A Look Back at Board Games

The mansion of happiness, an instructive, moral & entertaining amusement. Lithograph published by B. W. Thayer & Co., 1843

Source: Library of Congress
By Kristi Finefield

Like many kids – and lots of adults – I love playing board games. I’ve spent many an hour rolling dice and moving around a board in a race against my opponents to either the finish line or to some other goal, like accumulating the most wealth or properties. But I have not yet tried to reach The Mansion of Happiness or take The Road to Washington, or win the New Game of the Steeple Chase.

The road to Washington. Chromolithograph copyrighted by Jasper H. Singer, 1884

These are also board games, though of a much earlier era, and their lively game boards are part of the Prints and Photographs Division’s collections at the Library of Congress.

Take a look at the 1843 game board for The Mansion of Happiness: An Instructive, Moral & Entertaining Amusement, which was one of the first board games ever published in the United States. Click the image to access larger digital files:

The game leads players through a series of virtues, vices, rewards, and punishments. As you can guess, the vices set you back and the virtues let you move forward to the ultimate goal: the Mansion of Happiness.

From the instructions for the game: Rule 8: Whoever gets into the ROAD TO FOLLY must return to PRUDENCE while Rule 3 instructs those with HONESTY or SINCERITY to advance six spaces forward. Try your hand at this game by downloading the original instructions (below). This game was played with a teetotum, a numbered spinning top, but can easily be played with a die today.

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