Today, 31st March, is National Board Game Day in aid of children’s charity NSPCC and it inspired me to visit the V&A Museum of Childhood’s board game exhibition titled Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered. The museum dedicates a large space to display board games along side popular physcology so you can work out what kind of player you are. I played a lot of board games growing up with my two younger brothers and I have been dusting off the old games recently, which I put down to my youngest brother moving back to London after living abroad for many years. There is nothing like an intense game of monopoly with your sibling to take you right back to your childhood.
The exhibition starts with the first known board game called Senet, discovered in the tombs of Ancient Egypt and is thought to be associated with passing into the afterlife although the actual rules are unclear. Next, is a more familiar game, Draughts or Checkers as it was originally known and it is estimated to have begun in France around 1100. The exhibition lists every board game you can think of in chroniological order and the young or young spirited can get involved by playing a game as they move round, including ending up in jail. As I walked through the years I was most interested to find the games I played on many a rainy day as a child. Snakes and Ladders was probably one of the first games I played and was invented in India, arriving in England in 1892 as a circular board.
As I grew older, Game of Life was a favourite and it can be found under the 1980’s section in pristine condition, my brother and I would play this for hours spinning the Wheel of Fortune with such vigour if often spun off the board. Pictionary is alongside, which I loved playing as my elder brother is a terrible drawer so I would be in fits of laughter at his attempts and one of the only games I could win against him because he couldn’t cheat. Now days I prefer a game of Scrabble, I’m not sure why as as spelling isn’t my best subject. An original set from the 1970s is shown but was actually patented in America in 1948. I didn’t realise Cluedo dates back to 1934 and was invented in Birmingham, UK. The edition shown is from the 1950s and looks very similar to the set I played with in the early 1980s. I think some of the characters have changed names now. One of only two known sets of the original Monopoly game is on show. The original city is Atlantic and was printed on oilcloth so it could be rolled into a tube. This is another game I played with my elder brother and only realised he had taught me the wrong rules to benefit him when I tried to play with my husband many years later.
The exhibition finishes with interactive games involving social play on the internet. My younger brother was a big online chess fan until a sore loser component sent a virus to his PC so now he only sticks with the real life version. Throughout the exhibition are tables in which visitors can play larger versions of the games on display and at the end there are tables full of young teenagers doing just this. The chart at the end made me smile, discovering ‘What’s your Gameface’. I was shocked to discover I was a gloating winner, probably because I never get the chance to win against my two ‘cheater’ brothers, I know which game face they are.
Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered is on until at the Museum of Childhood until 23 April and I recommend a visit to inspire you to dig out those dusty board games in your attic and remember the satisifcation that comes with being the first to find out the murderer in Cludeo or impress your family with your entertainment knowledge from your 1980’s version of Trival Persuit. If like me, your games have been lost over the years, vintage fairs and jumble sales are a great place to pick up pristine versions. I recently bought a few from Cup & Saucer on Etsy including a Scrabble dictionary which I shall be using to beat my brother at Scrable this evening for NSPCC Board Game Day, how every many points we have left at the end of each game we will convert into pounds and donate to the charity.
V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green tube. Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered on until 23rd April 2017, free entry
The Museum of Childhood is a large open building that was originally known as the Bethnal Green Museum, opened by Prince Albert in 1872 to bring Britain’s cultural heritage to the East End of London. In 1974 it became known as the V&A Mueum of Childhood and was further developed to its current format at the end of 2005. It is a great place to take the kids on a rainy day as they get a sense of space in the warehouse like building, running between exhibits and interactive classes. It is also a fantastic place for adults like me who like to revisit their childhood.