Board-games are one of the rites of passage of aging, from simple games played a young children, through to drunken nights with friends after work. And any such product eventually ends up in a museum, with an exhibition.

The Museum of Childhood has put on a display of board games, from the very oldest known from Asia through to the latest derivatives of computer games.

Games were originally for adults, but with the advent of the industrial revolution, consumer goods dropped in price, and the notion of educational games for children emerged. Many taught geography, and the exhibition has a good selection of British Empire games teaching future colonial masters where their realms lay on the globe.

Snakes and ladders meanwhile turns out to be a morality story.

Of course, the great classics get a look in, with chess featuring large. The conventional chess set which most of us are familar with is fairly young, being designed in 1849.


Games are of course also a challenge to assert superiority over the siblings, to be the best of the game and defeat the rest. They are primal in intent, cloaked in respectability.

Monopoly is here, with one of only two surviving original games made by the American inventor alongside the later, but much more famous London versions.

An early concept for a Doctor Who game is on show, with little cardboard markers which would presumably have been turned into little plastic Daleks had the game gone into production.


One of the defining characteristics of board games has always been the physical board. The playing pieces, and die to be cast.

However, the board game is digitising, and going online. It’s now possible to avoid sitting in the same room with friends sharing a glass of wine over a game of Scrabble — and play it online with people across the world.


As the online world absorbs physical board games, the physical has started to adopt the digital – with board games based on games that once occupied the digital realm.


The display doesn’t quite conjure up the nostalgic memories of times past, being a touch too clinical and more interested in the history of the games. It is still an interesting display and offers an insight into what may have looked like just simple childhood pleasures.

The display at the Museum of Childhood is free and open until the 23rd April 2017.



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  1. verity says:

    Are you as sniffy about engaging with visitors as you are with your sector colleagues?

  2. Martin says:

    That Dalek game did go into production and there were plastic Daleks – I still have mine somewhere.

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