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The Mansion Of Happiness - An American... classic?
Head in the Clouds
Updated: Monday, Jan 15, 2018
Hello, Chaz Marler from Pair Of Dice Paradise here, reminding you that you can thank the Industrial Revolution for your favorite board game. Here’s what I mean. As a result of the industrialization and urbanization of the United States in the early 19th century, members of the American middle class suddenly obtained something that they had rarely possessed before: increased leisure time. As a result, families began to look for activities to share during their growing spare time, and, as a result, demand for children's board games slowly began to increase; especially ones that emphasized the wholesome Christian principles, morals and values that their children certainly weren’t learning down at the factory.

And in answer to the growing demand, in 1843 Parker Brothers introduced what may be the second oldest board game ever published in the United States, The Mansion of Happiness - a game that, according to Margaret Hofer in The Games We Played: The Golden Age Of Board & Table Game, was quote, “based on Puritan worldview that Christian virtue and deeds were assurances of happiness and success in life.”

Apparently, Puritanism was really big in the 1840’s as it not only influenced the game’s theme, but even its mechanisms as well. For example, the game didn’t didn’t use dice, or Satan’s gambling utensils as I assume everyone playing this game in 1843 probably called them. No, instead of dice, the game used a top-like component called a teetotum, whatever that is. Oh, it’s like the result of an unholy union between a top and a die. Disturbing. But at least you spin it and not roll it. Because, priorities.

As for the game itself, The Mansion of Happiness is a simple game where players roll and move around a track -- I’m sorry, players TEETOTUM and move -- around a track of 60 spaces, dodging and weaving passed spaces with such family friendly locations as Audacity, Immodesty, Ingratitude, the Pillory, Ruin, and The Whipping Post. (I think I’m starting to see why kids played outside a lot more back then.)

Each of these spaces included unique rules that combined edutainment with abject horror. And, thanks to the fact that a copy of the first edition rules was achieved in the Library Of Congress back in 1843, I can share these rules with you now. So sit back, grab a refreshing glass of stagnant well water, and kick off your undecorated buckle hat and shoes, as I teach YOU how to play The Mans ion of Happiness.

To play The Mansion of Happiness, piously roll the teetotum and move that number of spaces. Then do what that space says. Then… nope, that’s pretty much it. Some of the exciting within reason adventures players will have during their journey to The Mansion of Happiness include:

Whoever arrives at the Inn, pays one token for a refreshment and continues on to space number 12. Okay.

Whoever possess Piety, Honesty, Temperance, Gratitude, Prudence, Truth, Chastity, Sincerity, Humility, Industry, Charity, Humanity, or Generosity is entitled to advance six spaces towards the Mansion Of Happiness. Oh, that’s nice.

Whoever gets in a Passion must be taken to the Water, have a ducking to cool him, and pay a fine of one. Oh… kay.

Whoever possesses Audacity, Cruelty, Immodesty, or Ingratitude must return to their former situation until their next turn, during which time they must not even THINK of Happiness, much less partake of it. Actual rule.

Whoever is confined in the Prison cannot leave until either their allotted time expires, or another person guilty of the same crime is also sent there, because that’s totally how the justice system works.

Whoever becomes a Perjurer must be pay a fine and be put in the Pillory - which I’m not sure is referring to a space in the game.

Whoever becomes a Sabbath Breaker must be taken to the Whipping Post, pays a fine, and, according to the rules, IS WHIPPED.

Whoever becomes a Cheat loses a turn, pays a fine, and then starts the game over again. No thanks, I’d rather be whipped.

And whoever arrives at the Mansion Of Happiness wins the game. But, if the player throws over, they may go back to the Seat of Expectation and spin again in turn. But, if they throw over AGAIN, this time they must start the game over. Which sounds harsh, but does present the opportunity for additional whipping.

Now, all those rules would certainly be enough to make The Mansion of Happiness a perfectly serviceable game. But there’s one more rule, and it’s this rule, rule number 16, that truly demonstrates why The Mansion of Happiness was the late 19th century game that moms love and kids crave:

Rule Sixteen: When two persons come together, the last player must take possession of the place he comes to, and pay one for so doing. The other person must return to the place from whence he came, and not pay one; except, first, when two come together and the last player is found guilty of an offence. He, after having paid his fine, must take the place of the former, without paying more; the other person must advance or return (if not a Cheat or Robber, see rule 10 and 13) to the original place of the last player, and not pay any. Secondly, when two come together at the House Of Correction or the Prison, and one is confined for a crime, in that case, as the last player cannot relieve the person confined, he must return to the place from whence he came, and spin again. Should he spin as before, he must remain as he was. Now, I don’t really know what’s going on there, but I’m pretty sure it’s describing how a top and a die become a teetotum.

And so, there you have it. You now know how to play The Mansion of Happiness. My apologies. However, as bizarre as this game may seem on the surface, its popularity during America’s seminal period of newfound leisure time most certainly helped drive demand for the next board game. And the next, and the next, and so on and so forth until modern times, where we’ve come a long way, having developed games that are designed much better and offer an infinite number of decisions to make, like my sarcastic examples of Chutes And Ladders, TENZI, or Agricola if you totally play it wrong.

So, mock The Mansion of Happiness if you will - just don’t do it on space twenty-five or you’ll lose a turn at the Summit Of Dissipation. But more importantly, don’t do it because without this game helping to pave the way for American game publishers, modern tabletop games and activities may have evolved into something much different than the hobby we know and love today.
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