Last Friday we went up to London to do some things and decided to visit the exhibition currently on at the V&A Museum of Childhood entitled Game Plan: Board Games Revisited. The museum itself is quite small so this exhibition isn’t big, however there was a lot of interesting things to see ranging from ancient Egyptian games through to prototypes of Pandemic.
‘Game Plan’ takes up half of the upstairs of the museum and is very well advertised around the building, causing much excitement for me, though after travelling into London and being on our feet most of the morning, we did get the lift rather than run up the stairs!
The first (and oldest exhibit) is a game of Senet, dating somewhere between 1550 and 1295 BC. This dates from before 3000BC and was played across all levels of Egyptian society. Complete sets have been found in many tombs, including that of the boy Pharaoh Tutankhamun. The actual rules are unknown but it is assumed to be some sort of race game with each player moving their five pieces across thirty squares. Senet mean ‘passing’ and it is assumed to have some connections with the afterlife. Now, I know many of us have old games with battered boxes, covered in dust, but I wonder if any will stand the test of time this has!
Next up are some ancient versions of games we recognise and still play today. Games like draughts, ludo and snakes and ladders have been around for many years but now we play with cardboard boards and plastic pieces rather than these elegant stone and wooden pieces. Snakes and ladders was especially popular in India where it was considered a valuable life lesson, teaching us that life always has ups and downs!
Pachisi (Ludo) can be dated back to the 15th Century and was usually made of textiles. In the 16th Century Emperor Akbar in India marked out a board in his grounds and used enslaved girls dressed in the appropriate colours as playing pieces!
Throughout the exhibition are quotes about gaming and playing, including one of my favourites from George Bernard Shaw: ‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing’ There is also a mini game throughout - you can spin a spinner and move forward the number of spaces it lands on. I felt this was a bit sad though as you would then miss parts of the exhibition. We did see quite a few children having fun with them though!
We then moved onto the 17th/18th Century where art and printing methods had greatly improved, leading to really elaborate, highly decorated boards. These were usually comprised of nine pieces and educational. Columbia, Land of the West could be played either historically or topographically and chronicles the history of America, starting with Christopher Columbus and ends with the treaty of Independance. There is a huge amount of information on these boards and in the accompanying guide books!
Forward to the 20th Century and games and we start to see older versions of games we know and are still growing strong today. Various versions of Monopoly, Cluedo and Risk, including this version which was the first version I ever played! It’s a little different to todays versions with shaped plastic pieces. Despite the many games available today I still have a huge love for Risk as it was the first board game I played as an adult, spending many drunken nights throwing dice with friends. Now, although it’s been awhile since I played, I own a few variations of ‘classic’ Risk, I love the slight quirks between the different boards. There was also a few copies of Monopoly there, but I loved this Japanese version , complete with a cat piece long before it became a standard piece here!
Going into the 1970s licensed games were the big thing, with Dr Who and Star Wars getting in on the act. I think anyone around my age had the ‘Escape from the Death star’ game shown here. After seeing it I know I played this despite no-one in our house being huge on Star Wars so I wonder who I was nagging to buy me board games then! From a little later comes the Pac Man board game (another I know I had at the time) We actually received a copy of this for Christmas this year and have had great trips down memory lane playing it and introduced a new generation to it!
Next was their ‘Modern Board Games’ section with Ticket to Ride, Catan, Carcassonne and X-Com. After talking about board games that used apps, there was also an opportunity to play the Carcassonne or Catan apps on a giant screen. It would have been nice to see more variety here, we all know just how many games are out there these days but I was glad that modern gaming got a fair representation.
The last exhibit is devoted to Pandemic, there are some awesome early prototypes and workings donated by Matt Leacock. While I am not a fan of co-op games, they are a good introduction into the gaming world for a lot of people and anything that gives me more people to play against is great! It’s always nice to see the work that goes into any game you know, it’s amazing to see the many stages and thought processes they go through to make the finished item we all know and see in the stores!
The final part of the exhibition is a giant wall with a flow chart, detailing what sort of gamer you are. So, I followed it through! I think anyone who knows me, knows where I landed! Yes, I am the ‘Gloating Winner’!
Game Plan: Board Games Revisited is on at the V & A Museum of Childhood until the 23rd April 2017. It is open daily from 10 until 17.45 and is completely free. More details can be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/moc/
If you are in the area it was a great way to spend a couple of hours, however, be prepared that it’s not a huge exhibition so plan more for a days outing!
You can see more photos from the exhibit on our Facebook Photo Gallery