What’s in a Game? Some Examples of Board Games at Burns Library

Detail of gameboard with portrait of Queen Victoria,

Detail of gameboard with portrait of Queen Victoria, Historical Pastime: A New Game of the History of England

As we enter the season when cozy indoor activities beckon, the appeal of board games endures despite, or perhaps because of, digital distractions. Burns Library collections include several games, intended to teach, make social commentary, or pass companionable time.

Gameboard, Abbasso le Code!!

Gameboard, Abbasso le Code!!, GV1312 .A23 1848 FLAT STORAGE

Abbasso le Code!! is a satirical board game printed on a single sheet of paper. It can be played, but is also akin to a political cartoon. Published in 1848, its Italian title in English means “Down with the Reactionaries” (literally, “Down with the Tails”). The game’s anti-Jesuit bias is related to their conservative opposition to Pope Pius IX (1792-1878), Cardinal-Deacon Giacomo Antonelli (1806-1876) in mid-19th century Italy. Its decorative artwork features a man thumbing his nose at a priest and caricatures of Catholic clergy. 

The game is played in  a “game of the goose” style, where players start at the outside of a spiral, and move 59 spaces in turns, based on the roll of a die, toward a goal at the center of the board. The rules of the game are printed on its gameboard, and, roughly translated, read as:

Detail of gameboard, Abbasso le Code!!

Detail of gameboard, Abbasso le Code!!, GV1312 .A23 1848 FLAT STORAGE


  • Whoever lands on the white stars goes on, and doubles the number.
  • Those who meet the Jesuits go back to where they were.
  • Whoever lands on the black stars goes out of the game and starts again.
  • Whoever goes to #49 gets stuck until someone else comes to take him out, and he will put himself in the place where he was taken away.
  • Those who arrive at #59 but have surplus numbers go back.
  • The winner is the one who makes the precise number and stops at 59.

More charmingly designed, “Historical Pastime: A New Game of the History of England” is also a “game of the goose,” but has 135 spaces, each depicting an event in English history from the Battle of Hastings to the central space – a portrait of young Queen Victoria. The game was published in London and, although undated, is believed to be published sometime after 1836. The hand-colored panels of the gameboard are affixed to linen backing so they can be easily folded and placed in a small case, although for conservation reasons the board is stored flat. The game may have served an educational purpose, but the Burns example includes no rules or instructions.

Detail of gameboard, Historical Pastime: A New Game of the History of England.

Detail of gameboard, Historical Pastime: A New Game of the History of England.

Jumping forward in time, “Dignity ‘76” is an updated version of a game first published in 1966. This game places its players in complex but typical situations for public housing projects such as Cabrini-Green, where they must choose how to respond. The consequences of players’ individual choices also affect every other player. An introduction to the game describes it as focusing on the question “What is dignity?” The game can be played in teams and is designed to stimulate discussion. Its creator, Kenneth Christiansen, lived and worked in Chicago in 1965 as part of a Lutheran church mission similar to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. As a vehicle to share what he learned from the experience, he chose a game format, hoping to encourage people to grapple with difficult subjects. Burns Library’s copy of Dignity ‘76 is part of the Lisa Kuhmerker papers. Professor Kuhmerker (1926-1998) spent her career as a scholar specializing in the field of moral education and psychology.

Image of gameboard, Dignity

Gameboard, Dignity ‘76, box 28, folder 1, Lisa Kuhmerker papers (MS2001-030)


These games, meant to teach history, morality, or basic skills like counting and waiting one’s turn, are available for deeper study in the Burns Library Reading Room. To use them, visit Burns Library, or contact our staff.

Shelley Barber, Reference and Archives Specialist, Burns Library

  • Shelley Barber, Outreach and Reference Specialist






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