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TMCNet:  Board games of bygone era CHRISTOPHER PROUDLOVE [Daily Post (Liverpool, England)]

[December 21, 2013]

Board games of bygone era CHRISTOPHER PROUDLOVE [Daily Post (Liverpool, England)]

(Daily Post (Liverpool, England) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) AS PARENTS, we got away lightly on the electronic games for Christmas front. Apart from a Game Boy apiece and a few games to play on that actually actively encouraged them to keep quiet on long journeys, our money went elsewhere. Heaven help today's generation of parents whose offspring are bombarded with adverts for the latest must-have shoot 'em up or whatever.

Oddly, we didn't do much with board games either, but we're making up for it ... except our quest now is the board games our grandparents played with. It's fascinating territory, and what's more, they're still affordable.

The latest addition to our collection is the lidded sycamore box used to hold the game counters for Halma (or Alma, as it was called originally). The Business Manager (Mrs P) spotted the box at an antiques fair last weekend, price: Pounds 10. She remembered we already had the board for the game.

Then, surprise, surprise, at another fair on the same day, we found The Book of Games, an amazing compendium of rules and information about long forgotten pastimes.

True, the book has seen better days and the jig-saw which would have made up the inside of the front cover is long gone, and some child has scribbled across numerous pages as they are wont to do when they get bored. But the important thing is we now know how to play Halma as well as a host of other parlour games the book lists.

The game commemorates the Battle of Alma of 1854, which marked the outbreak of the Crimean War. Now we know why the lid of the box we bought is decorated with a picture of red-coated infantrymen firing at an advancing line of sword-waving Russians. The game is derived from an earlier pastime, however, taken from the Greek word for "jump". The idea is to transfer one's counters from camp, diagonally across the board to that of the opposition.

We'll try it as soon as we have amassed sufficient game counters: two players each need 19 of them.

Children of all ages have been playing board games for millennia, pre-dating literacy and numeracy. We're interested in the games that have printed boards, first made to supplement the income of map and print sellers. We'll also be looking out for a copy of FRB Whitehouse's 1951 book Table Games of Georgian and Victorian Days, in which the author notes that a companion booklet to Betts's Portable Globe contains a list of 12,000 of them.

So, no shortage of examples to chase. The question is, how many have survived? Clearly, the later, mass-produced games of the early 20th century will be more common. This was the golden age of the board game and one company produced more than most: Chad Valley.

Its founder was Anthony Bunn Johnson, who established a printing and bookbinding business in Birmingham in the early 19th century. By 1860, the company was called Messrs Johnson Bros, being run by his sons who concentrated production on labels and envelopes.

In 1897, one of the brothers, Joseph, and his grandson, Alfred, built a new factory in Harborne, just outside Birmingham in the valley of a stream known locally as the Chad. The rest is history. Chad Valley Toys became one of the country's leading toymakers but prior to about 1920, when soft toy production outgrew all the firm's other lines, a huge range of beautifully printed board games flowed from the works.

The First World War proved both difficult and advantageous to the firm. Imports of toys and games were banned from Germany, Europe's powerhouse manufacturer in the early 20th century, leaving Chad Valley with a near UK monopoly.

By 1919, business was so brisk that more factory space was needed. Harborne Village Institute was taken over to become a printing works to produce the gloriously illustrated covers for the lids of board games produced up the road. Graphic designers had a field day and games with more and more colourful and inventive illustrations jostled for space on toy shop shelves. Today, they are collectors' items.

Innovations came thick and fast. In 1923, for example, Chad Valley launched its own versions of mah-jong, one called the Egyptian Am-Duat, the other they described as Chinese dominoes called Mah-Jongg.

Like Halma, "Trencho, the Great Australian War Game As Played in the Camps and Trenches" might also be considered inappropriate, but not when it appeared in 1917. Based on the ancient game of Nine Men's Morris, the object between the two players was to capture trenches and reduce the opponent's counters to two "men". Other Western Front variants included In the Trenches, Shell Fort and Fall In.

The Grand National Steeplechase was one of a series of simple horse-racing games produced from 1910 to 1922 in which horses are penalised at some fences and disqualified if they land in a stream.

Busy Bees, which appeared in 1922, has a honeycomb-shaped game board, surrounded by flowers and hives of different colours. The winner is the player whose bee counter collects a hive from each flower.

Mount Everest, a 1923 game, is for the more adventurous. Teams of players must "climb" the mountain, facing hazards en route.

Even Scouting had its own Chad Valley games. Scouting in 1910; Scout Tests (1911); Scout Signaller (1915) and Scout's Outfit (1915) were all intended to ride the popularity of the movement after it was founded in 1908 by Lord Baden-Powell.

When motor cars and planes became commonplace, race and chase games had no equals in popularity.

So much more child-friendly than today's digital mayhem and destruction.

(c) 2013 ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.

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