7 Traditional Pub Games to Keep You Warm this Winter

As the winter season approaches, we thought it would be a good time to explore some of our favorite traditional pub games. 

 
While we always love a game of pool or darts, and these are still traditional games in their own right, sometimes it’s fun to try something different.

We’re calling these traditional “pub” games, but of course these games can be played at home or in any relaxing environment with friends and family. 

The games in this list have been played for centuries. They are easy to learn and fun to play.

Plus, these games offer a way to reduce screen time and engage with friends and loved-ones.

Here are a few of our favorite well-known and some lesser known traditional pub games to try out this winter. 

1. Backgammon

Ye Old Game of Backgammon
Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections

Backgammon is a wonderful board strategy game that’s been played in pubs and many other social settings for centuries.

In fact, there is evidence that a version of backgammon was played almost 5 thousand years ago in the ancient civilization of Sumer in southern Mesopotamia.

According to archeologists, the game was later played by Egyptian pharaohs before making its way to ancient Greece, Rome and Western Europe.

English glossaries depict games of backgammon played in country houses and social gatherings as early as the 8th century.

And it has been played in the United States since the 17th century.

So, clearly the game has a very long and rich history.

But why is backgammon a great pub game, and how do you play it?

First, this is a game for two players. And if you have some time and want to get lost in a simple yet highly strategic and satisfying game, backgammon is a great choice.

Backgammon SetYou’ll need a backgammon board to start. The board is designed with 24 triangles (aka “points”) of alternating color. The points are divided into 4 quadrants with 6 points in each.

The quadrants make up the home board and outer board. You start the game by arranging your checkers as follows: two checkers on the 24 point; five on the 13 point; three checkers on the 8 point; and five on the 6 point.

From there, you roll your dice and try to move all 15 checkers on open points, and eventually on to your home board.

Once you have all 15 on the home board, you can start “bearing” off the checkers. This means you try to roll dice to match the number point the checker is on so you can remove it. The first one to bear off all his or her checkers wins.

There is a lot of strategy involved in backgammon.

For example, throughout the game you are not only trying to advance your pieces towards your home quadrant, but also trying to block your opponent from advancing.

Plus, there are plenty of nuances to the rules of this game

But if you take the time to learn how to play, you’ll have a great way to spend time at your local bar or pub this winter immersed in a thoughtful and competitive game.

2. Three Men’s Morris

Do you like tic-tac-toe? Do you enjoy one-on-one strategy games? If so, you’ll love the simple fun that a game of Three Men’s Morris offers.

Add a pint of your favorite craft beer to the mix and this becomes a perfect pub game. 

Unfortunately, you may not find many bars that actually have a Three Men’s Morris board.

Luckily, a playing grid is very easy to make. 

Three Men’s Morris was played in ancient eastern and western civilizations. Along with other variants of Morris, it has survived as a classic strategy game for two people that can be played pretty much anywhere.

Three Mens Morris Simple Grid
Simple 3 Men’s Morris Grid

All you need is a grid with 4 squares. This grid is thus made up of 3 vertical lines, and 3 horizontal lines. So there should be 9 points of intersection on the grid. 

Each player gets 3 game pieces. The pieces can be checkers, coins, buttons, etc. As long as you can distinguish your pieces from your opponents’. 

Each player starts by placing their three pieces on vacant points on the board, alternating turns. You then take turns moving pieces.

The goal of Three Men’s Morris is to try to create a row of three consecutive pieces along a horizontal or vertical line (this is also known as a “mill”). 

The basic way to play is that you can move a piece to any open point on the board to try and form a mill. You are either trying to form a row or, of course, block your opponent from doing so.

Three Mens Morris Variant Grid
Three Men’s Morris Variant Grid

The more advanced way to play Three Men’s Morris is that you can only move a piece to an adjacent vacant point.

You can also play this game on a grid with diagonal lines.

In this format, there would be 3 vertical lines, 3 horizontal lines, and 2 diagonal lines.

Playing this way allows for diagonal mills of three pieces, and thus a little more strategy is involved. 

3. Nine Men’s Morris

9 Men's Morris GameAnother popular version of the traditional Morris games is Nine Men’s Morris. This game is played with, you guessed it, 9 pieces instead of 3.

Nine Men’s Morris is also a mill strategy game, where each player tries to form horizontal or vertical rows of 3 consecutive pieces. 

There are 24 points on a Nine Men’s Morris mill board. The points are placed on the corners and intersecting lines of 3 concentric squares.

Boards are typically made from solid wood with indented points to hold the pieces, which can be either round objects like marbles or simple checkers. 

Each time you form a mill of three pieces, you get to remove an opponent’s man from the game.

Your goal is to form as many mills as possible and reduce your opponent down to two players. The first player to do this wins the game. 

4. Rings

Rings, also known as “Ringboard”, is a traditional Irish pub game that is perfect for kids and adults. 

To play a traditional game of Rings, you should have a wooden board that is shaped like a shield.

Traditional Irish Rings Board
Source: Lisheen Montessori

This board will have 13 hooks, numbered 1 through 13, placed in the following pattern from top down: (row 1) 10, 2, 9; (row 2) 5, 6; (row 3) 11, 13, 12; (row 4) 4, 3; and (row 5) 7,1,8.

You play this game with 6 rubber rings. You toss these rings at the board to score points. 

It’s a great game and perfect for bars or game-rooms when you want a safer version of an accuracy game like darts.

Anyone can play this one, but it takes a lot of skill to score high points in a round. 

A common game format for Rings is to play a game to 121 points. You alternate turns with your opponent(s) and throw 6 rings per turn. You can easily make up a different game, though, or just play Rings to a different points total. 

Rings can be thrown overhand (a more advanced technique) or underhand (best for beginners). 

There is an Australian version of Rings known as Hookey.

Hookey Ring Toss Game
Hookey Ring Toss Game

Like Rings, in Hookey there are 13 hooks with corresponding points on the board.

However, unlike Rings, the board in Hookey is round. It’s also a bit smaller.

Both games are a blast and perfect for a family environment. 

If you like ring toss games, also check out our post about Ringing the Bull (another traditional pub game with ancient roots).

5. Skittles

A “skittle” is another word for bowling pin. Hence, in Britain, the game of Skittles is a bowling game.

The full-sized version of this centuries-old game involves rolling a wooden bowling ball down a 21-foot long skittle alley (either indoors or as a lawn game) towards an arrangement of 9 or 10 wooden pins.

Skittles Alley
Skittles Alley

Skittles is the predecessor to popular games like duck-pin and American 10-pin bowling. 

Some pubs in the UK, like this one, still have traditional skittle alleys. But they are less common these days in new pubs and renovated establishments due to space requirements. 

Have no fear, you can still easily play a traditional game of skittles in your favorite bar or at home.

That is, a game of “Table Skittles”.

table skittles

Table Skittles is a traditional British pub game. Also known as “the Devil Amongst the Tailors”, this game is set up with 9 small wooden pins in a diamond formation on a raised wooden base.

Attached to this base is a pole that stands about 3 feet high. A wooden ball hangs from the pole from a swiveled chain.

The object of the game is to swing the ball clockwise around the outside of the pole and knock down as many pins as possible as the ball swings back towards you.

Each player gets three swings per turn. You only need to reset the pins if you knock all the pins down in a swing or when the next player is up. The maximum score per turn is 27 (3 x 9-pin strikes). 

You can find table skittles sets online. Or, if you’re an aspiring woodworker, you could make your own version of this game as a fun DIY bar game project. 

Table Skittles is a safe and fun game for all ages, and a perfect one to play over a couple pints. 

We also mentioned this one in our list of the best bar games

6. Shove Ha’Penny

Shove Ha’Penny is the smaller version of a game known as “Shovel Board.” Earlier versions of this game have been played in taverns and pubs since the fifteenth century.

Shovel Board
Early Shovel Board Sketch

Throughout the years, Shove ha’penny has lost some of its popularity, but it still has avid players across the globe who play it to remember the traditional pub game days.

In Shove ha’penny, players take turns to push coins or tokens up a board marked with horizontal lines. There are 10 lines on a board. The first line starts about 4 inches from the front of the board.

Shove ha'penny
Traditional Shove-a-Penny Board

The areas between the two pairs of lines are called “beds”, each about a quarter inch wide.

There are 9 total beds on a board. Each player pushes 5 coins per turn up the board. The goal is to push the coins so they land in the beds.

A coin must be completely within a bed to score (not touching either line).

The winner in a game of Shove ha’penny is the first player to land three coins in each of the 9 beds. You mark each score in a scoring grid with a chalk line.

If you land a coin in a bed that already has 3 scores, you must give that score to your opponent, unless they’ve already completed that bed as well. This rule does not apply if it’s the last bed needed to win the game. 

If a player happens to score three coins in one bed during a single turn, they’ll have scored a “sergeant.”

If you score with all five coins or tokens in a single turn, this is known as a “sergeant major.”

Shove ha’penny is the original shuffleboard. The concept is very similar to modern table shuffleboard, just on a much smaller scale (shove ha’penny boards are only about 2 feet long). 

7. Draughts

The game of draughts has a long history in the world of traditional pub games. There are several different names for this game, including “Checkers” for us Americans.

Traditional Wooden Checkers Set for Draughts
Traditional Wooden Checkers Set for Draughts

Draughts is incredibly easy to play, and many people prefer it to chess when they’re looking for simple pub games that don’t require quite as much brain power.

Although checkers can be easier to learn than chess, it can also be played by those looking for a challenge, as competitions are still held across the globe.

In a game of draughts, players take turns moving pieces across a board in their color. Any piece that reaches the other end of the board will be crowned as a “King.”

The act of crowning involves placing another checker of the same shade on top of your existing piece.

Until a piece has been crowned, players can only move and capture other checkers in a diagonal motion. On the other hand, kings are allowed to capture forwards, backward, and diagonally.

To win the game, you need to capture all of the opposing person’s draughts or “checkers.”

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There you have it – some great traditional pub games to try out this winter! 

Now it’s your turn. Do you know of some other fun traditional games we should mention?

If you have a favorite or two, please let us know in the comments below.

We always love to learn about new (old) bar games!