The Riddle of the Goose Game
For all its historical prevalence, no one seems to know whence this game "of the Goose" materialized, or what is so special about it to make it such
a long- running success. We may appreciate geese for their down or for dinner, but why for a dice game? And why these odd "special fields" on the board?
The Bridge and the Well may pass as landmarks along a path, and the Inn, too -- but a Prison and a Death square? And the Maze is strange not only by its very presence but also by what it does: you would expect to get lost inside the maze and not find your way out for a while, but instead you are whisked back to the field just before the Well!
Did this whimsical game really spread like wildfire, or had it been a steady flame all along, a staple like Backgammon but ignored by game-disdaining chroniclers with their scratchy goose quills? Not very likely, because they have left us detailed accounts and dozens of gameboards from Tabula to Tables, as Backgammon was called in Roman and then Medieval times.
(An interesting sidelight is that at the end of Backgammon games the players "bear off" their counters, just as the pieces are "borne" or carried off in the Game of the Goose. Could there be a connection to being "born" [the same root word], hinting at the idea of rebirth as symbolized in other artifacts from antiquity? Why get "born" at the end, when the game is all over for them? And why the Backgammon rule to turn the inner court towards the light?)
Or did, perhaps, some ingenious game inventor in Medici's Florence fathom the feelings of his compatriots so well that the game based on such insights became so great a success? Not very likely, either, that such Leonardo-like skill would have remained anonymous!
More probable is that the game had evolved over time, like Backgammon and Chess and other evergreen cultural fixtures, and was then rediscovered or reincarnated after some temporary eclipse, as happens sometimes among boardgames.
No way to know the answer unless we find some clues to the game before it went into hiding. For now it's a mystery. But there might be places to look for clues.
Renaissance culture returned for much of its inspiration to sources in antiquity. A century or so before Francesco dei Medici, his great-grandfather, Lorenzo the Magnificent, had welcomed with open arms the flocks of Greek scholars fleeing from the Turkish takeovers of Constantinople in 1453 and Athens in 1456.
These scholars brought with them old parchments for the Medicis' new library and translated mostly Greek documents wholesale. Could the Goose have slipped in with them into Renaissance Florence?
If we want to know what this game is all about so we can restore it to its proper context, a jump back through time and distance, to some possible roots for this Renaissance era offshoot, might be a logical start.
Continue, or buy the Game of the Goose and of the Labyrinth at www.gamepuzzles.com