Rare 1870 McLoughlin Bros. Game of Tight Rope
Collecting games and researching their history provides an adventure off board. The 1870 McLoughlin Bros. game of Tight Rope is such an example. The images and story for the game not only include the most famous tight rope walker of the time, Blondin, but a deeper layer of meaning is also noticed. Although games were made for enjoyment, they reflected events and beliefs of the time. Realizing these treasures is as fun as playing the game.
Published in 1870, the board shows an amusing scene with a tight rope stretched across a river flowing down from a waterfall. Directions for the game state ‘Ben’, who stands on the cliff dressed in the sailor suit has already crossed safely. The four walkers still attempting to get to the other side by way of the rope are named Ez, Uncle Tom, Fatty Fisk, and ‘the expert Blondin’.
Charles Blondin is famous for first walking across Niagara Falls Gorge on a tight rope in 1859. He would later walk across numerous other times and entertain the crowds by crossing blindfolded, on stilts, or with his manager on his back. He is even known to have stopped midway to cook an egg!
Obviously these stunts received attention and provided inspiration for bringing the excitement to the game board, and so no wonder Blondin is depicted on the rope.
The game board also shows people falling from the tight rope and landing in the water below. These are named in the directions too. Ebenezer is tumbling into the water, only Nebuchasnezzar’s feet are shown as he sinks below the water, Ezekiel is swimming to shore, and Jeremiah is said to be going up the ladder.
The boat in the scene is named as well. Commanded by Uncle Sam and carrying a small African-American boy, the boat represents the Freedmen’s Bureau. This agency was created in 1865 to help the newly freed slaves. With the tight rope bridging the gap, and the dangers of failing, the game is seen to give subtle references to the post civil war era.
The game of Tight Rope I have (shown here) is an early form of McLoughlin Bros. ‘bookcase’ style games. It is a rare find. The game image rests on a wooden frame with its underside disclosing two other game boards. When closed, the inside space holds the three game’s implements and then all games are kept within a decorative covered slipcase. The outer shell displays the imagery for the game of Tight Rope.
Most Tight Rope games found and collected from this time today are made from cardboard. This bi-fold game board has a chromolithographed image attached, and doesn’t include the two other games on the reverse.
Tight Rope is played by the rolling of two dice and is for any number of players. Each player takes turns throwing the dice in attempt to cross the rope.
To step on the rope (place his piece on space 1), a player must roll a 1. To move across to number 12, a player must then throw the next number to where his piece rests. This is done by either one die providing the number or a combination of the two. If a player does not roll the number needed to move his piece one step ahead, the player then moves down the grid. Whenever he rolls the number needed (no matter how far down the grid he is), he moves to the number near the rope. If the player does not roll the needed number and is in the last space below his numbered step, he moves back one step.
Sure, Tight Rope is a complete game of chance; meaning the rolling of dice determines whether any player wins or loses. However, it is still a lot of fun to play. I love getting it out of the game closet every now and then to see who can cross the ‘tight rope’ first.
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