Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Geographical Board Games

by Anita Mae Draper

The road to Washington, c1884. Library of Congress, Public Domain

Our family has always enjoyed playing a variety of board games and with more people at home these days, I wanted to show what was available to our 19th century ancestors. To start with, the beautifully detailed game board above is a chromolithograph on paper with paste-ons, and is from the The Road to Washington, a geographical board game from 1884 where you travel on roads through American cities and the first person to reach Washington wins. Some stops send you to other cities, and if you land at Dover, you lose your next turn. 

Geographical map games were often used as a way to be educational as well as entertaining for all ages in an age when many people couldn't read or write. History shows that a board game named Senet was found on an Egyptian hieroglyphic from 5,000 years ago, and while many Europeans were playing board games in the 18th century, it wasn't until the early 19th century when they crossed the Atlantic. 

The Traveller's Tour Through the United States, Game board, 1822. Library of Congress, Public Domain

In 1822 brothers Frederick and Roe Lockwood, who had recently moved to New York City from Bridgeport, Connecticut, published the earliest known board game in the Unites States which they called The Traveller's Tour Through the United States. Like geographical games from Europe and Britain, the traveler moved around the board until he reached his destination, which was New Orleans in this case. A twist to the game was that at each stop, the traveler needed to correctly name the place and its population, or lose a turn and try again next time. The rules for the game included the answers and also served as a gazetteer. Clearly, someone who needed to know how to read, so perhaps the local parson brought it along when he went a-visiting.

The Traveller's Tour Through the United States, Rules of Play, 1822. Library of Congress, Public Domain

As you can see from the above games, the chromolithograph printing process developed in the latter half of the 19th century enabled a board game to look more fun than educational. The same process was used in Rambles Through Our Country a board game which shows the different American states and what each was known for at the time of printing.

Rambles Through Our Country - An Instructive Geographical Game for the Young, 1890. Library of Congress, Public Domain

Similar to other geographical board games, Rambles Through Our Country also included a list of rules, but in this case, was a booklet 113 pages long due to the gazetteer which included details and illustrations for each state. It is interesting to note however, that although the 1890 game board pictured above shows North and South Dakota, a booklet for the same game, but printed in 1881 and found on Google's Internet Archive mentions Dakota Territory, as well as other geographical differences. 

Rambles through our country: Rule book, 1881. Public Domain
Rambles through our country: Rule book, 1881. Public Domain

Nellie Bly, the adventurous reporter who went undercover to get to the truth of what goes on inside an insane asylum, was convinced she could travel around the world in less time than the character in the book Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne which was first published in 1872. 
Round the World with Nellie Bly, Game Cover, 1890. Library of Congress, Public Domain

With the backing of her newspaper, Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, she made the trip in 72 days and even met Jules Verne along the way. The book of her journey Around the World in Seventy-Two Days was a best seller, but many people don't know that her adventure was also printed as a board game.

The Round The World with Nellie Bly board game was published in 1890 by McLoughlin Bros, New York.  The squares for each day of her journey are arranged in a circular pattern and flanked by images of Bly, Jules Verne, a steam ship, and a train. 

Round the World with Nellie Bly game board and pieces, published in 1890 by McLoughlin Bros. Image credit: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

Geographical game boards can be made from any map. To keep children busy, you can have them cut out state flowers, animals, birds, buildings, etc and paste them onto a map. Mark or highlight the route you want to take...or not take...find a counter or a die or two, and away you go. You can even incorporate a river or railroad into your game and pretend you are an adventurer like Nellie Bly. It's a great way to learn about your state or country while having fun. Or, you can inspire your kids imagination and create a map and all its attributes.

As fascinating as geographical board games are, there are many other topics chosen to be represented in game form. Stay tuned as I'll be featuring different ones in my upcoming posts. 

Of the board games featured on this post, do you have one you'd love to try?

* For further reading on Nellie Bly, check out these other HHH posts:

https://www.hhhistory.com/2014/04/nellie-bly-pioneer-journalist-by.html by Marilyn Turk 2014
https://www.hhhistory.com/2018/08/nellie-bly.html by Martha Rogers 2018


Anita Mae Draper lives on the Canadian prairies where she uses her experience and love of history to enhance her stories of yesteryear's romance with realism and faith. Readers can enrich their story experience with visual references by checking Anita's Pinterest boards. All links available on her website at www.anitamaedraper.com


  1. The Nelly Bly game looks interesting! Thanks for the post.

    1. It does, doesn't it, Connie. Lots of variety in that one.

      Thanks for stopping by. :)

  2. What a fascinating post! I had no idea board games went so far back in history. I think I'd enjoy the Nelly Bly game.

    1. Another adventurous game player. :) I wonder if they could republish the game in its original form, and not with modern trends thrown in for 'excitement'. I'd buy it.

      Thanks for visiting, Linda. :)

  3. We enjoy playing family games as well. What are some favorite current games for your family?

    1. Hi, Lisa. We have a huge cupboard filled with board games that we've kept throughout the years, but as the kids have left home, our go-to game has been Pictionary whenever we're all back together. It's kind of a hypbrid board game because we use a whiteboard to draw the pics, which makes it great because we're not plunked in a chair for hours. It gets very boisterous at times which has a cathartic effect. I usually take photos of the "best/funniest" pics and bring them out years later as a conversation starter at family gatherings. It's a great game for all ages as our kids started at 6 yrs old with us whispering what they had to draw because they didn't 'get' the clue, but sometimes we as adults don't get it either and that really makes it fun. And although we also have the Junior edition, we all prefer the regular one.

      Thanks for asking. :)