Board games, circa 1600

The Noble Game of the Swan, 1821

While visiting Monticello recently I was struck by a 19th century example of “The Game of the Goose” lying on the floor, as if a child had just left off playing with it. It fascinates me that the board game, a staple of my childhood holidays, was also enjoyed by families (upper class families, at least) hundreds of years ago. Sixteenth century Italian households probably weren’t quite as board-game-obsessed as my family becomes every holiday season – we still reminisce about great Pictionary moments, and I have many utterly useless Trivial Pursuit answers irrevocably memorized. But still, this thread of commonality reassures me.

For a great tour of European board game history, check out this recent post from the invaluable Bibliodyssey with dozens of examples of themed board games going back to 1588. As usual, Peacay has done the research for us, scrounging the British Museum image database and linking to a paper on the development of the English board game. Enjoy, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Der Bergbau (The Working of Mines), mid-1800s


  1. #1 Dunc
    November 26, 2008

    Board games also appear quite prominently in Irish, Welsh and Nordic mythology. The game of Fidchell quite possibly dates back to the late Iron Age, if not earlier.

  2. #2 Jennifer Ouellette
    November 26, 2008

    Wow, I am just in awe of your ability to find these beautiful things. 🙂

  3. #3 Comrade PhysioProf
    November 26, 2008

    That is so fucking cool! Old-ass board games!

  4. #4 rhettoric
    November 26, 2008
  5. #5 Jessica Palmer
    November 26, 2008

    Oh no, Rhett, not you too! The staffer made me learn to play Settlers, and I was terrible. I’m much better at Cranium, or Pictionary, or Trivia.

    I hope board games don’t vanish entirely now that everything’s migrating online. That would suck.

  6. #6 Adrian Morgan
    November 28, 2008

    I’ve played several of the reconstructed ancient board games from here (often reconstructed in the sense of “we don’t actually know what the rules were, but this works, so let’s do it”). Some of the implementations are completely unplayable (don’t even bother with Mehen, for example, although fortunately all the downloads are small) but others are not bad (Patolli is worth a go, for example).

    Personally I’m more of a card games person and I’ve read quite a bit about the history of card games. Information on the web ranges from general history to specific games and rules. An interesting site that I discovered relatively recently was this one, with lots of detail about tarot cards.

    I’ve invented a few of my own games, from Elemental (a solitaire game with an alchemy theme, implemented online) to Peaks and Pits (a multi-player game using a set of dominoes, not digitally implemented). My own invented games can’t be regarded as historical, but lend me your time machine and I’ll see if I can fix that.

  7. #7 zayflama
    November 30, 2008

    very interesting pictures

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