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GAMER’S BOOKSHELF: THE GAMES WE PLAYED: THE GOLDEN AGE OF BOARD & TABLE GAMES

THE GAMES WE PLAYED:

 

THE GOLDEN AGE OF BOARD & TABLE GAMES

 

by Margaret K. Hofer

 

(Princeton Architectural Press, 159 pages, $24.95)

 

Reviewed by Herb Levy

The New York Historical Society has hosted a wonderful array of antique games from the Arthur and Ellen Liman collection. If you are a GA member, you read about the exhibit in our Information Center. The exhibit was also mentioned in the Spring 2002 GA REPORT editorial lauding the exhibit but lamenting the fact that there was no program to go along with it. Now that oversight has been corrected with this new hardcover volume: The Games We Played: The Golden Age of Board & Table Games by Margaret K. Hofer.gamesweplayed

As Associate Curator of Decorative Arts at the New York Historical Society, Ms. Hofer was involved with the exhibition. Her introduction (“Rules of the Game”) gives a nice overview of games from 1840 to the 1920s and credits games with offering “a fascinating window on the values, beliefs, and aspirations of a nation undergoing tremendous change”. The subsequent chapters, including “Parlor Amusements”, “The World’s Education”, “Morals to Materialism”, “War Games”, “Parlor Athletics”, “The Urban Experience” and “‘Round the World”, prove the assertion, relying heavily on the beauty of the lithography that made these vintage games so popular.

Many of the legendary game publishing companies are represented here with a heavy emphasis on the McLouglin Brothers (with their Game of Man in the Moon, 1901, Bulls and Bears: The Great Wall Street Game, 1883, Game of Baseball, 1886 and many more), Parker Brothers (Chivalry, designed by George Parker and reportedly his favorite design, 1888, Game of Napoleon: The Little Corporal, 1895), Chaffee & Selchow (Roosevelt at San Juan – that’s Theodore Roosevelt – 1899), Milton Bradley (The Checkered Game of Life, 1866) and many more.

To the book’s credit, the photos of the game boxes and, in many cases, the interiors and pieces, are stunning and a truly welcome companion piece to the exhibition. Although many of these games put their effort into looks and not game design (and, because of this, game play was generally simple and simplistic), I still would have liked to have seen rules accompanying some of the more sophisticated offerings. Ms. Hofer recognizes the historical significance of games as reflecting contemporary times. Still, it would have been interesting to trace the historical ties linking these antique treasures to modern gaming. For example, Parker’s Chivalry was later released in a revised form as Camelot – and as Cam – which then was reissued as Inside Moves. Broadway (Parker Brothers, 1917) bears more than a passing resemblance to Parcheesi and to Parker’s Pollyanna game which stayed in print into 1967. And Pit, released in 1904 and shown in the volume with its 1919 edition is still being published (by Winning Moves under license from Parker Brothers). But, unquestionably, the star of this show is the game graphics. Commentary is subservient to the beauty of the games themselves.

Games are an unmistakable part of popular history and culture. The antique games captured between the covers of this volume illustrate the point quite well. If you can’t make it to the New York Historical Society to experience these games from years gone by first hand (and even if you can), The Games We Played by Margaret Hofer will give you a feast for the eyes that makes this volume a solid buy. — – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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