A history of games at Houghton

Technology has come a long way since the first gamers invented dice thousands of years ago. But for some, the convenience of cellphone apps and the immersive thrill of VR are still no substitute for a sociable competition around the table.

The enduring charm of tabletop games can be explored in a historical collection stored in a closet at Houghton Library. Most offer a window into cultural themes and attitudes peculiar to their era, but a few of the games are surprisingly timeless in tone and design. Take the sardonic humor of an 1863 role-playing card game called The Draft Enforced that parodies drill sergeants, or the minimalist design of a 19th-century paper chessboard sized for travel.

Librarian James Capobianco recently displayed highlights of the collection for the Gazette, and we’ve included call numbers for those who’d like to see the games for themselves. Houghton has even scanned a few of the boards so they can be used. Game night, anyone?

he players — “up to 18, or more” — spin a tetotum and move around the board of symbolic figures with the goal of being the first to reach No. 50, the magic ring. Players ante up 12 counters, and each figure bears a reward or penalty, sweetening the pot in the race to the ring.

Learn more at Harvard Gazette