Games have been an integral part of what makes a pub what it is for as long as pubs themselves have been around. Often absorbing to those involved and baffling to outsiders, they form an important part of the activity that goes on in a pub.
In times gone by the Monarchy and Government alike have tried to control the playing of pub games amongst their subjects including darts and dominoes which was described as ‘a very childish game’. Fines were even introduced under the reigns of Edward III and Edward VI as well as later the threat of taking away a pub’s licence if they allowed games to be played. However, as these and other pub games remain as popular as ever the efforts to stifle this form of people’s entertainment appears to have been unsuccessful.
Popular Games today
These games are still regularly played in pubs all over the UK, some to professional levels:
Cribbage – a popular card game which is still played across the country, despite gaining infamy when its creator Sir John Suckling made a fortune travelling all over England and cheating by playing with marked cards.
Backgammon (originally know as Nard and Tables) – possibly the oldest pub game, backgammon came to England from the Middle East and became popular mainly due to the gambling aspect of it. It survived laws aimed at getting rid of it.
Draughts – this board game also has its origins in the Middle East, and like Backgammon probably also came back with returning Crusaders in the 11th Century.
Skittles – played in many forms across the country but became popular in pubs as ‘table skittles’. This variance is for indoor use with nine small wooden skittles on a raised wooden base, and a ball attached to a chain which players swing to knock over the skittles.
Billiards – another game which became associated with disorderly and riotous behaviour and was banned from licensed premises in 1757. As one of the ‘cue sports’ played with a cue to strike balls across a cloth covered table, billiards is also sometimes used as the umbrella term to cover other sports in the category such as pool and snooker.
Dominoes – still a very popular game it is played with a set of 120 pieces also known as tiles, stones, bones, doms or cards, with different numbers of dots. Some suggest that the game came to England from China but there are also those that believe that it originated in Italy or Spain. Despite coming under attack for being childish, boring and then when temperance campaigners linked pub games to alcohol consumption it has endured to the present day.