On Board

At the end of every year I look back. I think about the shape of the previous year. I look at my decisions – good and bad, and see where they took me.
Each decision leads me somewhere, and each year has a different shape. Some of what happens is beyond my control and some isn’t.
Like a board game!

Here are some board games from long ago. I hope you will enjoy looking at them. Maybe you’ll be inspired to play a game, or to make up your own.


in 1804, this game was “Designed for the amusement of Youth of both Sexes and calculated to Inspire their Minds with an Abhorrence of Vice and a Love of Virtue.” (My generation had Twister.)


You could climb the Mount of Knowledge in 1800.


100 years later you could climb to Klondyke and search for gold.

Snakes and Ladders is a game based on Moksha-Patamu – an Indian game used for religious instruction, which has 12 vices but only 4 virtues. Some later versions also include moral consequences,

and some don’t.

When my niece Zoe was little she made her own version.

with vivid details.

Some game boards have squares.

And some are round.


Here are instructions for Mu Torere in case you would like to play.

Sometimes a game (or life in general) can feel like a wild goose chase.

Sometimes the box sums it up.

Here is a game from Roman times, with advice, as translated by R.C. Bell.


To Hunt, to Swim,
To Play, to Grin,
This is to Live

Lavari might be translated more accurately as “to wash”, but swimming is more fun.
Happy New Year! May you be awash in good things.

p.s. What was your favorite game growing up? I liked Chinese Checkers because of the star shaped board and marbles, and Milles Bornes, because we got to shout Coup Fourre! I still don’t know what that means.

p.s. Most of the games in this post came from two books: The Boardgame Book by R.C. Bell, and A Collector’s Guide to Games and Puzzles by Caroline Goodfellow.16 5x5 board

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17 responses to “On Board

  1. These are wonderful! Zoe’s is my favorite game board. I think we should have a game of Mu Torere next time we get together. Twister for sure was a fun game when we were teenagers. Not replaceable by today’s on-line games. Which is something to think — how electronic games have erased the experience of friends gathering around an actual board; sing song electronica instead of the tup tup tup of Parcheesi pieces on the march. Our family was big on Trivial Pursuits when it first came out — the only time we bested our Dad was the day before he had open-heart surgery.

    • Maybe real life games will make a comeback. There is room in the world for both things! (I say as an addict to playing scrabble against the computer).

  2. Loved Mattel Tip It balancing game. Always wanted, but never had, Operation or Don’t Break the Ice.

  3. I love that Zoe created her own “snakes and ladders”. When I was teaching, there were “choice” classes and I taught a games class where we examined many board games, then each student created their own. Final test? We played and played everyone’s game. These are wonderful and it’s great to see the older ones, too. Finally, thanks for the reminder of Mille Bornes. I used to play it, too, will look for it! My favorite as a grandmother, Monopoly, lots of fun to introduce it to the grandkids!

  4. I liked the game of “Life”. I don’t remember why. Maybe because I also liked Life cereal a lot.

  5. We loved “Pit.” It involved a lot of yelling, and was very exhilarating in our normally reserved and quiet-spoken family. Once I got so carried away that I fell backwards through a picture window.

    • Sounds exciting- possibly too exciting! It’s good you survived the fall. I hadn’t heard of Pit, so I googled it – I learned that Pit was invented (possibly stolen) by a noted psychic, Edward Cayce. Interesting.

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  6. Deirdre O'Sullivan from Australia

    I had an American board game called ‘Pillow Fight’ – by Mattel. it was quite weird, but I loved it! There were 2 lines of little plastic beds, one row of pink, one of blue, and the opposing teams had to flip tiny pillows at each other across the girls’ dormitory! It was very 1960s – and the tiny cardboard figures of the girls all looked a bit like Patty Duke and Gidget.
    All very retro! Another game I adored was called ‘Trouble’ – it had a plastic dome in the middle of the game, with dice inside. The aim was to move your pieces around the board – the fastest player won.
    You pressed down the dome, and the dice jumped around, making a very loud clicking sound that echoed around the house and drove my parents up the wall! My cousins and I were addicted to this game – we would click away for hours on a Saturday afternoon… ah, the simple pleasures of my sunny youth! Anyone else remember these?

    • There are so many games I had not heard of. I need to cease all other activities and spend my time playing vintage board games!

  7. We just played Aggravation with my sister’s family at Christmas! Luckily they still like traditional games. We played Sorry, Jenga and a newer game with friends. When I was little we played a couple of really odd ones like “What Shall I Wear?” and “What Shall I Be?”….and one where you got married (picked out your dress, your bouquet, etc.) and Masterpiece where you buy and sell art.

  8. What a wonderful post! My brother and sister and I played a LOT of Clue (I was always Professor Plum.) Have you seen this, Julie?
    https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/we-still-dont-really-know-how-play-ancient-roman-board-game-180967778

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