Many may not know this, but board games have been used as a way to come together and imagine a better world for over 100 years. In the early 1900s, the British Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a women’s suffrage group, was part of the distribution of two different board games about fighting for their rights. One of them, called Suffragetto, can still be played today. Since we design and sell our own board games about fighting for a better world, we love uncovering the stories of how games have been used as a force for change.
We previously wrote about Suffragetto in an article for the online magazine Truthout, about the secret history of progressive board games:
Suffragetto was recently brought back to the world’s attention thanks to the only remaining known copy being displayed at the Playing with History exhibit at the University of Oxford. It was first created around 1909 by the British Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a militant women’s suffrage organization known for tactics ranging from hunger strikes to property damage. Suffragetto is like many older board games in that it is just for two players. One player takes on the role of the suffragettes, while the other represents the police.
In the game, the suffragettes have a home base of Albert Hall (which was a popular location for their rallies), while the police start around the House of Commons. The goal is to capture the other team’s base. According to the website Suffrajitsu:
‘Each side includes five larger markers, representing the Leaders of the suffragettes and the Inspectors of the police, respectively.
Gameplay is engaged as each side takes turns in attempting to out-manoeuvre the other, capturing opposing markers by jumping over them as in chess or checkers. “Arrested” suffragette markers must remain within the Prison section of the board, while “disabled” police constable markers must remain within the Hospital section…’
Suffragetto roughly represents real tactics used by some suffragettes in the UK, and a tactic that has gained popularity recently here in the United States: interrupting a politician’s speech. In this way, it’s clear that the game served both as a means for activists to play with their ideals (literally and figuratively) and spread the word about their movement.
After we wrote this article, we discovered that the British Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was involved in another board game about their cause, called Pank-a-Squith. While they didn’t invent it, they did distribute it. According to an article in the BBC:
The board game was first advertised in the Votes for Women newspaper on 22 October 1909.
It was distributed and sold through a network of shops run by the Women’s Social and Political Union.
Valuer John Keightley found the game at an event held by Hansons Auctioneers in Alveston, Stratford.
He said: “It’s a wonderful find. It dates back to around 1909 and is probably German.
“Pank-a-Squith was made to entertain supporters of the suffragette movement while raising funds for them and promoting their cause.
“It is essentially a glorified version of snakes and ladders where suffragette figures have to negotiate the board while avoiding arrest.”
While how exactly to play Pank-a-Squith may forever be lost to the world, you can still play Suffragetto today by printing it out. The gameplay is likely out of date compared to many modern board games, but the experience of playing a historic board game about social change is sure to be a blast!
Support Our Work
TESA is proud to lead the development of games, tools, and programs for social change. You can support our work while having fun: buy our games about changing the world. TESA can also work with you to build a game, program, or tool for your cause!