Fans of The Bachelorette and romance novels might be interested to know that The Coquette and her Suitors recently joined The Strong’s collections. This 1858 game features some of the most detailed design and lithography available at that time and undoubtedly drew its title from one of the most popular novels of that era, first published anonymously in 1797. The Coquette: or, The History of Eliza Wharton was still a best-seller some 50 years later and was not credited to an author until 1856, 16 years after novelist Hannah Webster Foster had died. Two years later, the Boston publisher and bookseller Brown, Taggard & Chase named a board game after the book’s protagonist, whose coquettish behavior led to her early demise. The book tells a sad story of a good girl whose dream of independence was overcome by society’s rules. But the board game paints her quite differently and the publisher probably only chose the game’s title for the mass recognition of the term “coquette.”
Today people find themselves bombarded with ideas, images, and characters from every kind of media.
What makes a game classic? Part of the answer is longevity. Most people consider chess classic; we’ve played it for centuries. What about playing cards? Woodblock-printed cards appeared during China’s Tang dynasty (618–907), while written rules for card games were first seen in15th-century Europe. Another characteristic of classic games is continued popularity. Games such as Monopoly in the 1930s and Scrabble during the 1950s broke sales records at first. But they continued to sell in the years that followed and do so today.
The Strong’s board game collection is unique in all the world. Unlike specialized collectors, the museum thinks broadly about what it acquires, striving to represent both ancient and modern examples, simple games and complex ones, and extremely typical editions and rare versions for the varieties of play they represent, as well as the cultures that inspired them. So I was delighted earlier this year when Don Lyon of Binghamton, New York, offered the museum the opportunity to select from his collection of board games dating from about 1950 to 2000.
In the 1970s, a group of gaming friends added the concept of role-playing to the previously straightforward play of war games. Gamers Gary Gygax and his associate Jeff Perrin published instructions for Chainmail, a medieval war game, in 1971. This game differed from all other published war games by including a fantasy supplement based in part on the increased cultural interest in the works of fantasy authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard, author of the Conan series.