After seeing the demo of a new board game at The Story Museum, what (I thought) could be better as a follow up than to visit an exhibition of Edwardian board games? The games on show are part of a new collection that has recently been donated to the Bodleian. And as it turns out it is a good display, but to call it an exhibition is a bit of an inflation: on offer is a selection of perhaps 12 games, in one enormous case on the wall of the main hall.
The recently acquired Ballam collection that these games have been chosen from is enormous - the first draft of the catalogue is available at the welcome desk and is easily 30 pages, each line containing the name of a game and its publisher. There wouldn't be room to display all of it if one was prepared to devote the whole of the main space to such frivolities.
The selection on display show board games as a means to explore history and geography. Some teach children the trade routes of the empire, or depict foreign nationals to a young Englishman or woman (not too favourably, as you might imagine). One depicts the struggles of Suffragettes vs Policemen but without playing it you can't see which way it is biased.
Of course, this is always going to be the problem with such a display - games, like the Stradivarius in the Ashmolean, or the songbooks in Duke Humphries, were not made to be admired through glass. It is as tantalising as it is interesting to see these games. The catalogue informs me that the rest of the collection can be seen with the right kind of Bod card (category A). But I would love it if the conservators could compromise with the general public and allow the games to be played, just occasionally.
The Weston itself is really lovely - a vast and sunlit space downstairs, complete with a neat little cafe and dangerously desirable gift shop full of book-related goods. Across the other side of the main space from the games is another vast case, holding a tapestry map from 1590 which shows Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire. It's gorgeous, and well worth a look, as is the main exhibition which is currently illuminated texts (mainly Christian) from Armenia. The horse Bucephalus made up of other animals is particularly fine, as is the display about what the pigments are made from.
So I'd say don't set aside a whole afternoon, but do pop in if you're passing.