At the turn of the 19th century, industrialization led to new leisure opportunities in Great Britain. What would families do with all this new-found free time? Commerce quickly found an answer: children’s board games.
One of the first British board games was designed by George Fox, and sold out of its first three editions when first published in 1800. Not many board games come with subtitles, but Mr. Fox wanted the world to know his game, “The Mansion of Happiness,” was no mere past-time. It was meant to be “Instructive, Moral & Entertaining,” and the emphasis was very much on morality.
Even the game’s design elements conveyed this concern for pure and Puritan family entertainment. The board game came with a spinning numbered top, rather than dice, which were associated with Satan and gambling.
The storyline of the game is that players are on a journey in which they are buffeted between virtue and vice as they travel toward “The Mansion of Happiness,” a heavenly destination for the pure and pious. Players who land on board spaces with illustrations of particular Christian virtues are considered to “possess” them, and are rewarded, for example as follows:
WHOEVER possesses PIETY, HONESTY, TEMPERANCE, GRATITUDE, PRUDENCE, TRUTH, CHASTITY, SINCERITY, HUMILITY, INDUSTRY, CHARITY, HUMANITY, or GENEROSITY is entitled to Advance six numbers toward the Mansion of Happiness.
However, landing on specific sins also has its consequences:
WHOEVER possesses AUDACITY, CRUELTY, IMMODESTY, or INGRATITUDE, must return to his former situation till his turn comes to spin again, and not even think of HAPPINESS, much less partake of it.
The game recommends a compassionate outlook in some ways:
POVERTY, THE WHIPPING POST, HOUSE OF CORRECTION, the PILLORY, the STOCKS, PRISON, and RUIN are to be considered as blanks in your progress to the Mansion; for it would be cruel to punish a person for merely passing such a place.
In others, though, the rules are fiercely pragmatic and without mercy:
Whoever gets into IDLENESS must come to POVERTY.
“The Mansion of Happiness” and other Regency-era and early American board games were influences on the set design for our production of Pride and Prejudice. In Kate Hamill’s adaptation of the Jane Austen classic, the Bennet sisters each pursue love in their own ways, and take the pursuit at differing levels of seriousness. Gameplay provides useful metaphors for the various forms of courtship and conversation available to young ladies of the time, whose futures depended on securing a long-lasting marriage.
From the floor painting to the board games and sports that appear woven throughout our production, when you watch the show, see if you can spot the games afoot!