A Balloon Game of 21 Combinations


Adrian Seville came across another game of 21 combinations. It is probably from the late 19th century, linked to the discourse on hot air balloons.

The coloured print shows a bird's view of a landscape with a river, roads, an inland sea, and the ocean at the back. Hot air balloons are all over the image.



The colourful print (probably a chromolithograph) shows a bird’s view of a landscape with a river, roads, an inland sea, and the ocean at the back. Hot air balloons are all over the image. There is no info about the publisher, printer, or date of publication on the page.


In the bottom left foreground, next to a building with the name “Flora” above an arched entry, crowds gather near two balloons that are getting ready to start. The left balloon is in the colours of the French flag and has “Paris” written on it, the right balloon is in the colors of the German empire and marked “Berlin”. Both balloons show the national tricolours in the opposite order: red-white-blue for France, red-white-black for Germany, whereas the flags start with blue and black respectively on the hoist side. The Berlin balloon also shows two small flags, one red, another white with a diagonal cross (saltire), attached to its sides.


Twenty balloons are spread around the board. They are in various stages of flight or (sometimes troubled) landing. They are numbered from 2 to 21, and a legend on the bottom right links the dice combinations to the balloon numbers. Two combinations (1+1 and 1+2) both belong to balloon no. 2, the other balloons have a single combination each. It is unclear why there is no number 1.


The balloon numbers roughly follow a clockwise course, starting in left middle with the 2 and ending with the 21 on the right above the legend. No. 13 and 14 form the exception: These two balloons are in the center of the board, the 14 mostly out of air and landed next to the river, and the 13 downed into the waters of the inland sea.


Balloons 6, 12, and 16 are coloured blue. In red are nos. 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 14, and 20, they all appear to be in some sort of trouble. No. 2 and no. 21 are striped yellow and white; the remaining balloons are yellow.



Considering the design of the board and what we know about other games of 21 combinations, we can safely assume that this balloon game uses a put & take mechanic: Players presumably start with a fixed amount of coins or tokens, roll two six-sided dice in turn, refer to the table in the bottom right, and check the balloon connected to the combination they rolled. If the balloon is empty, they dress it with a coin, if it is already dressed, they take the coin into their personal pile. A player whose pile is empty, unable to put down a coin as required by their roll, is out, until a single player remains who wins the game.


It is unclear whether the balloon colours serve any purpose in the game rules, but it seems obvious that the four largest balloons (nos. 2, 13, 19, and 21) have a special meaning in the game. No. 13 (the red balloon downed in the water) probably was bad luck, players may have had to put down a coin here every time they rolled the respective combination (3+4), with the coins accumulating until the end of the game. This would be a similarity to Games of Seven, in which rolling a result of 7 usually means paying into a growing pile.


Balloons nos. 2, 19, and 21 may have had similar rules for accumulating coins, but it seems unlikely they would follow exactly the same pattern as the unlucky no. 13. It is possible their size on the board does not imply that they collected coins – maybe it just signifies a special rule applying for their combinations, e.g. being able to collect all the coins currently on balloons of a specific colour, or all coins on the board, apart from those on the no. 13. Without a sheet of written rules for this game all of the above will remain speculation, of course.

A historical event as potential background


Apparently in Cologne in 1889 there were balloon events during an international sports fair held near the Flora (see the entries from the summer 1889 at http://www.luftfahrtarchiv-koeln.de/1900_start.htm). Of course, other cities might had comparable events, as there were already aeronautic organizations active in some countries around this time. While the game might have been created with a specific event in mind, it could just as well have been inspired by the general balloon enthusiasm of the time.


My thanks go to Adrian for alerting me to this game, and for providing feedback on my text. All mistakes are my own.

The Wikidata object for this blog post is Q124248258.

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Jonas Richter (2024, 10. Januar). A Balloon Game of 21 Combinations. GeSpiele. Abgerufen am 20. Mai 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/vkd8

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