The Royal Game of Goose: Boards & Bones Sneak Preview!

At History Unboxed®, we believe that beings “hands-on” with history is the best way to learn.  And what better way to be hands on than to play historic board games? Board games can be chance, skill, or a combination of both. They are also educational and many historic games are thought to teach life lessons or skills. Games have been played in all cultures, time periods, and lands. In fact, they were so important that many cultures preserved both game boards and game pieces in tombs for their inhabitants to play in the afterlife.  The study of games is called ludology, and a very famous ludologist named RC Bell divided games up into six different categories; Racing Games, Table Games, War Games, Games of Position, Mancala, and Dice Games.   In our upcoming book, Boards & Bones: A Playful Exploration of the Ancient World, we explore the history of over 45 ancient and historic board games and their variations. And we’ve included directions and boards for you to play!

For now, enjoy this sneak peak at one of the most popular historic board games, The Royal Game of Goose.

Royal Game of Goose

In the 17th century, Francesco I de’ Medici was the grand-duke of Tuscany. He had a reputation for loving parties and games. The Spanish king, Philip II, had a reputation for being boring. Maybe that’s why Francesco sent a board game to Philip. The game, Gioco dell’Oca, must have brought fun into the Spanish court. In English, the name means “the game of goose.” It spread from Spain to England, France, and Germany. It is a simple game. Each player must move one piece from the start to home. Pieces move according to the roll of a pair of dice. Some spaces have shortcuts. Others have hazards. Game makers used engravings to print the board on paper. Then they painted each board with watercolors. To make sure the game lasted, they glued it to linen or canvas fabric. The first boards were plain, with numbered spaces. Later boards had themes. They showed geography, historical events, or stories. Some helped children learn math or moral lessons. At first, it was a gambling game for adults. Later, it became a game for children because of the simple rules and game play. The Royal Game of Goose is the ancestor of many simple race games today, such as the Game of Life. The English Race of Life was one of the more gruesome versions. Players “caught” deadly illnesses like fevers and smallpox. Luckily, other spaces represented vaccination and medical care.

To get started playing The Royal Game of Goose, you just need a few things:

  • Game board & Directions
  • Four different game pieces (these can be anything but traditionally it was played with pieces shaped like geese!)
  • 2 dice

Do you love history and board games? This fall, we will be hosting a history board game group at our HUB location! Contact us for more info!



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