Games and Toys at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Last weekend, we were at Oxford visiting a friend and gaming buddy who is now living there and working on her PhD. We had a great time meeting again – it’s just slightly to far to go there more frequently – and  exploring the city. Among many other things there that are each worth visiting the city for, there was one thing that stood out from a gaming enthusiast perspective. Well, two things if you count my Monty Python Fluxx winning streak. The much bigger thing was the Pitt Rivers Museum.

The Pitt Rivers has an amazing collection of cultural items from all over the world, and just entering the exhibition room can be quite overwhelming. Above the ground floor, there is two galleries, and everywhere is full of display cases. The whole museum is slightly gloomy, adding to the air of mystery about the items and presumably protecting the pigment from bleaching out. The corridors between the cases are narrow, and the cases themselves are full of items, grouped thematically. There is everything from clothes to craftsmen’s tools to medical equipment to weapons, from everywhere in the world. It’s an amazing place, and I could have spend the whole day wandering around there.

The part that prompted me to take a bunch of photos to post here was… well, have a guess. On the lower gallery, there is a row of cases with toys and games that were just to beautiful not to take photos of. It turned out that many photos did not come out very well, due to the lighting conditions and reflections on the glass of the cases. But the ones that worked out are awesome, and to see the rest you can (and should) go there to see the whole collection.Trust me when I say it’s worth it.

Gambling Dice
Gambling Dice made from deer antler. This design for 4-sided dice been mostly abandoned for the little pyramidal things that most role players will own a few off. Geometrically speaking, they are of course 6-sided, but in their function as dice, they only have four sides that will point upwards when thrown.

Chinese Gambling Sticks
Chinese Gambling Sticks. Sadly, I have no idea what was played with these. Enlighten me if you do.
Playing cards from Burma
Playing cards from Burma. The tag reads "...marked in red and black, like dominoes...". So presumably, only their marking is like dominoes and their use is like modern playing cards.
American Indian Bone Dice
A bowl with bone dice. Actually, they are tossing coins, but the value of a toss might be based on the combination they come up in. Also in the bowl is a set of counting sticks, for bidding or counting score.
Italian Tarot Cards
Italian Tarot Cards. Tarot cards were actually used for playing for quite a long time before being used for divination as they are today.
Coirligheile Puzzle
Coirligheile Puzzle. This looks like one of the many modern wooden take apart and put back together puzzles. I would have loved to be allowed to handle it.
Main Chakot
Main Chakot. A game played similarly to the African Wari game (one variant of Mancala). It is played by taking all seeds from one "house" and dropping one of them in each house counter-clockwise from there. Each of the opponents houses that ends up with two or three seeds after a move is emptied, it's contents are captured by the current player. With a very simple rules, this game requires a remarkable amount of foresight to play successfully.
An Indian pachisi game, the ancestor to modern games like Ludo and Mensch-ärgere-dich-nicht.
Shogi is a japanese relative of the western chess game and developed from the same ancestors. The modern variant is very different from chess, though.
Chess Pieces
Chess Pieces. I actually neglected to take a picture of the tag, but I'm pretty sure these are chess pieces.
Many-sided dice
Many-sided dice. These things were not invented by the role playing industry, no matter what people tell you. This beautiful old dice was used in gambling and/or divination a long time before anyone considered killing dragons by throwing d20 at them.
Potsz. A chinese gambling game, a bit like roulette.

One comment

Leave a Reply