The aim of any game is to beat your opponents using a combination of skill, intelligence and dexterity. A good puzzle challenges the player to solve and beat it. The appeal of games and puzzles is that they depend on the element of chance which makes the same game different each time it is played.
Many board games have their origins in early civilisations. Spinning tops, draughtsmen and gaming pieces were buried in Egyptian tombs as early as 2000-1000BC. Tic-tac-toe boards have been found on Roman sites in Britain from the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
The first English commercial board games seem to have been race games, like the Game of Goose, introduced into England in 1597. They were printed in black and white on paper sheets, handcoloured and mounted onto linen. Games were based on the element of chance and involved players racing round a spiral board trying to avoid penalties on the way. They often involved gambling counters which players put into a central kitty.
Instructive table games became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Adults bought games for their children hoping to teach them history, geography, zoology and morality. The Victorians believed that children should not play with dice because they were associated with gambling so instead they used teetotums, numbered tops, to determine the number of moves.
Many popular games had their origins in the Orient such as chess, draughts, Halma, Ludo and Fox and Geese. Two of the first boxed games were Lotto, 1778, and Bell and Hammer, 1810. Others that remained popular are Reversi, later known as Othello, invented in 1888 and Tiddledy Winks, 1889.
Games that require co-ordination and dexeterity have existed for centuries such as tops, yo-yos and Chinese puzzles. The earliest puzzle was the Loculus, meaning 'little box', of Archimedes. This was a 14 piece dissection of a square which appeared in the 3rd century BC. Tangrams, with 7 pieces, became popular in China about 1800 and by 1820 they had spread to Europe and the United States.
In the 19th century tangram puzzles were often sold in small square Tunbridge ware boxes. Richter started producing Anchor Stone Puzzles with a booklet containing hundreds of illustrated problems in 1891. They were popular with the troops in World War I who used them to while away the hours in the trenches.
Glass-topped puzzles became popular in the 1900s where players had to attempt to knock the balls into the small holes in the picture. More recently toys like the Rubiks Cube, 1980s, caused a massive craze challenging children across the world. Such toys inspire competitiveness to increase your speed, to beat other children and to beat the puzzle itself.
Legends relating to playing cards date to the reign of the Chinese emperor Hui Tsung, 1100-1125. They were said to have been invented to relieve the boredom of the ladies at court.
The first European cards were probably made in Italy early in the 14th century. There were four suits with numbered cards from 1 to 10 and a King, Queen, Cavalier and Knave. The suits were cups, swords, coins and staves which were said to represent the four classes of medieval society; the clergy, aristocracy, merchants & peasants. In Germany the suits were hearts, acorns, bells and leaves and in France they were hearts, pikes, paving tiles and clover.
Playing cards, with the garter motto and Hanoverian arms printed on the ace of spades, made by Reynolds and Sons
Playing cards seem to have reached England between 1400 and 1463 and the suits were derived from French and Italian sources. The clothes worn by modern court cards are those of the reign of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Playing cards were hand decorated until 1832 when Thomas de la Rue patented a method of colour printing cards. He also began to decorate the backs thus hiding the flaws in the paper and making it harder to use secret dirt marks to cheat.
Thomas de la Rue introduced rounded corners and indices on cards about 1870 and double ended court cards became popular around the same time.
The joker in a pack of cards is based on the fool from sets of Tarot cards.Playing cards were subject to various taxes until 1960. Divided cards encouraged children to try and match pictures and were often coupled with simple arithmetic or spelling to instruct the child.
Children enjoyed games which involved matching cards and collecting sets such as Happy Families, Snap and Counties of England. The characters used for Happy Families, introduced in 1861 by John Jaques, were based on the drawings of Tenniel who illustrated 'Alice in Wonderland'.
Map makers such as John Spilsbury first published 'dissected puzzles' in the 1760s. Spilsbury took a map of the British counties, mounted it on thin mahogany board and cut around each of the county boundaries. Puzzles were toys for the rich costing 10s 6d for a superior puzzle. This was more than an agricultural labourer's weekly wage.
John Locke, writing 'On Education', 1693, 'always had a fancy that learning might be a play and recreation to children.' Most early puzzles were made to be instructive and had pictures teaching history, geography or religion. Early puzzles didn't have interlocking pieces and were made from mahogany or cedar wood.
By the mid 19th century the range of subjects had increased and the emphasis shifted away from purely educational to enjoyable. The invention of the jigsaw in the 1870s enabled manufacturers to cut more intricate puzzles and provided a new name for the puzzle. In 1878 Mr Eslick patented the idea of having an outer border to puzzles that was fixed to a backing board thus forming a tray.
Many 20th century puzzles have been cut to suit the ability of specific age groups, such as puzzles with large pieces and uncomplicated pictures for small children. Costs have been reduced by using various dies for cutting the whole puzzle in a single action. Today jigsaw puzzles take many shapes and forms including double-sided puzzles, 3D puzzles and mystery puzzles where the picture is unknown.