First glimpse into the Victorian board games universe…

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!


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