Monopoly is the famous money obsessed board game, but an exhibition now open looks at the much wider appearance of money in games, boards and otherwise.

Early board games were more tales of morality and education, designed to teach good behaviour through play — or indoctrinated with appropriate thoughts. It wasn’t until the turn of the 19th century that money and gambling started to appear in board games.

Unsurprisingly, the rise of games designed to reward material success started in the USA, and one of the earliest is the most famous board game you’ve never heard of.

In 1903, Elizabeth Magie submitted a patent for a game called The Landlord’s Game, and was one of the first to reward strategy instead of plain chance. It proved hugely popular and variants were made. In the 1930s, Parker Brothers bought up most of the variants. The Landlord’s Game is now far better known as Monopoly.

A lot of board games clearly show the prejudices of the time — don’t look too closely at the early 1940s game from Germany which certainly pandered to the prevailing opinions of the Nazi government.

Board games might not be seen overly at tools of capitalist oppression, but their century long obsession with money puts them in that category, according to some. An anti-capitalist game from 1984 has chance cards that read more like the Communist Manifesto or George Orwell.

The exhibition looks at the rise of board games, but also other games where currency tokens might be used in the gameplay. A selection of Game of Thrones coins brings the collection up to modern times.

In my opinion, this rather small odd little space that so many people walk past without going inside puts on some of the British Museum’s more interesting exhibitions.

The exhibition, Playing with Money: currency and games is open at the British Museum until 29th September. Entry is free.


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