COLONIAL GAMING: The Game of Goose

One of the most popular boardgames in Colonial Amerca was The Royall & Pleasant Game of Y Goose.” Commonly known as “The Game of Goose,” it uses a custom board depicting a circular track divided into 63 spaces. Two or more people roll dice and move markers along the track in a race to the finish. If they hit space illustrated with a goose, they move the same number of spaces again. Landing on illustrations, such as a maze, prison, or death, sends a player backwards to a certain space.

And, yes, I basically just described Candyland.

This was not a kid’s game, however. It was played and enjoyed adults, and was a very popular gambling game. As I’ve written in earlier entries in this series, most Colonials outside of certain regions in New England were compulsive gamblers, much like their British cousins. It would probably shock modern Americans to know just how common and widespread gambling was in the original colonies. George Washington himself lost large sums at the Loo table.

Just imagine people sitting down after an evening meal to hustle games of Candyland for wagers equal to hundreds of dollars in today’s money, and you can get idea of what The Game of Goose was like in 18th century American.

The Game of Goose first enters the scene during the reign of Francesco de Medici in Florence, 1574-1587. Francesco sent a copy to the court of Spain’s King Philip II, where its rapid pace and sudden changes of fortune made it a huge success. On June 16th, 1597, the game was entered in the Register of the Stationer’s Hall in London as “the newe and most pleasant game of the Goose.”

The first Goose boards were a cardboard base with a drawn or painted spiral course. The squares were illustrated with various ornaments, such as dice, an inn, a bridge, a maze, and multiple geese.

After the game caught on in England during the 17th century, boards became increasingly more elaborate. The game track was seen as a progression through life itself, with some boards depicting the first space as an infant and the last as a man entering the gates of heaven at square 63. Each space in between showed the baby aging through different stages, such as the Thoughtless Boy, the Negligent Boy, the Youth, the Indolent Youth, the Obstinate Youth, and so on.

Some believe the 63 squares are meant to represent the 63 years of the average lifespan at the time. It’s a nice idea, but the average lifespan in 16th century Italy—when the game was invented—was about 47 years.

Goose was also an early example of theming. Years before Spongebob Monopoly and Shrek Concentration, there were versions of Goose based upon the news of the day, such as the French Revolution, the Dreyfus Affair, political campaigns, romantic entanglements of the upper classes, and even World War I.

Parents adapted the game for children’s use as teaching tool. There were versions that illustrated various travels in order to teach geography, virtues and vices, the stages of life, Aesop’s Fables, and the entire plot of Don Quixote. Yes, 300 years before Harry Potter Clue there was Don Quixote Goose. The various traps and bonuses could be tied to any kind of failure/advancement, wrong/right theme.

By 1819, Lord Byron would reference the game in his epic poem, Don Juan: 

For good society is but a game,

‘The royal game of Goose,’ as I may say, 

Where every body has some separate aim,

An end to answer, or a plan to lay

Like other British amusements, the game migrated to American during the Colonial period, and was still very popular as the Colonies headed towards Revolution. By 1895, the University of Pennsylvania listed 146 different editions in its collection, some of them from China and Japan.

Dietz Press produces a handsome reproduction print of a typical Colonial Goose board. It sells for abut $8, but is only available in 2 stores at Williamsburg itself, or through their Teaching Resources catalog for $9.50

Sources: Jane Carson, Colonial Virginians at Play. Frederic V. Grunfeld, Games of the World. H. Peter Aleff,

App O’ The Mornin’: Trainyard Review

The app store has seen some terrific new releases lately, but Trainyard was one I almost missed. I assumed it was another rail switching game like yardmaster. Not even close.

This is a great little puzzler in which you draw tracks in order to get trains to their destinations. That simple description doesn’t even begin to capture the gradual complexity that unfolds in the course of Trainyard’s 100+ puzzles.

When you begin the first level by tracing a straight track path for a red train from its origin to its destination, you have no idea exactly how many variations designer Matt Rix will spin on this simple concept. Trainyard takes it’s time to reveal its inner depth, adding curves, colors, obstacles and crossings before getting the more complex stuff.

Soon enough, you’re faced with destinations that only need one train, even though you have two. So you need to create paths that will make the trains converge and combine. A destination may need 1 purple train, but you have 1 red and 1 blue. Perhaps it needs only 2 orange trains, but you have 2 yellow and 2 red. How do you combine them and path them to the right place?

The increasing complexity and diversity of the puzzles creates an incredibly addictive experience. The controls rarely get in the way of the puzzle solving. Path tracing works well most of the time, with a simple grid system to help with track layout. It’s easy to erase or undo wrong answers, and the game has a built-in sharing featuring that allows you to upload your own solution, or download some else’s.

Really, it’s absurd to see so many good new puzzlers in so sort a period of time. Axe in the Face, Cut the Rope, and Trainyard would make the anyone’s Best App of the Year shortlist, and they all hit in the same week. It’s a good time to be an app gamer.