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Rules of the Game

Anyone who has observed small children at play with each other or even alone will be struck by their sense of space and place. The concepts of “here” and “there” emerge early in their vocabulary, and movement between the two becomes an important component in the simplest of childhood games, whether tossing a ball back and forth or hide and seek or a running game of tag. All involve getting self or something from here to there.

The same concept of “here” and “there” applies in its most essential way to maps. Thus, maps often occupy the space of board games, where the combination of movement from one place to another and the restrictions imposed by chance (the roll of the dice or spin of the teetotum/counter) are major components in playing the game.

One of the simplest and earliest of printed board games is the Game of the Goose, which originated in France as Le Jeu de l’Oie, and became known in English as Snakes and Ladders. A player moves a counter along a circuitous route of outlined and numbered spaces (usually circles or squares). The number of spaces traversed is determined by the roll of a pair of dice or a spin of a simple counter (often called a teetotum). By adding a map or maps to each square, the Jeu du Monde (game of the world), as found in the Clements collection, is born.

A spiral gameboard filled with circles containing geographic localities around the world, with pastel coloring. Four square images of continents line the corners.

One of the earliest and rarest cartographic board games, Le Jeu du Monde was published in Paris in 1645 by Pierre Duval, nephew of the celebrated cartographer Nicolas Sanson. The route takes the player through the least known lands of the Americas, outlined in blue; then through Africa, in red; the lands of Asia, yellow; and finally through the countries of Europe, in green. The four corners of the game board display maps of the four continents, colored appropriately, and a double hemisphere depiction of the world, similarly colored, lies in the center of the board.

In the Jeu du Monde, the player starts at the remotest areas of the world—the North and South Poles (Terres arctiques and Terres antarctiques)—and then moves circle by circle through the lands of the Americas, the regions of Asia, the countries of Africa, and the nations of Europe to reach the goal of circle number 63: La France. The first player to reach France wins.

So far, so simple, and not particularly interesting, except for the youngest players, until we read the rules. Although the Clements copy of this game lacks the printed instructions, the broadsheet entitled Pour l’intelligence du Jeu du Monde (For the understanding of the Game of the World), may be found in the collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. The players are advised that the game will become more interesting if there is a pool of money, comprising an agreed upon amount contributed by each player, deposited in the center of the board, to which players will add or subtract, depending upon which space he or she might land on. The rules provide for certain fines, fees, ransoms, and rewards levied or awarded to players depending on the specific circles. For example, on the Barbary coast (circle 16) one must pay a ransom to move forward; in Peru (circle 10) the player receives a bonus from the mines of Potosí; in Zaara or Libie (Circle 19), the player must wait for another player to reach the circle and pay for the “ride” on the caravan to continue. Thus, the pot of money in the middle of the board expands and contracts with play, heightening player interest. To further increase the tension, a potential winner must reach circle 63, La France, by an exact roll of the dice or spin, or else has to back track by the number of spaces in excess of the number required. In the meantime, all the players are learning a bit of geography and a bit of cultural history while money acts as the medium of reward or punishment.

What worked in 17th-century France—dice and spinners, advancing and retreating along a pre-set geographical path—also worked in the 19th-century United States. The Traveller’s Tour Through the United States, published in New York City by F&R Lockwood in 1822, employs the same basic rules as the Jeu du Monde, using dice or a teetotum to determine the number of spaces traversed along a predetermined route. The playing board displays a map of the young United States, with a route outlined like a zig-zag road network, starting in Washington, D.C., and ending in New Orleans, number 139, at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Each number notes a place, usually a town, which is not named on the map. Players may consult the attached reference guide for information about the place, and as they become more proficient, a more advanced form of the game requires a player to name the place and its population or distinguishing feature without consulting the guide in order to move on. By basing the game on memory as well as chance for movement, the game emphasizes basic geography of the United States and its towns and adds some cultural geography (populations, historical landmarks) and physical landforms (Niagara Falls, Michilimackinac), thereby rewarding knowledge rather than luck.

Folding game board with a map of territories and states shown in various colors, with Rules text below.

The Traveller’s Tour (New York, 1822) is the earliest known map game featuring the United States. Possibly because of the identification of dice with gambling, a spinner, or teetotum, was provided for gameplay.

Both Duval’s Jeu du Monde and Lockwood’s Traveller’s Tour use maps as simple game boards; they require no special equipment that would not be readily available or easily made at home: counters, dice, and spinners. A more sophisticated game in its shape and equipment is Norris’ Cyclopaedic Map of the United States of America, (excepting Alaska) Together with Adjacent Portions of the Dominion of Canada and of the United States of Mexico, published in New York by W.R. Norris in 1885. The gameboard is a map of the United States printed on an articulated wooden roll, neatly housed in a wooden box. Also in the box are 96 small wooden pegs, each representing a city or place visited in the game, and an array of pink and black tally tokens. The pegs fit into the square holes on the gameboard map, but the holes are not marked with place names. One simple aspect of the game is that the players must know sufficient geography to place each peg into the correct hole.

Close-up of the wooden map gameboard and square peg pieces; states colored in shades of pink and brown.
Two women face the map board game, one reaches for a peg.

Clements staffers tested their geographic knowledge by matching wooden pegs containing details of commerce and population with locations on the board of the Cyclopaedic Map (New York, 1885), and found it a challenge.


No instructions are included with the Clements copy of this game, but the Rules for Playing Games of the Zylo-karta (i.e., wooden map) accompany the game in the copy in the David Rumsey Collection. Norris presents his game as “Prepared for use in schools and in the home circle” and explains that it is called a “cyclopaedic map” because it “is derived from the combination of the map proper with its descriptive blocks representing capital and business centres, and which always accompany it.” The Rules offer four different games that may be played with the board and pieces: Contention, Zykah, Selection, and Siste. All four games are based on knowledge and not on chance (no dice or teetotum are included); each game involves teams or partners and the correct placement of the city/place pegs in the right holes; correct placement is recorded by the red tally counters, wrong answers by the black. The most complex of the four is Siste, which pits two-partner teams against each other: one team attempts to block the route from the other team’s city peg at one end of the country to reach a city peg at the other end of the country, by filling in the intervening places. This has the effect of creating a strategy game rather than a game of chance, as some sense of the opponents’ choice of places and routes must be divined. This form of the game returns us to the “here” to “there” principle that the early Jeu du Monde played upon, but further adds strategy and knowledge to the mix.

The Clements has several other map games and puzzles, all of which could be played by children. But were these games designed primarily for children? Probably not. As with most games, the appeal of play reaches across all generations and the added allure of gambling always adds to the competition. What these board games do for children is provide the experience of movement when outside or inside movement is not possible; they create a geographic world that can be travelled and learned from a board; they encourage sociability and norms of taking one’s turn and following a set of rules. And of course, it’s all about winning.

—Mary Pedley
Assistant Curator of Maps