Giochi dell'Oca e di percorso
(by Luigi Ciompi & Adrian Seville)
|"Tradition and Variation in the Game of Goose"|
|Autore: Seville Adrian|
|This paper is an extension of that given at the colloquium Board Games in Academia: Firenze, April 1999. The title recalls with great respect a presentation to the society "Le Vieux Papier" given in 1982 by the late Pierre Dietsch, that unsurpassed collector of the Jeu de l'Oie.|
1.Origins and basic rules
The Game of Goose (Jeu de l'Oie, Gioco dell'Oca) has its roots in the Italy of Francesco de' Medici (1574-87), who, it is said [Carrera 1617], sent it as a present to King Philip II of Spain. The game then took hold there and elsewhere in continental Europe, where it is still played. It is a spiral race game, played with double dice and the usual tokens, the aim being to arrive (exactly) at the final space, numbered 63. The moves are entirely determined by the throw of the dice and by the rules – no judgment is required of, or available to, the player. In the standard form of the game [Murray 1952] the favourable spaces are denoted by geese. The thrower goes beyond the goose by the amount of the throw, and continues thus until no goose is encountered. The geese are disposed in two interleaved sequences, each with a spacing of nine:
A special rule is needed to cover the initial throw of nine, otherwise the fortunate player would simply hop by nines forward from goose to goose until the winning end space was reached. The rule is that an initial throw of 6,3 means 'go straight to 26'; an initial throw of 5,4 means 'go straight to 53'. From 53, the player can win outright on the next throw. However, since 63 must be reached exactly, such a win is by no means certain. Overthrows are completed by counting the excess points backwards from 63. Complexities near the finish, including the possibility of having to start again (see below) add greatly to the playing excitement. Landing on another player's counter involves changing places and (in most versions) paying to the pool. Landing on certain hazard points also involves paying to the pool and has other consequences:
n. 6, a bridge, go on to 12;
n.19, an inn, lose two moves
n.31, a well, wait until another reaches the place then exchange places
n.42, a maze, go back to 39 (or, in some versions, to 30)
n.52, a prison, wait as for the well
n.58, a death's head, go back and start again
An additional hazard, the goblet, is occasionally found, on 62.
The placement of the death space is particularly interesting. If a player were allowed to throw from space 58 and happened to throw 9, then because of the reverse overthrow rule, he or she would land on 59. But this is a goose space and the player would continue to move retrograde by 9, landing successively on 50, 41 etc until 5 was reached and the next move would go off the board into negative territory. To avoid this ‘bug in the program’ it is necessary for space 58 to have a hazard that directs the player elsewhere. The fact that the direction is ‘start again’ is entirely consistent with the bug that is being avoided and shows considerable elegance of thought.
2.Cabalistic significance and numerological scheme
The numbers in this complex game are not arbitrary. The number 63 is highly significant in Cabalistic systems of thought. The Cabala, a system of Jewish mystical theology developed in Spain in the 12th - 13th centuries, though based on an earlier manuscript, was adapted for Christian use in the Renaissance. Italian scholars such as Pico della Mirandola [d. 1494] were especially significant in this adaptation, though it was a pan-European phenomenon. [Blau 1944]. The Cabala drew on complex symbolism to assign numerical values to words and hence to associate particular significance to the numbers themselves. The number 63, the product of 7 and 9, represents the Great (or Grand) Climacteric [Browne 1650]: "And so perhaps hath it happened unto the number 7. and 9. which multiplyed into themselves doe make up 63. commonly esteemed the great Climactericall of our lives; for the dayes of men are usually cast up by septenaries, and every seventh yeare conceived to carry some altering character with it, either in the temper of body, minde, or both; but among all other, three are most remarkable, that is 7. times 7. or forty nine, 9. times 9. or eighty one, and 7. time 9. or the year of sixty three; which is conceived to carry with it, the most considerable fatality, and consisting of both the other numbers was apprehended to comprise the vertue of either, is therefore expected and entertained with feare, and esteemed a favour of fate to passe it over which notwithstanding many suspect to be but a Panick terrour, and men to feare they justify know not what; and to speake indifferently, I finde no satisfaction, nor any sufficiency in the received grounds to establish a rationall feare."
In its original form, Goose is clearly a game of human life, with favourable spaces (geese) that have the effect of doubling the dice-throw forward, and with hazards, such as the prison, labyrinth and death. Mascheroni and Tinti [1981 - translation by the present author] have commented on the Cabalistic numerology of the game. "The course, earthly and spiritual, is laid out in nine sequences, according to the mediaeval belief that the human metamorphoses from infancy to old age will occur every seven years; the 63, called "grand climacteric" will conclude the cycle of life. There are also seven perils distributed along the course interspersed with the geese, those beneficent dispensers of points. The presence of 9 x 7, cabalistic numbers laden with superstition and esoteric value, seems to constitute the magic/symbolic fabric of the game." It is not clear from the above passage why in the game the geese are disposed every nine spaces, rather than every seven, nor why there are two interleaved sequences of geese. Nevertheless, the association with Cabalistic numerology is clearly very suggestive. Mascheroni and Tinti continue: "There are those who have interpreted as an allegoric key the rules, misfortunes and losses associated with the numbers of the points where the perils are found- see Duchaussay, "La Bestiare Divin, ou la symbolique des animaux" Paris 1958- 31 the well: indicates grave error: 3+1=4, the "material" number, retarding spiritual advancement until another comes to liberate (redemption); 42 the labyrinth: initiation, choice of path: made up of 6x7, it is the number of Justice, of Osiris and of the justices of life; 58 death: 5+8=13, renewal: not physical death, it is a liberation, but that of the soul". However, other interpretations are possible. The purpose of referring to this analysis is not to accept it in detail but rather to emphasise that the placement of the geese and of the hazards in the original game was not accidental, nor was it entirely governed by the mechanistic constraints of play. Instead, it was governed by considerations that we would now call 'occult' but which in Francesco de Medici's time would have been regarded as at the forefront of philosophical knowledge. Indeed, the high purpose of the Christian Cabalists was to achieve no less than a universal synthetic system of thought. Probably, the game was seen as a means of foretelling the future, or even of influencing it, analogous to the use of 'judicial' astrology. It was thus a suitably potent gift for a powerful royal ally who was, like Francesco, interested in numerology. It is not known with any certainty what the symbol of the goose itself signifies. The goose is, in various cultures, associated with divination; with fertility; and (more simply) with the pleasures of food and prosperity. Donatino Domini  supports this latter hypothesis, pointing out that the iconographic evidence of the ‘popular’ tradition of goose games is unequivocally materialistic. However, reliable contemporary evidence of the significance of the goose to the game’s inventors is lacking. It is also possible that they borrowed the goose symbol from an earlier game, now lost.
3.Developments of the game - an overview
Many variations on the game have been developed using the basic structure of the Game of Goose. Indeed, in many countries, the phrase is used to mean any race game played with dice- whether or not descended from the original game. For the present study, however, the key feature is the doubling forward of the throw upon landing on one of the favourable spaces. This common feature serves to identify goose games descended from the original, differentiating them from other spiral race games. In other respects, these 'goose games' may be very diverse, often having no overt reference to geese, but using themes with political, educational, moral or historical significance - or having no significance at all, as when the geese are simply replaced by another device (e.g. by monkeys). They may also depart from the original form by extending or truncating the spiral track or by otherwise altering the numerical relationships. New variants of the game are still being produced for advertising purposes. A feature of these games is that almost all include printed statements of the detailed rules of play. The variations in these rules seem to have been little studied yet they provide an interesting means of probing the diffusion and development of goose games in Europe. As will be indicated below, in Italy, the strength of tradition has been such as to keep rule variations to a minimum. By comparison, in France - where the game had its most spectacular development - there is somewhat more freedom. In Germany, though, the variations are so widespread that games of the strict traditional form are in a minority. As we shall see, the rule variations indicate that the numerical and symbolic aspects of the game were not fully understood. This is still more true of England, where in some cases there are also capricious features, indicating that the playing principles themselves were not fully assimilated. It is hoped that the following brief treatment of this subject will, though incomplete and impressionistic, suggest lines and techniques for further study. There is no attempt to claim that is the result of an exhaustive study of all known goose-type games: there are several thousand, at least.
4.The Italian Tradition
Mascheroni and Tinti [op cit] give many diverse examples of the game of goose in Italy. Published examples of the game of goose in traditional form, with exactly original rules and disposition of the favourable and unfavourable spaces, can be found in all epochs. However, the iconography and decoration is quite various, often moving with contemporary fashion. Sometimes, however, even where a contemporary style of letterpress is used, the playing area may appear anachronistic, because of the use of old blocks or plates by the printer. In almost all examples, great care is taken to show by a representation of a pair of dice in the appropriate spaces how to play the initial throw of nine: so, space 26 shows explicitly the throw of 6,3 and space 53 shows 5,4. A frequent variation is to extend the track to 90, reflecting the great popular interest in the Italian State Lottery, where the extraction is from 90 balls and 90 is a ‘lucky’ number. The sequences of geese are then extended in a regular way and additional hazards (the fountain at 71, the tower at 82) are introduced. The arrangements made for the initial throw are extended by making it possible to win on the next throw from a throw of 6,6. By prior agreement, the game can still terminate at 63. Non-standard games do exist (e.g. where elements of another race game, Il Barone, are introduced) but are uncommon before the 1900s, when more variety begins to be shown. However, even in a late and considerably debased example, such as the Cristoforo Colombo game, used to promote political links with the United States of America in 1948, the goose-game structure is quite evident. Here, though, the favourable spaces are the Statue of Liberty!
5.France - many themes and several variations
In France, the basic game of goose - albeit with iconographic and decorative developments - may be seen in all periods, just as we observed for Italy. There is slightly less rigidity in the presentation. For example, though pairs of dice are shown at spaces 26 and 53, they often do not explicitly show the particular throws: they have become partially decorative elements. France, though, is most remarkable for the great proliferation of goose-based games with different themes [D’Allemagne 1950;Girard and Quétel 1982] including especially educational games, a development which began as early as the middle of the 17th century. Though all are based more or less on the goose structure, there is considerable variation. A distinct sub-class of game results when only a single sequence of favourable spaces is provided, invariably on 9,18,27, 63, omitting the sequence beginning on 5, 14. This may be because of the difficulty of providing sufficient iconographic ideas to fill both sequences when the favourable spaces are not filled by a repeated element. For example, in the Jeu des Guerriers Francais (Basset, Paris c. 1820) the favourable spaces are Napoleon's victories (Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena, Friedland, Esling, Wagram) ending at 63 with the French star of victory. However, this procedure was not always adopted. A contemporaneous game by the same publisher, the Jeu Instructif des Peuples, has the double sequence of favourable spaces. Here, they are the countries of Europe (5 Angleterre, 9 Russie etc) culminating in 63 France. Space 58 (death) is occupied by Nouvelle Zelande, and shows a traveller 'ready to be eaten by the anthropophagi'. There is the usual rule for 58, start again. However, in the former game, although space 58 shows a military execution (consistent with the death idea), the rule for this space says 'stay until someone comes to release you'. Evidently, if such variations were permitted, the full symbolic significance of the game was not appreciated. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that the basic structure of the game survived as strongly as it did, given that the themes had nothing overtly to do with the original game.
6.Britain: a tradition lost
It is remarkable that the game of goose came to England from Italy so soon after its invention. It was duly registered by John Wolfe at Stationers Hall in London as 'the Newe and Most Pleasant Game of the Goose' on 16 June 1597. Much is known about Wolfe: he was apprenticed to train as a printer in London, became a master printer in Florence but returned to England to become a high official of the Stationers' Company and, in 1593, Printer to the City of London [Huffmann 1988]. However, we do not have the registered copy of the imported game itself. The version bearing John Overton's mark is the earliest English example known to the present author: it was dated as c. 1660 in the Sotheby's catalogue of the sale of the Linda Hannas collection in 1984. It is a pure original goose game, with all rules and features. Interestingly, certain of the iconographic elements are taken directly from Italian examples of the game: the antique- clad figure at the start, the figures drinking in comfort sitting on a barrel at the finish. It is possible that this form of the game, with its distinctive ‘tavern’ iconography, was modelled on that imported by Wolfe. If so, it could be significant that it bears the phrase: "Invented at the Consistory in Rome" - for John Wolfe was certainly in a position to know something of the origins of the game. Some later examples from the early 1700s repeat these features. However, a significant variation occurs in examples printed by John Bowles (c. 1725) and later by Robert Sayer (c. 1750). Here, the geese normally on spaces 5 and 9 are altogether missing. There is thus no need for a rule governing the initial throw of nine. Interestingly, the pairs of dice are still pictured - but for a different purpose. They appear at space 9 (showing 5,4) and at space 11 (showing 6,5) and attention is called to them in the rules as showing how to move one's counter. It is surprising that such elucidation should have been thought necessary, given the fact that goose was a popular game. The true explanation may be that the publishers wished to vary their game so as to be able register it as a new design at Stationers' Hall. Other variations were more considerable, such as the 'Royall Pastime of Cupid, or the New and Most Pleasant Game of the Snake' published by John Garrett and others. Here, though the fundamental feature of doubling the throw on the favourable spaces (cupids) remained, the numerical relationships were lost, apart from the finishing space on 63. An interesting and uncommon variant is Courtship and Matrimony (c.1800) The example in the present author's collection has words and music in two parts for the 'bride' and 'groom' to sing. The favourable spaces include goose-type sequences but contain initial lines of favourite songs of the day. Most interesting, though, is the arrangement made to avoid the use of dice, if this is desired for moral reasons. A circle for a central spinner is provided, divided into 18 equal divisions. This enables the exact simulation of the 36 chances upon double dice, by introducing the rule that doublets are counted as blanks, resulting in no move. In this way, three blank divisions will suffice for the chances 1,1 2,2 3,3 4,4 5,5, 6,6 and each of the other 15 divisions can do duty for a double chance such as 6,5 5,6. (Of course, a twelve-sided teetotum, which might appear an obvious solution to the problem of avoiding a pair of dice, will not give the chances correctly). The Game of the Monkey [Whitehouse], though not a 'goose game' because it lacks the doubling element, is designed to be played with a single teetotum. Interestingly, a teetotum is depicted at spaces 26 and 53, instead of dice, even though these spaces have no playing significance. This illustrates how an iconographic element can, if not fully understood, transmute into a purely decorative feature. Thus, despite the close links with Florence that brought the game first into England, there was evidently no significant re-checking with the strict Italian tradition, or even with the less strict development elsewhere in continental Europe. Where exceptions occur, they are found to be direct copies of games, rather than new creations based on Goose rules. An example is the New Game of Human Life published by John Wallis and E Newbery in 1790, which has the Goose structure but based on 12 rather than 9, corresponding to modern ideas on the seven ages of man. However, this game is a close copy of a game published by Crepy in Paris in 1775: "Le Nouveau Jeu de la Vie Humaine". Several of the personages shown are changed for the British market: for example, the winning space at 84, ‘The Immortal Man’, shows Isaac Newton, rather than Voltaire [Hannas 1972] both of whom died at the age of 84 years. Later attempts to reintroduce the game, which has fallen from popularity by the end of the 18th century era, were also not based on the strict tradition and 'goose' was effectively lost. In the 1800s, examples of the game in the outline form of a goose (or perhaps a duck) were produced. Some of these follow the pattern of the original, with blanks at 5 and 9. Others, though, are quite bizarre: one example includes spaces with sailing boats, at which one is required to whisper 'sail ahoy' to one's neighbour!
7.The Low countries – tavern iconography
The development of the game in the Low Countries shows interesting connections with both Britain and France. The woodcut form of the game most typical of Holland in the 18th century is almost identical to the earlier British form, with ‘tavern’ iconography much in evidence. The game was regarded with disapproval by the Church until the beginning of the 19th century, when attitudes softened and versions ‘for the Youth of the Netherlands’ began to appear – identical in playing terms but with decorative iconography showing children playing instead of tavern scenes.Thus Goose progressed into a game for the family and, by the early 20th century, into a game for children, a progress clearly shown by the changing iconography [Buijnsters 2005]. This early disapproval of the game may account for the fact that, unlike in France where educational variants of Goose were present from an early date, the educational spiral race games in Holland in the 18th century developed separately from Goose. Only in the 19th century do educational Goose variants appear – though this may instead be due to the direct influence of French Goose-type games, which were often republished in Dutch language versions. During the 19th and 20th century, Goose based games were highly popular throughout the region, with advertising games being an important genre – a tradition that continues to the present day.
8.Germany and Austria – a ‘flexible corset’
In Germany and Austria, the traditional rules of Goose formed a ‘flexible corset’ [Zollinger 2003]. In Graz, the Landesmuseum Johanneum houses perhaps the earliest surviving dated Goose board: "Das khurtzweillige Fortuna-Spill", dated 1589, carved on stone by Michael Holzbecher for the children of Archduke Karl. Here, the geese symbols are replaced by a stylised figure of Fortune but otherwise the game is a standard game of Goose. A striking impression of the Goose and related games found in German museum collections e.g. that of the Bayerischen Nationalmuseums Muenchen [Himmelheber 1972] is the frequent arbitrary variation in track length, as opposed to the length of 63 that predominates in France and Italy. This impression is reinforced by a statistical analysis of the 19th century collection of race games made by Henry Carrington Bolton (and now in the University of Pennsylvania Museum) as listed by Culin . His collection assembles substantial numbers of games from France, Italy and Germany, (together with a few from other countries, not included in the analysis below). The analysis shows the proportion of games that have the traditional 63-space track. For Italy, the 90-space track has been included in the count as if it were 63. The ‘expected’ numbers of games have been estimated from the ‘all’ percentage and on this basis the deficiency in the number of German games with traditional track length is statistically very significant. German games of the race type exhibit considerably more variability than their French or Italian equivalents, even when they are labelled as Goose games or are simple substitute variations like Affenspiel. (Monkey game). However, many of the German race games represent a journey (as in Post- und Reisnspiele) and probably come from a source unconnected with Goose. Germany, too, seems to have been the source [von Wilckens 1985] of the rule (sometimes also played as a ‘local’ rule in the Low Countries) that if a player encounters a goose whose image faces backwards, then he or she must double his throw backwards, instead of forwards. This rule, of course, destroys the elegance of the original Italian formula.
9.Spain – a different ending
The Goose game in Spain still flourishes as a game for children, available in toyshops as a modern production, rather than a reproduction of a game from an earlier period. A curiosity of the Spanish Goose games is that the end rule differs from that of other countries: from space 60, the player must use a single dice. To win requires an exact throw for the 63 space but the reverse overthrow rule is absent. The Spanish game thus lacks the excitement of landing by reverse overthrows on the death space.
The goose-game tradition that survived in Italy for 400 years did so as a 'popular' tradition, rather than something derived from learned philosophical thought. The Christian interpretation of the Cabala was a dead-end, not taken seriously by scholars after perhaps 1650, though the Cabala still survives both as a Jewish subject of study and as a general term for the occult. Even though historians at a later date may have appreciated the link between the game and the Cabala [Menestrier 1704], it was regarded merely a curiosity. Popular traditions are never easy to study from the historical viewpoint: documentation is usually poor or absent. The historical study of rule variations in the game of goose is therefore not without interest - at least there is the documentation afforded by the printed games themselves. However, it is not easy to systematise. So few games have survived. Dates are not easy to assign - the appearance of a printed sheet may be misleading in this respect. Place of publication is often absent - and there is much plagiarism. The present study is therefore offered merely as a contribution rather than as any definitive attempt to resolve all these difficulties.
City University, London 6 November 2005
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