Traditional pub games

These traditional games date back for many years and are rooted in village culture – perfect for playing in the pub

Pub in winter with fire

Pub games are embedded in the history and heritage of many of our villages and towns. Standing the test of time, many of these simple games are still played today   

From board games and dice to backgammon and billiards, here are some of our favourite traditional pub games.

Dominoes
Regulars drink, smoke, and relax with a game of dominoes in a pub near the Elephant And Castle, in south London ©Getty
1

Backgammon

One of the oldest games on this list, Backgammon involves trying to block your opponent’s checkers as you try to get yours off the board. Evidence of this game has been found at Egyptian archaeological sites and in 2004, the oldest Backgammon board to date was found, also being the oldest ever board game to be found.

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2

Three Mens Morris

Three Mens Morris is a game that everyone knows today as ‘Noughts and Crosses’ or ‘Tic Tac Toe’. A grid with 9 points is used and the first person to get three of their pieces in a row wins. Evidence of this game has been found in Egypt dating back to 1440 B.C.

3

Marbles

There is evidence of Greeks, Egyptians and Romans all playing marbles making this game very old indeed. The traditional pub rules is to hit marbles inside a circle with your shooting marbles in order to get them out of the circle to win them.

4

Billiards

This game was originally played on the ground in the 14th century, but is now played on tables. Each player has a ball that they hit into the ‘port’ (a hoop) and then back to hit the ‘King’ (a skittle) at the other end.

Playing Pool
Two men playing pool at the so-called Grandfathers’ Club at Elephant and Castle, London ©Getty
5

Ringing the Bull

Originating from the 12th century, this game involved players throwing a ring, which would be tied to string on the ceiling, onto a Bull’s horn on the wall. Nowadays, pubs use metal hooks instead of horns. The tradition can be experienced at The Murrell Arms in West Sussex.

6

Dominoes

It is unclear as to when Dominoes first started being played but it is believed that the traditional ones were descended from Chinese dominoes, maybe as early as the 11th century. The rules involve taking turns to match opponents’ dominoes until the winner has none left.

The Arms Public House - Stow Bardolph King's Lynn Norfolk.©Alamy

7

Pitch Penny

It seems that this game started being most well known at the start of the 20th century. A random hole is found, for example in a wall or in a chair, and players take it in turn to get a penny into it. A similar game called Toad in the Hole originated in East Sussex and is particularly played in the town of Lewes. The only alteration is that a specific box or table is used instead of finding any possible hole. Visit The King’s Head in Lewes to have a go.

8. DraughtsAnother game that has ancient Egyptian origins is Draughts. The game involves capturing your opponent’s pieces whilst attempting to get to the other side of the board.

8

Skittles

Now popularised by modern ‘bowling’, skittles originally consisted of wooden balls being thrown to knock down as many skittles as possible. It is unclear as to when it originates but was played in the 19th century and is still played in pubs today. The Frog and Wicket in Eversley has a traditional skittles alley.

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9

Bagatelle

Dating from the 18th to 19th centuries, Bagatelle involved potting as many balls as possible into the holes at the other end of the table in order to gain points to win.