Novel and Elegant Game of the Basket of Fruit or Moral and Intellectual Dessert (1822)

New Geographical Game Exhibiting a Tour of Europe (1794)

The Game of Trades (1860)

The New Game of Emulation Designed for The Amusement of Youth of both Sexes and calculated to inspire their Minds with an abhorrence of vice and a love of virtue (1804)

A New, Moral and Entertaining Game of the Reward of Merit (1801)

The Travellers of Europe, with Improvements and Additions (1849)

The Pirate and Traders of the West Indies (1857)

So this is it, I’ll keep looking at it next Thursday, though I think I’ll probably see the above themes and game mechanics again and again!


Before we begin, a word of caution

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

I read this poem in one of the board game’s description.  It would be read before a game to make sure that every player would play fair.  I think it is fantastic and that it is a great way to launch the project!  It is from a game called “The Novel and Elegant Game of the Basket of Fruit or Moral and Intellectual Dessert” which pretty much sets the tone by itself!


Before in this Game we proceed,

Permit me a few words to say;

I will not five minutes exceed,

or detain you, good folk, from your play.

I trust all around me are friends,

And will take what I say in good part;

Should a word of my CAUTION offend,

It would grieve me indeed to the heart.

But I wish to put all on their guard

Against certain tricks I have seen;

And think not my censure too hard,

When I call them both cunning and mean.

I observe even those whom I love,

If they like not the number they spin,

Will the counter, or tee-totum move,

In hope by such cheating to win.

But even in trifles like these,

Such conduct should never take place;

Mean actions get on by degrees,

Till they end in our total disgrace.

Besides, though we call this a Game,

We cannot but quickly discern

It’s only a sport as to name-

In the Play, there is something to learn:

Improvement with Mirth is design’d;

And the least we can do for such care,

While the moral sinks deep in the mind,

Is to play its rules open and fair,

The gambler all hate and despise;

For he plays but to cheat and to gain:

But we, to be better and wise;

And neither to cause or feel pain.

Well, now I have finish’d my Task;

And should any be tempted to wrong,

I have only one favour to ask,

That-they pause, and reflect on my song.