Rhodri Marsden's Interesting Objects: The first British board game


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The Independent Tech

* "He who rests at Rome (48) for kissing ye Pope's Toe shall be banished for his folly to the cold island of Iceland (4) and miss three turns." This was the kind of excitement that awaited players of A Journey Through Europe, a game launched 255 years ago and acknowledged to be the first British board game. Eight shillings got you a cloth-backed map and a set of instructions (or 'Explanation') that promised an educational spin around the Continent.

* The game was invented by John Jefferys and manufactured by Carrington Bowles, a map publisher looking to enhance its product line. Back then, dice were associated with gambling and thus deemed to be a morally dubious way of generating random numbers, so players were instructed to use a teetotum, or spinner, to play the game. Starting at York, you travelled to Scotland, clockwise through Scandinavia, Russia, Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean before heading back to Blighty.

* While an innovative game, there were antecedents. The Game of Goose, or Jeu de l'Oie, was an old folk game that involved throwing dice and moving that number of spaces; if you landed on a goose you could move the same number of spaces again. Jefferys literally put the game on the map, with the geese replaced by towns where Kings resided, eg Copenhagen, Berlin, Constantinople and so on.

* Hazards were there aplenty: your arrival in Venice meant skipping a turn while you looked at the Rialto; while landing on Mainz obliged you to wait a turn to observe the noble art of printing. Whoever spun the number that landed them precisely on the 77th space, London, won the game, and got to kiss the King's hand and be knighted. Personally, I'd rather pass Go and collect 200 quid, but each to their own.