{ subscribe_url:'//loc.gov/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/geography-and-maps.php', }

May the Best Player Win: Geographical Board Games of the Past

Board games have been played around the world for millennia. One of the oldest board games known to exist, named Senet, appears in an Egyptian hieroglyph from about 5,000 years ago! The late 18th century saw a rise in the creation of board games in Europe, many of which were educational, designed to be an entertaining way to teach children. Many of the first game publishers were also cartographers, leading to geographic board games becoming a popular pastime of which there are many interesting examples within the collections of the Library’s map division.

One such game board is seen below, published by J.N. Mauborgne in Paris in 1795. Mauborgne, a geography professor, created this game to honor the government of the National Convention during the French Revolution. Each space on the board is one of the 83 departments which were set up by the revolutionary government in place of earlier historical provinces. The players start at the outside of the board and travel around  France counter clockwise until reaching the center, ending on the island of Corsica. The complete rules are found in the center of the board, but the overall objective is the same as most games; the first to the end wins!

Jeu géographique de la République Française : présenté à la Convention Nationale. Created by J.N. Mauborgne, 1795. Geography and Map Division.

Jeu géographique de la République Française : présenté à la Convention Nationale. Map by J.N. Mauborgne, 1795. Geography and Map Division.

The spiral format of the game above gave way to a more popular format, the creation of a game board out of the map itself. High demand for these games swept through continental Europe and Great Britain in the early 19th century. The game below, titled Middleton’s new geographical game of a tour through England and Wales was made in 1820 and is two games in one as it is also a jigsaw puzzle, also called a “dissected” map.  Starting in Greenwich, the player spins a totem (a type of spinning top, as dice were associated with gambling) and moves from city to city around the board. The board is accompanied by text giving facts about each city that must be read at each stop which at times requires the player to stay a little longer. For example, a stop in Southampton which is “a charming sea bathing place, and noted for its port wine” means “the tourist must therefore stop one turn to take a bottle.”

Middleton's New geographical game of a tour through England and Wales. Map by M. Middleton, 1820. Geography and Map Division.

Middleton’s New geographical game of a tour through England and Wales. Map by M. Middleton, 1820. Geography and Map Division.

The board game craze crossed the Atlantic Ocean and made its way to the United States in the early 19th century. Setting out from their father’s bookstore in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Frederick and Roe Lockwood,  moved to New York City in the late 1810s to start their own publishing business. There, in 1822, they published the earliest known board game made in the United States, The traveller’s tour through the United States, seen below. In the following years, with the success of their first game, the Lockwoods published expanded boards of both Europe and the world.

Very similar in structure to its European counterparts, the game depicts the United States, including the fairly new states of Missouri and Maine, as well as the large unorganized territories in the west. Like previous geographic games, the player must follow a path around the country where on the arrival at a new city, the player must correctly name the place and, in this case, its population, or lose a turn and try again. The first player to make it to the city of New Orleans wins the game.

The traveller's tour through the United States. Published by F. & R. Lockwood, 1822. Geography and Map Division.

The traveller's tour through the United States. Published by F. & R. Lockwood, 1822. Geography and Map Division.

The traveller’s tour through the United States. Published by F. & R. Lockwood, 1822. Geography and Map Division.

Geographic board games continued to be a popular form of entertainment throughout the 19th century with the details growing more sophisticated as printing technology improved. The game below, Rambles Through Our Country- An Instructive Geographical Game for the Young, is a beautiful chromolithograph, made in 1890, made using a colored printing process that was developed during the second half of the century. On a close inspection of the illustrations on the map, there are many fascinating details to be found about the cultural perceptions of the time. The accompanying rules and instruction booklet is 113 pages! Fortunately, the booklet is available online from the Internet Archives.

Rambles Through Our Country – An Instructive Geographical Game for the Young. Chromolithograph published by Schaefer & Weisenbach, Litho., copyrighted 1890. Prints and Photograph Division.

Rambles Through Our Country – An Instructive Geographical Game for the Young. Published by Schaefer & Weisenbach, Litho., copyrighted 1890. Prints and Photographs Division.

By the late 19th century, board games were a fixture in most American homes. However, the focus of board games shifted away from scholarship and education to espousing the American dream of becoming rich and successful, as evidenced by the popularity of Monopoly, made in 1935 and one of the best selling board games of all time. While these games are probably not played much today, they still offer a fascinating glimpse into a piece of the world in the 19th century.

Propaganda Maps to Strike Fear, Inform, and Mobilize – A Special Collection in the Geography and Map Division

Filled with heavy topics of war and occupation, War map: pictorial and propaganda map collection 1900-1950 contains maps and messages that frequently are pointed, unapologetic, and echo the anger and desperation of nations at war. The collection of 180 maps typifies how cartographs were used to influence popular opinion and garner support for military and political efforts […]

Sailing the Early Seas with Portolan Charts

The collections of the Library of Congress include thirteen early nautical or portolan charts published between 1320 and 1734.  Cartographic historians and map librarians are familiar with these early charts.  But what, exactly, is a “portolan” chart?  This post will attempt to address a few of the basic ideas revolving around these early nautical charts. […]

Constellations in Bronze

Below is an image of the constellation Perseus holding the head of Medusa, famous for her serpentine hair.  This chart is from a Russian celestial atlas published in 1829.  I became aware of this unusual atlas while searching for new acquisitions for the collections of Geography and Map Division.  This led me to learn more […]

A Cartographic Memento From a Small War

Most historians consider the Italo-Ottoman War, 1911-12, as a prelude to World War I. Although it has fallen into obscurity, some relics, such as this compelling panoramic map of the war’s first major engagement, may revive our interest. Italy’s claims to North Africa were rooted in Roman times. Over the millennia, the provinces of Tripolitania […]

Library of Congress Story Maps Dive into Early Photography

The latest Story Maps from the Library of Congress detail some of the fascinating adventures and technological innovations of early photography! Story Maps are immersive, interactive web applications that showcase the incredible stories of Library of Congress collections through text, images, multimedia, and interactive maps. You can find all Library of Congress Story Maps at […]

Signature of Famous Botanist Discovered on Map of Japan

The signature of the American botanist who helped bring the famous Japanese cherry blossom trees to the United States was discovered by this author on a 1901 map of Japan. David Fairchild (1869-1954) traveled the world on behalf of the U.S. government and introduced more than 200,000 varieties of crops and plants to this country. […]

Early Pictorial Maps of Asia and Europe from the Hauslab-Liechtenstein Collection

The following post is by Anna Balaguer, a Junior Fellow at the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. This summer, I have the opportunity to participate in the Library of Congress Junior Fellows program, working in the Geography and Map Division. I am working with cartographic specialist Ryan Moore to process the Hauslab-Liechtenstein Map […]

The Changing Place Names of Washington, D.C.

The following post is by Kim Edwin, a library technician in the Geography and Map Division. Since coming to the Washington, D.C. area and joining the Geography and Map Division, I have enjoyed learning about the early history of our nation’s capital through maps and place names. In studying maps from the city’s early years […]