Traditional Board Games

The Game of the Goose

The game of the goose.
The game of the goose.

Invented in the renaissance and spread internationally, the Game of the Goose is race game in which pieces move from the edge to the centre of a spiral board. Typically this game is completely luck-based, with players having no decisions to make. But rather than being a children's game, it was traditionally a gambling game, with stakes to be paid into a pot.

History of the Game of the Goose

Appearing late in the sixteenth century, the game's origins are unknown. It is connected with ancient spiral race games like the Egyptian mehen, and to artefacts like the Phaistos Disc of the Minoans. But there is no unbroken history of such a game lasting from those times to the Game of the Goose's modern popularity.

Its later history is more well known. Its popularity from the sixteenth century onwards must have been aided by the printing press; many versions of that period were black and white boards to facilitate printing. It benefited from the Industrial Revolution, which brought with it a surge in popularity of board games, making them easier to produce cheaply.

Though more a gambling game of pure amusement, adaptations of the Game of the Goose appeared with an educational purpose, teaching the players about geography, history and morals. Its influence lasted well into the twentieth century, where similar race games were tied in with film, television and current events issues.

Rules for the Game of the Goose

As every manufacturer came up with their own version of the board, it is difficult to provide a definitive set of rules. There are some things that commonly appear, however: the 63 squares and the spacing of the "Goose" squares are examples. A simplified set of rules would therefore be:

1. The game of the goose is played by any number of players two or more, each having a piece distinguished by shape or colour placed at the start.

2. The board is formed of a spiral of 63 squares, plus the starting square. The start is at the outside of the spiral, with square #1 beside it, the squares leading to #63 at the centre. Squares 9, 14, 18, 23, 27, 32, 36, 41, 45, 50, 54 and 59 each bear the marking of a goose.

3. Movement is controlled by the throw of two standard 6-sided dice.

4. Players decide at random who takes the first turn. The beginner then takes his turn as per rule 5.

5. The current player rolls the two dice and moves their counter along the course by the number of squares shown.

6. If the piece lands on a goose, the player moves their counter again by the number of squares shown (the dice are not rerolled). It is possible to land on a second goose, in which case the piece is moved again by the same distance.

7. A throw that would overshoot square 63 is lost. If such a move involves landing on a goose the piece is not moved at all; a piece should never end its turn on a goose.

8. The player who lands on square 63 is the winner.

Most versions of this game added extra pitfall squares. Many involved a stake; players would contribute an agreed stake to a pot at the start of the game, to be paid to the winner; certain squares required extra stakes to be paid. Examples of special squares from an 18th century game include:

Square 6, the bridge: a player landing here pays an extra stake into the pot as toll, but proceeds straight to square 12.

Square 11 shows a pair of dice and allows an extra roll.

Square 19 is an ale-house: the player landing here must pay one stake for a drink.

Square 31 is a well: the player misses a turn while taking a drink. But if in the mean time another player lands at the well, the first player must return immediately to the square from which the second player moved.

Square 42 is a maze: the player pays another stake into the pot and returns their counter to square 29.

Square 52 is a prison: the player must stay there until another lands in the same place.

Square 58 is death: the player landing here must pay a stake and return to the starting square.

The game from which these squares were taken can seem overly harsh at times. There is little chance of being relieved from the prison, and a player who overshoots square 63 (which will happen the vast majority of times) returns to the start to begin again.


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