The Vault

A 19th-Century Board Game Made to Teach Young Germans About Colonialism

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Deutschland’s Kolonien-Spiel, game pieces, circa 1890.

The Getty Research Institute

This Deutschland’s Kolonien-Spiel, or “Game of Germany’s Colonies,” toured child players through German territories abroad. Images of the game were recently digitized by the Getty Research Institute, which holds a surviving example.

In 1890, when this game was published, Germany was on its way out of a decade in which it had acquired land in present-day Togo, Cameroon, Namibia, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi, during the so-called “Scramble for Africa.” (In the late 19th century, the country also held territories in the Pacific and China.) Historian Woodruff D. Smith writes that after an economic depression in 1873, “different groups [had] converged on the idea of colonies as a solution to Germany’s problems.” The game’s cheerful boosterism draws from these beliefs.

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Writing about the game play (which is described in the German-language instructions affixed to the underside of the game’s box top), the Getty’s Sarah Zabrodski describes a game meant to feel like a tour. The players start with a certain number of coins, and, Zabrodski writes, “quickly learn that traveling costs money. … In each location, players gain or lose money based on what they see and accumulate.”

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The indigenous people of each colony were used to provide color—as the game’s box lid, featuring several racist caricatures, demonstrates. “Players witness indigenous dancing (cost: two marks) in several locations,” Zabrodski writes. “In one locale, a magician recounts old tales accompanied by music, while in Cameroon, the native people perform exercises in war canoes.”

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It’s interesting to compare this Kolonien-Spiel to a 1941 game of colonialism that was sold in France (and is also part of the Getty’s collections).

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Deutschland’s Kolonien-Spiel, box lid, circa 1890.

The Getty Research Institute

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Deutschland’s Kolonien-Spiel, game board, circa 1890.

The Getty Research Institute

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Deutschland’s Kolonien-Spiel, box view with game pieces, circa 1890.

The Getty Research Institute

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