The Development of the English Board Game, 1770 – 1850

The Development of the English Board Game, 1770 – 1850

Caroline G. Goodfellow

Board Games Studies, Vol.1 (1998)


Throughout the 18th century and well into the 19th century, the size of the middle income group of merchants, solicitors, doctors and industrialists grew. Trade flourished and unknown areas were explored. The adventurers who were prepared to open shipping routes and establish trading agreements reaped rich financial rewards. This was an age of enlightenment, invention, innovation and scientific discovery. Games were a part of the industrial and social life of entire nations, reflecting changing ideas and ideals, particularly during periods of major upheaval. The upbringing of children within these middle class families changed dramatically. Education became essential, covering not only the `three Rs’, but sensible grounding in national and international affairs. National pride and achievements were stressed, as were faults. In general, everyone seemed to be looking outwards, to try to understand new concepts. We must, however, when viewing the games of this period, remember to set them against their own time rather than to evaluate them in the light of modern history, knowledge or ideals. The publishers of many of these games were already established producers of maps and books, many of which were aimed at children. The idea of creating an educational tool was, in a way, a novelty. The Game of Goose was already well known and it required few changes to create The Game of Human Life or the History of England.

The games were well received by parents who appreciated the educational aspects, the children’s resulting enjoyment and possibly that the games could be played in relative peace and calm. The early games stressed learning through play, but this aspect was gradually dropped in favour of sheer enjoyment of play. However, not all games were that enjoyable despite the claims of their titles. Perhaps the whole logic of such games was summed up by John Harris in the introduction or Advertisement as it was called to his game Historical Pastimes which was published in 1810.

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