A New Geographical Game: teaching Scottish geography to children Georgian-style.

"A New Geographical Game exhibiting a Complete Tour through Scotland and the Western Isles." London: Published by J. Wallis, No. 16 Ludgate Street & E. Newberry corner of St Paul's Churchyard. Jan. 1st., 1792."

If you want to be a serious collector of European board games, your interest will go back to 1592, when what is considered to be the first commercial game was published in Italy, called Il Gioco Dell'Oca Dilettevole (The Pleasing Game of Goose). It is a simple race game, probably based on similar items seen in the Middle and Far East. By the end of the 18th century, games for children were published in increasing numbers, some of which incorporated maps which cartographers could adapt easily using existing plates in their stock. One important exponent of this practice was John Wallis, who like many booksellers at the end of the 18th century was based in St Paul's Churchyard, London. He produced games that included tours of England and Wales, Europe, and even the World, all of which found an enthusiastic market in moneyed Georgian parents keen to teach their children geography in a novel fashion.

In 1792, one year before his death, Wallis published A Geographical Game exhibiting a complete Tour through Scotland and the Western Isles

It is a fine map in itself, the outline not yet perfect (look, for example, at the shape of the Outer Hebrides), but reasonably accurate nevertheless.

The map is flanked on each side by columns of text, giving the rules top left, and then details of each of the places that are numbered on the map. As you can see, the rules ensured that players were taken all over the board (the 'totum' was a dice in the form of a spinning top).  When landing on a number, the player would read the description of wherever he was, and if necessary pay whatever counters the situation demanded. At Dundee (34), for example, he would learn that it was a "large and flourishing town in Angus-shire, situated on the north side of the Tay. Here is an excellent harbour, and a great deal of shipping."

At Isla (38), on the other hand, he was on "one of the Hebrides, where the traveller must pay two counters to be conveyed to Leith." A simple game, therefore, that might not hold for long the attention of today's youth, but it would have been a novel experience in 1792.

For me, one of the interesting aspects of this map is that it neatly shows where the good communications were, where people went, and what was known about the region. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the numbered towns are in the southern counties of the country. On the section of the map shown to the left, nearly half of the total number of towns described can be found.  Places ranging from Coldstream ("situated on the Tweed, and separated from Cornwall[sic] in England only by the breadth of the river." - I suspect he means Cornhill, not Cornwall!) to Glasgow ("a large and populous city situated on the north banks fo the Clyde. The traveller must stop here and pay one counter for expences.")

Heading north from Perth, 13 of the numbered towns lie along the east coast - Montrose, Aberdeen, Banff, Elgin etc. - as far as Inverness. Inland there are just 5 places (Forfar, Tay Mouth (Loch Tay), Blair, Inverurie, and 96, which is not a place at all, but rather the river Dee. Here is found "the fertile vale of Braemar. The rugged front, and lofty summit of the awful precipices that surround this valley, are truly picturesque and romantic.").

The islands fare much better, many being named and described,  which reminds me that, although the seas in these parts could be tricky, access to these remote regions was easier than to many of the inland areas in the Highlands. The geologist John MacCulloch knew this as well as anyone, recommending the journey from Kintyre to Cape Wrath by boat, preferring "the mountain wave to the mountain shore; a home on the deep to the want of one among rocks and bogs, amid fords and ferries, through dub [stagnant pools] and learie [peat banks] and labour and starvation." The map goes out as far as St Kilda, which receives no description, but "here the traveller must pay two counters to be conveyed to Wigtown Bay".

North of Fort William, Fort Augustus and Inverness, there are just 7 numbers on the mainland, 6 of which follow the east coast up to 'Johnny Groats House' (as it is marked on the map). This area covers nearly a third of mainland Scotland, yet the only description inland from the east coast is number 16: "Assynt, in Sutherlandshire, exhibits an assemblage of shattered mountains, as it were heaped on each other, and seemingly involved in a tremendous manner." The map shows admirably that the main infrastructure of the country followed the east coast, with no roads marked inland north of Fort William and Inverness.

Appropriately enough, the winner of the game ends up at Edinburgh, in the safety of the lowlands. Anyone playing the game would have seen plenty of the lowlands, and visited many of the islands, and maybe even popped across to Ireland (numbers 40 - 43), but they will have spent little time inland in the Highlands.