When we started working on our private Marie-Antoinette experience, in which a few lucky participants get to spend a couple of hours in the company of the Queen and one of her favorites, we were keenly aware of the complexity of adapting her story, which we’d first done through a 2h-long live show featuring a cast of 11 characters, into something that could be told through an intimate setting and only two actresses.
What had always attracted us to Marie-Antoinette were the many facets of her character and her unexpected modernity, and it was essential to us that people not only have fun and get to interact with the most famous Queen of France, but that they also leave the experience with a much deeper understanding of her life.
How could we ensure this would happen organically? The participants weren’t entering the Queen’s most exclusive circle of close friends to feel like they were sitting in a lecture hall! Could we turn the Queen’s life stories into a game?
That’s when I remembered the hours I’d spent playing the Game of Goose when I was kid, and how lovely the illustrations had been. I also knew, through all the research I’d done on the 18th century, that the game had not only already existed back then, but it had been extremely popular; some people had giant outdoors versions in which the players’ valets acted as the pawns!
Another interesting thing was that the game board had often been used as a pedagogical tool, whether it was to tout the benefits of the revolution or to teach kids the lives of previous sovereigns. A Game of Goose decorated with illustrations from the key moments of Marie-Antoinette's reign would be the perfect tool for the Queen to reminisce about her life and for the participants to ask questions, all while trying to get to the finish line first (and that is not an easy feat - as we’ve mentioned before, the Queen is not above cheating!).
There existed no such board, but that was not a problem:
we would make our own!
Making the base of the board was easy enough. I then set out to divide Marie-Antoinette’s life into tiny chunks, key moments that would both be easy to illustrate with a single image and summarize in a few sentences whenever someone fell on a story-space (some of the spaces are just birds and other animals the Queen would have liked, to make sure the game’s pace isn’t too slow).
The funniest thing was finding stories for the game’s special spaces: the Well, in which a player is stuck until another player comes to save them, would become the King’s forge, since Louis XVI was notoriously capable of working there for hours at a time; the Bridge, which sends players several spaces ahead, was turned into the flight to Varennes; and obviously, Death became the guillotine. Once I had all my stories, the hardest part was left: find the illustrations to populate the board’s 63 spaces.
I had two requisites: I wanted the illustrations to be from the 18th century, or as close to the era as possible, and I wanted them all to be 100% free of rights and free for commercial use. Thankfully, finding what I needed was much easier than I’d anticipated: for years, museums all around the world have been uploading their artworks and making most of them available to the public to use in any way they wish. Many happy hours were spent searching those sites and determining which illustrations I wanted to use… and many more which I saved for my personal collection!
After a few weeks of hard work, our first prototype was born. At first, we only printed it on a piece of paper and laminated it - even though not having a real board would slightly lessen the immersion, this would be an easy way to test the game live.
The game worked as intended, providing a fun way for Marie-Antoinette to share stories about her life while keeping participants entertained, especially when one of our actresses had the genius idea to ask players to quack and flap their wings whenever their pawn stopped on a goose! The board had filled its purpose, and after tweaking the rules to maximize everybody’s enjoyment, we decided it was time to get serious: we ordered an actual prototype from a game manufacturer.
The process to go from our original design to a professionally printed board is tedious, so I will spare you the details, but the result speaks for itself. For now, we only have the one, but who knows, maybe one day it will be available for any fan to buy!