“Sport like life, and life like sport
Isn’t all skittles and beer.”

(Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable)

Ah, if only it were all skittles and beer. I wish for a lazy Saturday afternoon or weekday evening, down at the pub. My dream is of the English countryside in all its splendour, the sound of feet scurrying to pour the perfect pint, the click! of dominos on the table and the gentle thud of darts in the board. All this impinging on my consciousness over the rustle of my paper and the susurrus of conversation in the background.

Many, many years ago (even before my time) this was the traditional image of the English pub, before the invasion of the jukebox and Space Invaders. Most pubs were places for social gathering, long before the advent of radio, or even cinema. This was where the grownups (mostly the men, it has to be said) went to socialise, gossip and play. The pub (more than the church) was the focal point of many villages and towns, a place where community was fostered. Beer was only part of the attraction. Many people came for games.

Recent Times

The concept of pub-as-community seems to be growing back in many places, particularly in rural areas and on the fringes of cities as well as the inner city areas. With this change comes a return to the roots of the old English pub - real ale and pub games.

Many games grew up to amuse the locals - many of those listed below have reached out from the UK into other parts of the world, darts being one classic example. Others such as skittles, have their counterparts in other traditions - many continental taverns have an ancient skittle alley behind the premises, and backgammon and chess are played throughout the world in bars and cafes alike.

Some of them, like Aunt Sally and some of the throwing and coin-pitching games, have not travelled, but remained in their areas of origin. So what do people play in pubs? The games fall into seven main areas: skittle-type, coin-pitching games (where coins are thrown into receptacles or onto a board), throwing games, billiard-based games, and card, dice and board games. These are most frequently played in the pub itself, and many of them are competitive - darts, pool, snooker and dominoes have leagues in most areas.

Some games will be seen to be lacking, notably gambling games such as poker. This is not to say that they aren't popular games in England, but rather that the laws prohibit games of gambling in pubs (except for very small stakes). As a result, the emphasis is on friendly rivalry rather than fiscal gain. Good old British pluck - "It matters not if you win or lose, but how you play the game".

Outside the pub are other games - often associated only loosely with the pub (as in cricket), others being played on the publican's land (bowls being one example). These team games often form the basis for competition with other pubs in the area.

The Games

In recent years, other "family" games have begun to make an appearance in pubs, notably Jenga and Connect 4. These are frequently giant versions of the home games, which is all very well, until you realise that pub Jenga involves fairly large chunks of wood, wielded by people who are very often "under the influence". I have also seen Ludo, Pick Up Sticks and Snakes and Ladders in giant versions.

Let us not forget many games recently imported from foreign parts. The continental game of Boule is also played at that kind of pub with a beer garden. It has grown in popularity with those wishing to retain some of the magic of French rural holidays, which can't be all bad. Anything which adds to the tradition of the English pub as a community focal point, a place for social interaction and relaxation as well as drinking, gets my vote.

Doubtless, there are games I have missed. Please /msg me with any you know of. However, please do not send drinking games, which I do not think count in this circumstance.

StrawberryFrog offers pub quiz nights. Not exactly a game, although some pubs do have Bingo and karaoke.
The World Marbles Cup is also held in a pub, in Tinsley Green, and has been since the 1930s. Marbles as a pub game? Maybe.

Personal research, with assistance from http://www.tradgames.org.uk/features/pub-games.htm
Teiresias pointed out dwile flonking. Nice one.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.