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Native American Antecedents of Two Proprietary Board Games

Philip M. Winkelman


The ways new games typically develop might be viewed as a continuum ranging from very gradual “evolution” based on mutations introduced to a single progenitor during play or recall, to sudden “intelligent design” based on a purposeful and original combination — or even invention — of ludemes independent of any particular lines of transmission.

This paper argues that two proprietary 20th-century games, C.A. Neves’s Fang den Hut! and Lizzie Magie’s The Landlord’s Game, were developed in a different way, a bit outside the typical continuum. It analyzes the games’ general typologies, and specific ludemes, concluding that both games are modern adaptations of traditional Native American games encountered, not through play or even contact with players, but through the seminal ethnographic publications of Stewart Culin. Specifically, Fang den Hut! derives from Boolik via Games of the North American Indians, and The Landlord’s Game derives from Zohn Ahl via Chess and Playing-Cards.

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