Board Games of History, (Part Two of Three)

This is the second part of the post Board Games of History. To read the first part of this story, please find it here.

In 1860 the United States was in turmoil, with the nation literally breaking apart in The Civil War. The election of President Lincoln had set off a rush for the exists across the South.

With the onset of war, Milton Bradley introduced The Checkered Game of Life.

The Checkered Game of Life


The game moved players along a track from Infancy to Old Age, guided by pointing fingers and texts.

The fun was everywhere, especially if you were to land on the space called “Suicide!” and were promptly out of the game.

It is interesting how killing oneself, which today we see as symptomatic of mental illness, was seen as random in the nineteenth century.

The frequency of mass killings today has brought out this same mentality. Frequently the response to these terrible events is met with a shrug and a prayer.

Often the murder suicide of mass shootings is seen as random and unavoidable. It is a resignation that crazy people are always with us, and therefore mass killings and suicide will be too.

A little knowledge of modern psychology would reveal otherwise. Increased mental health care would not have any effect on mass shootings. Increased regulations or banning of weapons would definitely have an impacts, driving down the frequency of these tragic and avoidable scenarios.

But I digress. The focus of this is on board games and what they reveal about the times they originate from.

In The Checkered Game of Life, Milton Bradley chose to use a spinner and not dice to advance players around a board. Dice were taboo because of their association with gambling, so a spinner was deemed more in line with the moral defense of children.

As a teaching tool it is easy to see how this game helped children to understand the era they were born into. The country was a violent place in the 1860’s. The children who played the first “Checkered Game of Life” would no doubt be dealing with death of loved ones, as everyone knew someone killed or maimed by the Civil War.

Antietam: 22,717 casualties

The game would offer reassurance to children that there was a path for them through these uncertain times, and that they could live to be long in the tooth and not perish like someone close to them had no doubt suffered.

The Checkered Game of Life shows us how this time was one of uncertainty about survival, in contrast to the certainty of eternal salvation that dominated the nation just two decades prior.

In the third and final installment of this post, we will see how changes over time are reflected in the board games of the 19th century. The third post of this series will focus on a the most famous board game of all time.

Will you be able to guess which game it is?

I guarantee you that the lesson it reveals is not what you will ever expect.

Check back with Historydojo soon to see the last installment of Board Games of History.

Author: historydojo

I’m a National Board Certified Teacher with nearly twenty years of experience teaching high school history. I blog about teaching, history, current events, the law and social justice.

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