The Game of Dr. Busby

What made card games and board games so popular? Most agree that the game to blame was “Old Dr. Busby”, a card game from the mid-19th century that swept the nation.

A miss Anne W. Abbott from Salem, Massachusetts designed the game. Abbott, the daughter of Reverend Abiel Abbott, designed a number of games in her lifetime that were quite popular in their time. But Dr. Busby was the first and undoubtedly most popular.

Published in 1843, the game came in a gold cloth case with yellow printed instructions and four sets of five cards, each in different colors for each family category. This was before mass printing was created, so the cards were hand colored.

Here are the rules (courtesy of

“The starting player begins by asking the player on his right for any card not in his own hand. If that player has the card he calls for, he gives it to him and the starting player may call for another card and so on until he calls for a card which the player doesn’t have. Then the next player takes his turn, but must first call for those cards which have been called for and obtained by the first player. Thus it becomes a game of memory since any incorrect call ends a turn. When a player has called every card from the player on the right (thus putting that player out of the game), he may continue to call from the next player on the right. At the end of the game, the winner will have successfully called all the cards into his own hand.”

The game sold 15,000 copies in its first eighteen months.

Parker Brothers bought the rights to the game in 1887 and the company emphasized the game as the “first published game in America”.

You can still find decks of Dr. Busby, though often some cards will be missing. What better way to participate in history than to play a game of Dr. Busby?

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