Ready, steady - roll! The Novium museum’s new exhibition, ‘Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered’, has rolled a six, called checkmate, and passed Go.
This exhibition, which opened to the public on Saturday, explores the fascinating history of board games, tracing the story from the Ancient Egyptian game Senet through to today’s tabletop fare.
Game Plan, a touring exhibition from the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, sees visitors become part of a giant interactive board game. It also hosts a variety of hands-on games, and showcases a number of star exhibits, including a vertical chess set.
“I love the Monopoly example we have here,” said museum manager Stephanie Thorndyke. “It’s a rare survival, one of only two existing original versions of the game. It’s precursor was about the evils of exploitative landowners - and now it’s about trying to be as greedy as possible! There’s a lot to be learned about how culture and society has influenced gameplay.”
Game Plan celebrates the fun and frustration of board games, encouraging visitors to reflect on their own experiences and enjoy the sense of nostalgia that seeing a much-loved board game can bring. Cluedo, Mousetrap, Monopoly, Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit, all of which are showcased at the Novium, mean different things to the people who have played them.
“Before we opened the exhibition, I was talking to my brother about some of the games we used to play when we were children,” Stephanie explained, when asked about her favourite exhibit in Game Plan. “We went around to my parents and we dug out a number of games, and Risk was in there. We suddenly started talking about how we used to spend hours and hours battling against each other, trying to conquer the world. It would give this time to sit and be together, and enjoy each other’s company - until we got to the point where we started getting really competitive!”
The exhibition also gives an insight into the roots of the games we know and love today. Game Plan has several variations of the ‘Game of the Goose’, which is known as the original race game, originating more than 500 years ago. Some examples of these games from the nineteenth century were designed to have an educational purpose.
Stephanie continued: “I found particularly interesting the eighteenth century roots of illustrated games, and how strongly they focused on morality. They were used as tool to teach children and instruct them, and they were often based around a lesson. For example, Snakes and Ladders is a game where you would travel through life, going up a ladder to a virtue, and down a snake which lead to a vice, and on each square you would see ‘vice’ or ‘virtue’ illustrated, so as you were playing, you would be learning about the ways of life as you made your way through the game.”
Game Plan’s journey through the history of board games goes much further into the past, with its oldest exhibit - and star loan - being a Senet board from about 664-525 BC.
“I think that visitors can learn about how gaming has always been there - it originates in Ancient Egypt about 3,000 years ago, and we have an example of an original game which dates from around 500 BC,” Stephanie continued. “This is Senet, which means ‘passing’. It shows that even thousands of years ago, people were starting to play board games, and many of the games that were precursors to games we have today still exist. We have an example of a game called Go, which originated in China around 3,000 years ago, and it’s thought to be the most complex game in the world. There are more configurations of gameplay than there are atoms in the universe, and it wasn’t until 2016 that a computer was able to beat the game, which is extraordinary for something which has been around for thousands of years! It just shows that the strategy and complexity in board gaming has been there for eons.”
Board games are still very popular, despite their ancient origins and the modern advent of video games. “Co-operative games have come to the fore today: rather than battle your opponent, you work as a team to battle the board,” Stephanie explained. The Novium is set to host several games themed events, including an outdoor games day in Priory Park on April 11 and a Childhood Memories Valuation Day on May 10.
Game Plan is open until Sunday, July 1.
“Come and enjoy some of your favourite games - games that you know and love - and learn about the roots,” said Stephanie. “You may be surprised at what you find!”
For more information about the exhibition and the events, visit www.thenovium.org.
Angie Bacon, community development officer for the Chichester Community Development Trust, is enthusiastic for visitors to be inspired by the exhibition. She said: “We started a board games club - it’s intergenerational, so some of the older residents and the youth ambassadors and our youth worker got this together. We’re hoping to get more impetus in the community to get this going again.” More information about the club is available at http://chichestercdt.org.uk/event/board-games-club/.