Carrington Bowles, who operated from 69, St Paul’s Churchyard in London, had a steady business publishing maps which were cloth-backed and hand-tinted. One day he was approached by a teacher of geography and mathematics by the name of John Jeffreys, with a proposition. How about reconfiguring one of Bowles’ maps in such a way that it became a game with some educational content rather than a reference guide? With luck, it might just appeal to a different audience and boost sales. Smitten by Jeffreys’ idea, Carrington Bowles published in 1759 A Journey Through Europe or The Play of Geography, thought to have been the first board game in the English-speaking world that can be ascribed to an individual named designer.
As a game, it was simple enough. A map of Europe was printed on to a board and a route with numbered spaces took a player on a journey from London through the principal cities of Europe and back again to London. We have to remember, though, that when the game was first released, there was no such thing as mass colour printing and so each map would be hand-tinted, making them quite expensive and beyond the reach of the ordinary person. The players would be furnished with information and historical points of interest about the places they landed on.
Taking turns, each player would spin a wooden teetotum, a kind of spinning top, and move the number of spaces designated by the side on which the teetotum had come to rest displayed. To add to the thrills and spills of the game, it was designed rather like Snakes and Ladders with spaces representing hazards or benefits. The winner was the first to get back to London.
The spaces show a very distinctive Protestant and Hanoverian world view. To land on space 28, which represented Hanover, the reigning king at the time, George III, was from the house of Hanover, was a game changer. The player would be entitled “by order of Ye King of Great Britain who is Elector, be conducted to No 54 at Gibraltar to visit his countrymen who keep garrison there.” A visit to that hotbed of Papistry, Rome, was something to be avoided. If a player landed on that space, number 48, they were sent back packing in disgrace: “for kissing ye Pope’s Toe shall be banished for his folly to No 4 in the cold island of Iceland and miss three turns.”
The game was a success and spawned a number of other rivals and competitors. The idea of a geographical game was firmly rooted in the public consciousness. It is worth noting that the first jigsaw puzzle, created by John Spilsbury in 1762, featured a map of Europe too.
Jeffreys’ game is also still with us, albeit in a more extended fashion. Created in 1954 by Ravensburger, Explore Europe, it also goes under the names of Europareise and Journey Through Europe, follows a similar principle. Each player selects a home city and the draws eight cards which feature European cities that they have to visit, using a combination of land, sea and air travel. They are restricted to using only one mode of travel per turn and the mode they choose has an impact on their budget. A roll of the die determines how many spaces a player moves, and their objective is to visit all of their designated cities and return to the home city as quickly as possible. The winner is the first to do so.
Of the 180 cities on the board, sixty-three are designated as “special” and here the player can encounter some unanticipated bonuses and perils. Some grant a player an extra turn or free movement while others require them to miss a turn or embark on a form of mandatory travel. The game requires an element of strategic thinking as players plot the optimal route.
It is still available today.