Tabletop Day Inspiration at CMA

Play more games–and see more art! International Tabletop Day is coming up on April 29. Tabletop Day is a day dedicated to playing board games and having fun with friends and family, with events all over the world. Since plenty of board games are set in locations and eras represented in our collections, here are a few ideas for what to play inspired by works of art in the galleries. 


Mourners from the Tomb of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (1364-1404), 1404-1410. Claus de Werve (Netherlandish, 1380-1439). Vizille alabaster, 1958.66. 

In Gallery 109 are mourners from the tombs of Philip the Bold and John the Fearless, both dukes of Burgundy. Located in what’s now western France, the kingdom of Burgundy was a center of trade and culture in the late medieval period. In the game Castles of Burgundy, take on the role of a Burgundian noble and rule over your region by establishing settlements, building castles, and trading along the river. This is a great game if you like a combination of both luck and strategy. Even if dice hate you, it’s still possible to use other mechanics to play effectively. Another medieval-themed game is Ora et Labora, in which you build up a medieval monastery and town, though fair warning: it’s a pretty heavy hitter both in terms of strategy and time. 


Peafowl and Phoenixes, late 1500s. Attributed to Tosa Mitsuyoshi (Japanese, 1539-1613). Pair of six-fold screens; ink, and color, and gold on gilded paper, 1986.2. 

A pair of folding screens in the Japanese Gallery, 235A, depicts a beautiful garden with phoenixes and peafowl strolling through bamboo and paulownia trees. In the 1500s and 1600s, both birds appeared on textiles and in paintings used for ceremonies centered on the emperor. In the game Takenoko, you play as a gardener responsible for growing the bamboo in that same emperor’s gardens. There’s a wrinkle, though: you’re also responsible for a panda given to the emperor, and he’ll eat your bamboo if you don’t watch out! Another great game set in Japan is Tokaido, a beautifully illustrated game in which players travel the road from Kyoto to Edo and have to gather souvenirs, see scenic views, and eat delicious meals along the way. 


Front Face of a Stela (Free-standing Stone with Relief), 692. Mesoamerica, Guatemala, Department of the Petén, El Perú (also known as Waka'), Maya people (AD 250-900), Classic Period (AD 200-1000). Limestone, 1967.29. 

A stone stele depicting a noble Mayan lady stands at the entrance to Gallery 233. Adorned with a quetzal feather headdress and carrying a scepter and shield, she once ruled El Perú-Waka’, a provincial Maya town. Although it doesn’t include El Perú-Waka,’ T’Zolkin: The Mayan Calendar is a game set in the same era that uses several other Mayan cities as well as an innovative set of interlocking gears. You place workers on the wheels to gain resources, build buildings, and make offerings to the gods, but watch out: as other players spin the wheels you may not end up where you thought you would!


Top: Amphora (Wine Jug), 520-510 BC. Greece, Athens, 6th Century BC. Black-figure terracotta, 1926.241. 

Bottom: Head of King Userkaf, c. 2454-2447 BC. Egypt, Old Kingdom, Dynasty 5, reign of Userkaf. Painted limestone, 1979.2. 

Visit Galleries 102, 103, and 107 to see works of art from the ancient world, including Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, and Egypt. The ancient world is definitely a popular theme for board games, with several great ones to choose from. 7 Wonders is a nice choice for a larger group, playing up to seven. Players pass cards to collect resources, buildings, and scientific advancements in order to build one of the wonders of the ancient world, and there’s a bunch of expansions that bring in gods, new wonders, and different game mechanics. Another game set in the ancient world is Imhotep, in which you must build pyramids and monuments for the pharaoh in ancient Egypt. It’s a quick game to learn, but you also have to think ahead because other players’ actions can drastically change your plans. 

The Dream, 1931. Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989), oil on canvas, 2001.34. 

In Dalí’s Surrealist paintings, you’ll see strange, dreamlike figures and landscapes. Surrealists like Dalí explored the world of the unconscious mind, bringing mysterious visions to life on canvas. If this kind of wild imagery appeals to you, then Dixit is your game. Players use cards illustrated with surreal scenes to tell stories–without showing the card the story is about—and the other players must guess what card inspired it. With seven expansions’ worth of new cards in addition to the base game, there are some amazing stories to be told.  

If you need more inspiration for games to play check out the Tabletop Day website. Happy Tabletop Day! 


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