From Scrabble to Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly, board games are part of the fabric of our society. But as Megan Archer discovers, there are thousands of games out there with a huge variety of topics and Oxford is the best place to discover them

While most people’s experience of board games is a heated game of Monopoly over Christmas, there is much more to the genre than a top hat and Mayfair.

Board games old and new, retro and modern, can now be discovered in Oxford, as the Bodleian Library announces it has recently taken on a major collection of games dating all the way back to 1800.

The historic games, featuring 22 that show how children in Victorian and Edwardian Britain learned about the world around them, can be viewed in the Bodleian’s Weston Library in Broad Street until March 6, as part of a special exhibition called Playing With History.

The exhibition focuses on how games were used to teach children about three topics; kings and queens, the British world view, and war and conflict in the early 20th century.

Simon Read, who runs the board game cafe Thirsty Meeples in Gloucester Green, said Oxford was really on the map for games old and new.

John Johnson Collection Librarian at the Bodleian Julie Anne Lambert, who curated the Weston Library exhibition, said: “Games are fascinating because they hold a mirror to society.

“Games which aim to teach history are particularly interesting as it is impossible to take an unbiased view of the past or the present, so the images, text and format of the games reveal much about the attitudes and perspectives that were prevalent at the time.”

The games selected for the display represent a tiny slice of the almost 1,500 board games and pastimes that collector Richard Ballam recently donated to the Bodleian.

The display features symbolic games, such as Tar of All Weathers, a game of empire which shows Queen Victoria resplendent at the head of her colonies in Africa and Asia. There is also one called Suffragetto, which describes itself as “an original and interesting game of skill between suffragettes and policemen”.

When visitors get tired of viewing historic pastimes, they can take a short walk across the city centre to play a board game of their choosing at the Thirsty Meeples cafe.

The venue features 2,000 games from the classics Monopoly and Cluedo to Zombie Dice and Chicken Cha Cha Cha.

Mr Read said: “We’re approaching our third birthday andd there are now board game cafes in London, Preston, Exeter and other places.

I reckon in about another three or four years there will be a board game cafe in every major city – and the first one was in Oxford.”

Quite a contrast to the historic games at the Bodleian, Mr Read said the hottest game he knew of right now was one called Pandemic Legacy.

He added: “It’s triggered this whole thing called legacy gaming, where the decisions we make in the game have an ongoing effect on the game itself.

“When a character dies in the game you have to actually rip up the character card and throw it in the bin. You make permanent changes every time you play it.”

Oxford Mail:

  • With the Tar Of All Weathers game are Bodleian PR officer Elaine Bible and curator Julie Anne Lambert

The Playing with History display at the Bodleian is free and runs until March 6 in the Weston Library.

Richard Ballam will also be giving a lunchtime talk about his games and pastimes collection on January 20, in the Weston Library.

Thirsty Meeples is open from Monday to Friday from 11am to midnight, Saturdays from 9am to midnight and Sundays 9am to 11pm.

* A series of 49 small carved painted stones were found at the 5,000-year-old Başur Höyük burial mound in south-east Turkey, believed to be the oldest gaming pieces ever found.

* The origins of the game Backgammon are believed to date from Roman times when people played Ludus duodecim scriptorum, meaning game of 12 markings.

* There are hundreds of versions of Monopoly, including Oxford, New York, Paris, Star Wars, Street Fighter and James Bond.

* To prevent Boggle players from using a certain swear word, the letters F and K only appear once on the same cube, making it impossible for them to be played together.