The Game of the Goose originated in Italy and is regarded as the father of the modern race game. It was probably based on earlier games from the Far and Middle East but the first mention of it is as a gift sent by Francesco de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Florence (1574-1587) to King Philip II of Spain. The game was called Gioco dell’Oca and it introduced the new element ofthemes and illustrations into a board game. The game has remained remarkably consistent in all its variations over the years.
The basic design of the game and its layout is adhered to in all games of goose. The playing surface is a track, usually a spiral, with 63 numbered playing spaces. Players begin by placing an agreed stake into a pool, usually in the centre. They then move their playing pieces along the track, each move dictated by the throw of two dice. The winner is the player who reaches the last numbered space, 63, with an exact throw. If a greater number than is required is thrown, the player must move their piece to 63 and then backwards down the track. The winner receives all the stakes in the pool. Many of the playing spaces are blank, others have illustrations and set eventualities. There are usually 13 spaces with a picture of a goose. Landing on these means you can move forwards again by the same number you have just thrown. Other pictures feature a pair of dice, a bridge, an inn, a well, a maze, a prison, death and a goblet. Most of these involve paying an extra stake and either missing a turn or moving to a certain space (either forward or back). Death is the worst space and is placed near the end of the game. Landing here means starting again at the beginning.
The game quickly spread through Europe and first appeared in England at the end of the 16th century when John Wolfe registered “the newe and most pleasant game of the Goose” at Stationers Hall on June 16 1597. The version of the game illustrated here is apparently a reprint or a re-engraving of a plate used for an edition of the game issued at the end of the 18th or the beginning of the 19th century. Instead of the more usual sequence of numbered spaces, this design places the playing area within the body of a goose. The numbering starts beneath the goose’s eye and continues from right to left, and back from left to right across the body to the last number, 63, which is at the bottom by one of the legs. It does have the usual illustrations and most of these appear on the traditionally numbered spaces. Oddly though there are only eleven goose spaces instead of the usual thirteen. There is no skill at all involved in the Game of Goose – it is entirely governed by luck.