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AS PARENTS, we got away lightly on the electronic games for Christmas front. Apart from a Game Boy apiece and a few games to play on that actually actively encouraged them to keep quiet on long journeys, our money went elsewhere. Heaven help today's generation of parents whose offspring are bombarded with adverts for the latest must-have shoot 'em up or whatever.

Oddly, we didn't do much with board games either, but we're making up for it ... except our quest now is the board games our grandparents played with. It's fascinating territory, and what's more, they're still affordable.

The latest addition to our collection is the lidded sycamore box used to hold the game counters for Halma (or Alma, as it was called originally). The Business Manager (Mrs P) spotted the box at an antiques fair last weekend, price: PS10. She remembered we already had the board for the game.

Then, surprise, surprise, at another fair on the same day, we found The Book of Games, an amazing compendium of rules and information about long forgotten pastimes.

True, the book has seen better days and the jig-saw which would have made up the inside of the front cover is long gone, and some child has scribbled across numerous pages as they are wont to do when they get bored. But the important thing is we now know how to play Halma as well as a host of other parlour games the book lists.

The game commemorates the Battle of Alma of 1854, which marked the outbreak of the Crimean War. Now we know why the lid of the box we bought is decorated with a picture of red-coated infantrymen firing at an advancing line of sword-waving Russians. The game is derived from an earlier pastime, however, taken from the Greek word for "jump". The idea is to transfer one's counters from camp, diagonally across the board to that of the opposition.

We'll try it as soon as we have amassed sufficient game counters: two players each need 19 of them.

Children of all ages have been playing board games for millennia, pre-dating literacy and numeracy. We're interested in the games that have printed boards, first made to supplement the income of map and print sellers. We'll also be looking out for a copy of FRB Whitehouse's 1951 book Table Games of Georgian and Victorian Days, in which the author notes that a companion booklet to Betts's Portable Globe contains a list of 12,000 of them.

So, no shortage of examples to chase. The question is, how many have survived? Clearly, the later, mass-produced games of the early 20th century will be more common. This was the golden age of the board game and one company produced more than most: Chad Valley.

Its founder was Anthony Bunn Johnson, who established a printing and bookbinding business in Birmingham in the early 19th century. By 1860, the company was called Messrs Johnson Bros, being run by his sons who concentrated production on labels and envelopes.

In 1897, one of the brothers, Joseph, and his grandson, Alfred, built a new factory in Harborne, just outside Birmingham in the valley of a stream known locally as the Chad. …