Georgian Game Night
Survival of the rules is essential to understanding play (penalties and rewards) as well as the nature of the instruction on offer. We’ve analysed them (see above) but we’ve never played them. As we have a good stock of early tabletop games at present, Pinda and I thought it was good moment to have a Georgian games night to compare and contrast them.
I’ll introduce the games, and Pinda will take you through how they played. We chose four: three covering England and Wales and one of London (reaching London was the goal of two of the games but the winners learned nothing at all about the metropolis once they’d reached it, so we felt it deserved a game to itself). The first game I’m going to look at is the rarest and most visually enticing, but it’s also potentially the most tedious to play. It seems to be aimed at very young children [though that is not by itself problem, as anyone who has enjoyed a few spirited rounds of Hungry Hungry Hippos with a pre-schooler will know – PB]
Originally published by Didier and Tebbett in 1808, with the design credited to M. Wauthier, it’s called the ‘Punchinellography of England’, subtitled on the slipcase: ‘being a map of that country shewing its counties as ludicrous portraits’. Each English and Welsh county is represented by a grotesque portrait of a character from history, literature or folklore; a numbered list appears in the left hand margin. Counters with these characters’ names (which may have been printed, or may have been handwritten, but are not present here) were picked from a bag. The player then had to name the county and recite the list of principal towns given in the rule book. Failure gave other players the chance to complete the list and win the token. The rules suggest awarding ‘some present’ to the winner, to ‘awaken emulation’ in the breast of the other pupils. There is little to link the characters and the locations: Cardinal Wolsey has no obvious connection with Radnor, and the demonised radical MP John Wilkes none with Gloucestershire, and I can think of nothing which links Joan of Arc with Yorkshire. Some historical figures would have figured more prominently in popular culture then than now.
Percy Muir cites the game as an example of the ‘more lively titles’ which began to appear in the early 19th century, promising ‘something more palatable to juvenile taste’ (/Muir, English Children’s Books, 1600 to 1900. p 225/). Whitehouse lists it as a game which was known to have been published (/Victorian Table Games p. 99/) but does not appear to have seen a copy and supplies no details. He gives the publisher as John Harris, which suggests he was only aware of a later version.
The original publishers were Peter Didier and William Tebbett of 75 St James’s Street, and it was advertised in the 16 January 1808 edition of the ‘Oxford University and City Herald’, as being available from Didier and Tebbett’s ‘Juvenile Library of English, French and Italian Books and instructive games’. In the same year they published a conventional folding map of England and Wales, a ‘traveller’s guide’, as a counterpart to the Punchinellography. Their output included more general works, including an 1807 plan of London, but children’s books and educational games seem to have been their core business.
They collaborated with John M Wauthier (fl. 1803-1823) on other projects, including atlases of ancient geography and European history, and an 1807 map of England ‘being a map of that Kingdom illustrative of the principal battles fought in it’. As reported in the ‘London Gazette’ Didier and Tebbett were declared bankrupt in 1810. A handful of books appear under their imprint dated 1811, but the lease and contents of 75 St James’s Street, including an ‘elegant stock of bound books’ was auctioned in March 1810 (‘Morning Chronicle’ March 10 1810). A further entry in the ‘Gazette’ suggests that proceedings dragged on into 1812; final claims were settled then, or disallowed. This may explain why the ‘Punchinellography’ appears in a catalogue of John Harris’ stock in the same year (bound at the end of Sandham’s ‘Travels of St Paul’, published by Harris in 1812): Harris may have bought copies at the auction in 1810, or acquired them subsequently, perhaps in settlement of an outstanding debt. It is not clear if it was revised to show his imprint. It seems at least as likely, though, that Harris’ involvement demonstrates that something was salvaged from the ruins. Didier and Tebbett had collaborated with Harris before their bankruptcy, and we find editions of the abbé Gaultier’s ‘Complete course of geography’ published in 1811 and 1813 under the joint imprint of Harris and P. Didier, who had moved north to Bolsover Street. We have only been able to locate two other examples, one in the UK and one in the US.
Next up, we have two race games in which players learn by ‘visiting’ towns and cities around England and Wales. The first was created by the elder John Wallis (c. 1745-1818), who recovered from bankruptcy to become one of the major publishers of children’s games and puzzles. It’s dated 1794 but probably didn’t reach the market until early 1795 (see our piece on dating maps). There is a moral tone, so Dorchester is ‘the county town famous for its fine strong beer and for its superb county gaol’ (then relatively new, and approved by prison reformer John Howard). At times inspiration seems to have run dry; for example, Stafford is simply ‘the capital of that county’. We also learn that Marlborough (32) boasts one of the finest places to dine in the kingdom; Shrewsbury (59) is famous for its excellent brawn, and Hereford’s (49) cathedral is in danger of speedy ruin. There are forfeits: players miss two turns for landing on Bath, to enjoy the pump room and the entertainments, and miss two turns to visit the Colleges and Halls of Cambridge University (although Oxford University is ‘esteemed the most noble of any in Europe’ no similar stay is required, which suggests a certain prejudice on Wallis’ part). Landing on Cardigan (number 45) allows a player to move 52 places further along to Scarborough (97), but landing on Beaumaris on Anglesey (63) means going 52 spaces back to Newport on the Isle of Wight (11). Snakes and ladders of that magnitude introduce a real element of chance : it’s not over until it’s over.
Our old friends the Dartons published their version of the game in 1809. There are strong similarities although players follow a different route and there is considerable variation in stops (which here include Eddystone Lighthouse). There is a marked absence of snakes or ladders, which may have been considered too frivolous, and the only forfeits are missed turns. The Dartons were Quakers (William Darton senior joined the Society of Friends in 1777), which occasionally shows in the game. William Darton junior and his son Thomas worked together between 1806 and June 1810, and both are included in the imprint on the map.
Finally, a handsome London-based table-game from the well-known John Harris: ‘The Panorama Of London, Or, A Day’s Journey Round The Metropolis’, published in 1809. The board is a snail-shell racetrack of fifty stops, arranged counterclockwise, featuring medallion views of famous landmarks (and some of the less well-known sights) of London, around which the players race their markers - the moves determined by a teetotum. There’s nothing disreputable, but there are genuine places of entertainment, such as Astley’s Amphitheatre. The accompanying rule-book notes the fines: two counters duty at the Custom House, one to see the lions at the Tower, others to finance the House Of Commons and the Bank of England, two to encourage the artists at Somerset House, three for being seen in the ‘riotous assembly’ of the Covent Garden Election, etc. As well as forfeits, there were also bonus counters to be had: a counter from each player at the Royal Exchange, two counters from each player from a win on the Lottery. Never wanting in self promotion, Harris has included his own shop in the game: ‘stop one turn, and receive a counter from each player, to purchase a new game, or an instructive book, as your fancy may direct’.
I approached this game night with an open mind, I really did. To ready us for the innocent diversions of a bygone nursery, we had tea and (homemade) cake by way of pre-game refreshment instead of the gin and crisps I would usually offer anyone sitting down to try their skill against Bryars and/or Bryars.
The Punchinellography is beautifully made. It is also a swizz so rotten that it had to be abandoned entirely. As Tim tells us above, you need ‘descriptive counters’ with the name of the character that represents –inexplicably, it turns out – each county. Eager to begin, I asked Tim to con the rules while I gathered materials to make the counters (the secret of true inner peace being never to read instructions oneself); and he was appalled to learn that gameplay is as follows:
- draw a descriptive counter
- match it to the corresponding county (they are numbered to make it easier for people who can never remember where Wiltshire is)
- recite a list of approved facts about that county, including principal towns.
That’s it. There’s no quiz, no wit, nothing but a dry list to cram into your mouth and spit out when instructed. There is a feeble element of competition – if you cannot remember the facts, another player (for imaginative purposes, your pious twerp of a cousin) can leap in and recite them, thus winning himself your counter and drawing another. So his prize is the opportunity to recite more facts, and the approbation of the kind of adult whom the infant Pinda would’ve bitten had they the effrontery to offer this rubbish up as fun.
The worst of it is the fascinating county characters, about whom we are asked to learn nothing. Some facts I would appreciate are:
- Why is Devon represented by Somnus, the Roman personification of sleep?
- Did the noted abolitionist Equiano (Gustavus Vassa as he’s styled in the game) actually visit Northumberland?
- What has Three Fingered Jack, or Jack Mansong (leader of a band of runaway Jamaican slaves), to do with Brecknockshire?
Most of the other counties are in this vein, with historical and literary figures more or less obscure. I’m not sure a child young enough for this game would know who the Tom Jones character Thwackum was (he’s Norfolk); and we’re still puzzling out who our native counties’ representatives Dr Jobson (Kent) and Goldfinch (Staffordshire) might have been.
Winner: nobody wins here
Rating: 1/10, and that point is only awarded because we accidentally had fun researching the characters.
We placed both the Wallis and Darton Tours with dice (that and other game pieces were borrowed from Nanty Narking , well worth getting hold of for Christmas), which is shamefully inappropriate, but setting a teetotum in front of this is just asking for trouble:
The rules refer to ‘pyramids’ for the player pieces that move (here we’ve substituted a streetwalker and a jockey) and ‘counters’ that you leave where instructed to ensure you miss the correct number of turns.
I’m braced for this one to be stiffly educational. Tim has already told me we’ll be rolling to land at various towns to learn facts and miss turns to look at stuff. It could just be that I’m rather soured on facts tonight, but it strikes me as odd to tie up learning with what amounts to a forfeit in a racing game.
Players begin in my hometown of Rochester. In our opening moves, Tim learns about Canterbury Cathedral while I get a little further and am treated to some stone-cold truth about the navigability of the River Wye.
The first forfeit comes for Tim in Portsmouth, where he is bid to wait a turn and admire the naval buildings. Full of hubris I race to overtake him, only to meet nemesis in Torbay where I have to wait and look at the fleet.
We go on in this fashion. It’s gently amusing, and in the absence of any gaming strategy it’s pleasant enough to miss a turn to admire Stowe Gardens. Tim reaches Oxford, where he is needlessly smug and makes some point about Cambridge. I am not listening.
Arriving in Cardiff and craning across the board to see what I might learn, I am magically transported 52 stops! To the polite watering place of Scarborough! Now we’re playing a game. The excitement of the ladder and the tension of the snake make this much more fun.
Tim is grimly determined to catch up, and missing two turns to inspect the manufactories of Worcester doesn’t help him as I sail gaily on past Royston and the ‘subterraneous chapel of Rosia’ to victory in London while Tim is stuck in Bangor.
Rating: 6/10. I can see this being a novel amusement, but it’s too slow and simple for modern boardgamers.
The Dartons’ version of a racing game through England and Wales is so very similar – with the exact same game pieces described, even down to buying extra sets to include more players – that the minor differences (like starting before Rochester, in Maidstone) look like copyright avoidance. It’s damn cheeky to bring out a a game so close to Wallis’ while he’s still in business, especially as it’s so preachy and eschews even the mild thrill of a snake and a ladder. But it’s superbly engraved and I’m still on a winner’s high, so off we go.
Like Tim did in the Wallis game, I land on Canterbury, where I learn not only about the Cathedral but about ‘the poorer classes of inhabitant’ and their gainful employment in the manufactories and hop fields. It’s nobler work than ripping off board games, though I suppose I’m being unfair. A passion for social justice isn’t an easy thing to work into a game, and I’ve no reason to think the Dartons hypocrites.
In Ipswich, from the extremely tenuous link that it’s the birthplace of Wolsey’s butcher father, Tim gets an earful of the Cardinal and lectured on ‘the instability of all human prosperity’. This is a fun thing to think about for two self-employed people in lockdown, and I’m glad we decided to forego cocktails in favour of tea and sanctimony.
The fun facts, when they do come, are more interesting than Wallis’. I didn’t know about the construction or dimensions of the church tower of St Botolph’s in Boston, or how it was used as a guide to mariners in the treacherous waters of the Boston Deeps. Tim just has time to learn that Sunderland has the best seamen in the world before Teddie interrupts play. We both miss several turns stopping her from walking muddy paws over the board:
Tim continues to make a halting progress, stopping to watch the dexterity of the boys and girls making whips in Carlisle and visiting the Quaker school in Pontefract. I’m excited to get to Cardiff again, but there’s nothing there for me except a detailed and bloody history of the Duke of Normandy.
After all the whips and seamen, Tim is stopped again in Nottingham to look at the stocking manufactories; just as I am thoroughly enjoying myself at his expense I land on Birmingham and miss four turns – the biggest forfeit in the game - to inspect every inch of the wretched Matthew Boulton’s industrial empire.
The naval and military references are really toned down in the Darton version and where they can’t avoid mention of these matters entirely, at Portsmouth, the warmongering is contrasted with the example of native philanthropist Jonas Hanway. Not mentioned in the game: Hanway’s being allegedly the first male Londoner to carry an umbrella; his dislike of tipping and mutual animus against cab-drivers; or his beef with “hardened and shameless tea-drinker” Samuel Johnson.
Meanwhile Tim is racing ahead to Newmarket, where the Dartons disapprove of horse-racing: “here Charles the Second built a house for the sake of this cruel diversion.”
We are solaced at Banbury with some lighthearted facts about cake and cheese. Tim is needlessly smug about Oxford, again. As we head toward London the problem with having to roll an exact number makes itself felt. The same frustrating game mechanic is present in the Wallis and in the Harris to follow, and makes the last few minutes drag.
Rating: 6/10. Less fun than the Wallis, but with more care and conviction in the facts.
Harris’ Panorama of London is much more relaxed from the beginning. Harris encourages you to supply your own tokens if you need more, you needn’t buy them. It’s also a racing game with forfeits, but it’s distinguished by a tiny step toward player interaction: if you land on another player’s stop, you bump them forward. And the forfeits aren’t just missed turns but tokens that go into a pot. A fast or wayward individual might take this as an invitation to play with real money.
On my first go I pay to see lions at the Tower of London, and on my second I pay “toward supplies” at the House of Commons. No facts, no history, no suggestion of noble purpose – just free booze for MPs.
Tim is inducted into the Freemasons and must “pay to keep the secret” while I run into trouble at the Corn Exchange and am sent back to Westminster Hall “to receive punishment for monopoly”. Happily, I am found not guilty and get to scoop the pot as the verdict goes in my favour.
It’s not all fun and frivolity, though it mostly is. We can visit a city feast, see a show at Sadler’s Wells, go to Bartholomew Fair, and even spend our tokens in Harris’ shop. The soberest part of the game is visiting Temple Bar, where Tim condoles with his companions for his country’s loss at the solemn site of the carriage drawing the late Lord Nelson.
As with the previous two games there’s much rolling at the end, and given this is a shorter and faster game it makes the rolling more tedious. Perhaps this is the advantage of a teetotum over dice, as you can quite easily rig a spinner if the game goes on too long.
Rating: 7/10. A good pace, more interesting mechanics, and I didn’t learn a thing.
The Punchinellography, the Darton Tour and the Panorama of London were all published in the same year, 1809. A child rich in aunts might have received all three for Christmas. The Panorama is a gift from your good and deserving aunt. Her modern equivalent would give you an envelope of cash, and not in front of your parents. Your sweet yet misguided aunt would give you the Darton. She’s a bit too keen on educational toys, but is a good sort and won’t kick up if you make an interesting mess with a chemistry set. Your aunt who is a scourge and a blight (mother of your pious twerp of a cousin) would give you the Punchinellography. Her instinct for misery, intact for centuries, leads inevitably to her giving you a Speak’n’Spell.