A remarkable 18th-century military game board

Par le Sr. Dela Suze Gendarme de la Garde du Roy / A Paris chez le Sr. Jaillot joignant les Gde. Augustins. / Cl. Lucas Sculp., ECOLE DE MARS POUR APPRENDRE FACILEMENT LA FORTIFICATION SELON LA METHODE DE M. DE VAUBAN. [i.e., "School of Mars, to Learn Easily Vauban's Method of Fortification."], Paris, 1719 .
Engraving on four sheets joined, printed image 31 ¾"h x 41"w at greatest extent, uncolored. Lined with linen, probably at an early date.

A rare and striking playing board for a game teaching Vauban’s principles of fortification. One of only a handful of examples located, of which none are in America.

The Marquis de Vauban (1633-1707) served for decades in the army of Louis VIV and achieved fame for his innovations in the both the design and reduction of fortifications. He oversaw the construction or renovation of some 160 fortifications in France, but his greatest influence was probably in siegecraft. His most significant contribution was a system of parallel siege trenches linked by zig-zagging communication trenches, which he pioneered successfully at the 1673 siege of Maastricht. Vauban’s influence was wide and enduring, and could be seen for example in Washington and Rochambeau’s conduct of the siege of Yorktown in 1782.

Offered here is a large and visually-striking engraved playing board adapting the “Game of the Goose” to the teaching of Vauban’s principles and methods of fortification. The central image is a large engraving of a fortress facing a Vauban-style siege, with the besiegers’ camp, lines of contravallation, and approach trenches clearly visible. This is surrounded by a spiral track of 87 numbered spaces, each featuring text and/or engraved plans illustrating Vauban’s approach. The corners are adorned by four rococo cartouches, including the title, geometric principles relevant to fortification, and a dedication to King Louis XV, at the time only nine years old and under the regency of Philippe, Duke of Orleans.

This example was recently disbound (by a previous owner) from a composite atlas of maps of European subjects by le Rouge and Jaillot. Louis-Charles Desnos later acquired many of Jaillot’s plates and reissued the Ecole de Mars, advertising it for example in the Mercure de France for March 16, 1782, priced 4 livres.

OCLC # 495096059, giving only an example at the Bibliotheque nationale. I find other examples at Trinity College, Dublin and the Arquivo Historico Militar in Lisbon. Board game collector Adrian Seville seems to own a later state of the Desnos edition with the dedication to Louis XV masked out, presumably reflecting the sensitivities of the Revolutionary era.


Minor soiling and spotting, old folds with some additional creasing. Lower left margin trimmed for binding in a composite atlas.