From scrabble and skittles to charades and cribbage, getting creative with your events can open up your pub to whole new audiences… and proper old fashioned pub games are bang on trend.
Here at Skinner’s we love a beetle drive or a meat raffle. Here’s our guide to our favourite old fashioned pub nights and how to run them…
What is it? Ham, turkey, sausages, t-bone steak. For a small financial outlay your customers have the chance to leave with dinner. Simple.
History: Thought to have originated in England during World War II, when several families would put together their meat rations to allow one of them to enjoy a proper meal, the meat raffle has evolved into a fun and quirky event.
How do I run one? All you’ll need is a book of raffle tickets and some advertising. Hold it at the same time every week (Sunday afternoons seem popular). Sell strips of tickets and make sure there’s plenty of meat to win!
Top tip: Consider asking a local butcher to donate the meat in return for advertising and give the raffle proceeds to charity.
What is it? A throwing game played by lobbing three darts at a board marked with numbers. There are a lot of local variations on rules but it’s quite usual to start and end on a double and games often go to a total score of 501.
History: There are lots of theories about the origin of darts but what is clear is that it originated in England and has been played in pubs and taverns here for generations. Legend has it Henry VIIIth instructed his archers to sharpen their skills year round and, when the typically English weather forced things indoors, some archers started throwing their arrows instead of firing them from a bow. The arrows were subsequently shortened to make the game easier to play inside. Darts are still referred to as ‘arrows’ by seasoned players today.
How do I run it? You’ll need a dartboard, a set of three darts (two sets if possible) and a safe, well lit place to play. A blackboard and chalk for scoring and a line on the floor to mark where people should stand are also a good idea. To run a tournament ask for player’s names and then draw opponents from a hat. Try pairing people into randomly selected doubles to get the conversation flowing. Both Crows Darts and A Stitch are good places to start for more detailed advice.
Top tip: Ask for a small entry fee per person and offer a prizes for first, second and third (maybe even a prize for last – keeps it interesting and less elitist for those who just want to join in). You can also offer spot prizes for other achievements, such as, highest score (or ‘out’ as it’s known in the game) or even for going out on a specific number.
What is it? This classic board game rewards players for creating the longest words from tiles placed onto the board. Scores are improved by using rare letters and by placing tiles strategically for double and triple letter or word scores. Scrabble can be played by 2-4 players per board or you can play in pairs.
History: In 1938 an American architect named Alfred Mosher Butts created a game called Criss-crosswords. Ten years later this was modified and renamed by James Brunot whose family made the first games in a converted schoolhouse and lost money in their first year. Legend has it that Jack Straus, owner of Macy’s department store in New York, played the game whilst on holiday in 1952. On returning and finding his store did not stock the game he placed a large order. And the rest is history. Today it’s estimated that around one-third of American homes and half of British homes have a Scrabble set.
How do I run it? You can run your pub Scrabble night as a social gathering or a full-blown tournament. Check out the Association of British Scrabble Players (ABSP) if you want to get really serious.
Top tip: There are a whole host of popular board games. Try varying your offer for the first few months and running a Monopoly night or a backgammon tournament. Repeat the most popular.
What is it? Players are given a bingo card and a pen and must cross off numbers as the bingo caller hollers them out. Prizes can be awarded for the first player to make a line, four corners and, of course, a full house.
History: The origins of bingo can be traced back to an Italian game called Il Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia, popular in the early 1500’s and featuring cards with numbered squares. Playing cards, tokens and the calling of numbers were added by wealthy Frenchmen in the 18th Century. New York toy salesman Edwin S. Lowe is credited with coining ‘bingo’ after he witnessed a similar game called ‘Beano’ being played at a carnival and misheard the name being called out.
How do I run it? You’ll need bingo cards, a set of bingo balls in a bag, bucket or spinner (get one from a toy shop) and a designated caller to draw the numbers. Sell cards and hand them out with pens for marking and then get cracking!
Top tip: It’s worth getting your caller a list of well known bingo number nicknames – from Kelly’s Eye (Number 1) to Top of the Shop (99) they’ll add an extra dimension on proceedings — and in some cases allow audience interaction. We like the list of traditional calls at Bingo Calls.
What is it? Take it really old school by offering customers a game of shove ha’penny with their pint. Two players or teams compete against one another using coins or discs on a tabletop board marked with lines. Each team quite literally ‘shoves’ five metal discs up the board. Coins must land wholly between the lines (more sophisticated boards have rails that can be lifted out to ensure a coin does not move) and highest score wins. Different parts of the UK have boards of different sizes and made of different materials from slate to mahogany.
History: Similar games are believed to have existed since the fifteenth century in the pubs of England (though they were then called Shoffe-grote as the coins used were Edward IVth groats). Shove Ha’penny originated around 1840 when any suitable surface would have been inscribed with lines for play. A world championship of a similar game called Push-penny still exists in Lincolnshire.
How do I run it? You’ll need some sort of board – you can buy one or make your own from an old table or large piece of wood. And you’ll need counters or coins to slide along the table. And teams. Go!
Top tip: Run a version where any scoring coin can be played again (and again!) to keep the game going longer.
What is it? Players compete to be the first to build a beetle. Players must throw a six to start (allowing them to draw a body) and then a five allows a head, a four for each wing, a three for each leg (6 in total), a two for an antennae and a one for an eye. The head must be drawn before the parts on it. First person to finish yells ‘BEETLE’ and scores 14 points. Everyone else adds up the body parts they have drawn a tally is kept. Beetle drives can be enjoyed by lots of players at the same time and by players of all ages so great for family afternoons.
History: Beetle isn’t really a traditional game in the sense of having a long history but still great fun!
How do I run it? You’ll need to buy in some dice and provide paper and pens for players to draw their creatures. We like the instructions at Wood Green.
Top tip: Draw a few sample beetles and pin them around the room or place on tables so people know what they are drawing. Introduce a prize for the best – and weirdest – drawings.
What is it? Dominoes is a classic pub game played with small rectangular pieces with different numbers of dots on them.
History: Modern dominoes appeared in Italy in the 18th Century but Chinese variations of the game date back as early as the 1200s. The link between the two versions has been lost i the midst of time but the game was possibly brought to Europe by Chinese missionaries.
How do I run it? You’ll need packs of dominoes and to decide which variation of the game you’ll play. A good guide to rules can be found at Domino Games.
Top tip: For the ultimate dynamic duo of pub games combine darts and dominoes for two teams of up to 12 people. This is still a popular pastime in the pubs of northern England.
What is it? Aunt Sally is a simple throwing game where teams compete to knock an Aunt Sally ‘doll’ (today usually a white skittle) cleanly off a post by throwing sticks at it. So a bit like a coconut shy.
History: Traditionally played in pubs and fairgrounds in England right back to the 17th Century when the target was usually a woman’s head with a pipe in her mouth. There are various theories about the game’s origin, including one where bored Cavalier soldiers during the English civil war would try to break the pipe. League teams of eight still play the game today in pubs in and around Oxfordshire.
How do I run it? Players can play in teams or individually. As well as a doll and sticks to throw you’ll also need a place to stand your doll and some sort of backing cloth to stop sticks from flying too far! Normal league play has two teams each consisting of eight players and three legs or ‘horses’ are played. Each horse consists of each member of each team having one turn so that each team makes 48 throws. The team that knocks Aunt Sally off most times wins.
Top tip: Call your game Aunt Betty and serve with a nice pint of Betty Stogs!
What is it? Why keep everyone’s favourite family game just for Christmas gatherings? Introduce a charades night and pitch teams against each other and the clock to mime and guess the titles of books, films, songs, plays and more.
History: Probably invented in 18th Century France the charade was originally a form of literary riddle. The miming or performance element was introduced in the early 19th century and the parlour game brought to England by the aristocracy.
How do I run it? All you need are paper, pencils and some hats (pint glasses will do nicely). Divide players into teams with each player taking turns to perform. You can play in small or large groups and either have players act to their own team or to both in a ‘first to the buzzer’ style.
Top tip: Add complexity and an additional level of skill by introducing additional rounds to the game. During the first round players must verbally describe the item on the card using any word except those written. All cards are then replaced in the hat. For the second round players must silently act the same titles. The third round then sees players describe the card’s content using only one word. Teams must try to remember what has come previously, thus adding an additional element of skill (and one that is always fun after a few drinks!)
What is it? Cribbage (or crib for short) is the only card game that can legally be played in English pubs with no limit on stake money. It can be played individually or in pairs.
History: Cribbage is derived from the earlier game of noddy and is thought to have been given its current rules by the poet Sir John Suckling in the early 1600s. It holds a special place with American submariners and the oldest sub in the US Pacific fleet carries a WW2 cribbage board which is transferred to the next oldest boat in the fleet each time its host is decommissioned.
How do I run it? Rules for cribbage are quite complex at first and sometimes have regional variations (harldy surprising for a game that’s knocking on 400) but you can print a starter set at Master of Games. You’ll need packs of cards and cribbage boards for each set of players and you’ll need to agree a score to aim for (usually 61 or 121).
Top tip: Introduce the ‘muggins’ rule. If a player misses any points then his or her opponent can call ‘muggins’ and point out any missed score to be added to their own tally.
If you run an event you’ll need to make sure you’re operating within the guidelines of the Gambling Commission.
Detailed rules for many of these games can be found at Master of Games.