A card game played with a special pack of 44 cards, each depicting one of the members of a family. The object is to collect complete families by asking other players for cards they hold. The game was first devised in 1851 for the Great Exhibition in London, and though in theory you could use any number of modern families, there is great charm in the original names and occupations, so I shall stick to those. There are eleven families, with names reflecting their occupation: Each family has four members, father and mother, son and daughter. These are called e.g. Mr Block the Barber, Mrs Block the Barber's Wife, Master Block the Barber's Son, and Miss Block the Barber's Daughter.

Any number can play. After the whole pack is dealt out, the first player asks someone for a card. Play thereafter goes between players according to whether the request was successful. If you have some of the Pots family you can pick any other player and ask, 'Have you Miss Pots the Painter's daughter?', or whatever card you might be missing. You must already hold at least one of the family to ask for more. The object is to complete a set of four, at which point you lay it down face down in front of you. If the person you ask has the card, they give it to you, and your turn continues. If they haven't, they answer, 'Not at home', and now it's their turn to ask anyone for any card they might have. It therefore resembles Cluedo a bit in the effort to remember who else is looking for which cards and what answers have been given.

Scoring is rudimentary. The original instructions say each player starts by putting three counters (safety matches will do) into a pool. When all the families have been collected into fours and laid down, the player with the most families collects half the pool. You then play a second round asking for entire families, and the winner takes the other half. A 'please and thank you' version can be played in which failure to use the magic words vitiates the request and the turn passes to the other player.

The illustrations on the original set, published by John Jaques and Son Ltd, are delightful Victorian caricatures, reminding me somewhat of the grotesque characters in The Hunting of the Snark. They are variously fierce, dim, vain, hen-pecked, over-fed, and dirty. Some of the children are helpers in their father's occupations but others are young liabilities. (Master Pots the Painter's son is eating the paint.) Some are ineradicably gloomy, but many are undeniably happy in their ordered world, a picture of the past.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.