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.

Darts – the game of darts has been around for some time but took time to develop into the game that we know today. Several hundred years ago a version of the games was known as ‘Puff and Dart’ was played where the dart was blown from a tube towards the target. In 1844, a player in a London pub forgot the primary rule – ‘blow, don’t suck’ and swallowed the dart and died several days later in hospital. Darts as we know it today has never been so popular with millions playing in teams across the country and many more watching professional darts on television.

Games machines – the growth in the use of games machines in pubs has to some extent replaced some of the other traditional pub games although they are sometimes played in electronic version on games machines. Different types of machines include fruit machines and quiz machines with a number of different games to play including quizzes, board games and skill games.

Pub Quiz – there is little evidence of the traditional quiz originating in pubs before around 1970, but since then it grown massively in popularity becoming one of the most popular pub games across the country and around the world. Quiz details vary such as team size, type of questions, prizes and themes and quizzes can be a very formal event or much more casual. However, they are often taken very seriously by teams some of whom go round different quizzes in the area or even the country on a regular basis.

Table Football/foosball – a game that formally came into being around 1920 as a means to allow people to play football in their own home it has, nevertheless begun to appear in some pubs around the country. Tables can be a variety of sizes and have little plastic football players attached to rods which can be rotated to knock the small football up and down the table to attempt to get it into the opposition’s goal. Some pubs have taken the initiative to organise table football clubs or tournaments.

Poker – Poker is one of the card games most widely played in pubs either for a money which is regulated by legislation or just for fun. However, there are many other card games that are also popular as a pack of cards is something that every publican keeps behind the bar.

Generic games console with motion sensor controllers – I think you know the one we mean but can’t mention by name without advertising them. These are seen in more and more in pubs these days.

Weird/unusual games

Some of these games are either no longer played or only in a few places around the country:

Quoits – participants have to throw rings over pegs from a distance.

Shovel board/shove groat/slide thrift/push penny/ Shove Ha’penny – a game that originated in Tudor times and was played on long narrow tables up to nine feet long. The name changed over time and it eventually ended up as Shove Ha’penny.

Ringing the bull – there is a ring tied to a rope hanging from the ceiling. Participants must swing the rope and try to land the hoop over a hook (originally a bull’s horn on the opposite wall).

Aunt Sally – a game still popular in Oxfordshire where players throw batons at a wooden skittle in the shape of a doll.

Dwile Flonking – a game which involves two teams, a pole and a beer soaked dishcloth.

Conga Cuddling – a game which consists of human skittle being knocked over by a five foot eel.

Rhubarb Thrashing – two blindfolded contestants stand in dustbins and do battle with rhubarb.


The Pub Hub™ is a brand new, comprehensive pub guide for the UK's best bars and pubs. It's FREE and built to share pubs on-line with best practice search marketing techniques applied to this website. Together, UK pubs can build more awareness and get more people enjoying the pub life and community.