The Best Traditional Pub & Tavern Games – Part 1

The humble pub or tavern has been at center of community culture for centuries, it was traditionally a place where weary travelers could rest on their long coaching journeys and receive much needed board and sustenance. As time went by these Coaching Inns were slowly turned into hubs of the community, where people could meet and talk about the issues of the day. They became taverns or pubs depending in which part of the world you hailed from, and as well as dispensing ales and spirits, fun games were developed so people could enjoy themselves.

This was all a far cry from TV and the Internet that we all used to today, and there was little else to keep people amused. In this blog we look at some of the most popular tavern games that were ever invented or played.


Skittles went by many names, Western Skittles, Old English Skittles, Nine Pins, Long Alley and Rolly Polly. Skittles can be dated back to the 14th Century, and the modern game is an adaptation of that early form, basically some form of long alley is needed which at one end there are an assortment of wooden pegs. The players take turns trying to knock as many of the wooden pegs over with some sort of ball. There are references that this form of the game hailed from Germany when the monks played Kegel, which was actually a club, and the monks would throw stones at it until they knocked it over. Of course, Ten-Pin Bowling is a descendant of the early forms of Skittles.

Table-top Skittles

Nine Pins or Alley Skittles

Table-top skittles are basically a smaller version of the larger game of Nine Pins or Alley Skittles. The most popular and common version of table-top skittles is Devil amongst the Tailors or Bar Skittles. The game originated around the 1700’s and was immediately popular in pubs and taverns that did not have room for the larger format. The smaller version fitted easily onto a table-top, it had nine miniature wooden pegs, which were knocked down by a ball that was swung around a pole that it was attached to. Other versions of the game are Hood Skittles, Table Toupie or Toptafel the latter being most popular in North America.

Aunt Sally

Aunt Sally Game

Aunt Sally is yet another version of skittles that is supposed to go right back to the 17th Century. It is played by throwing objects, normally timber batons, at a wooden skittle which is balanced on top of a post. The skittle is called a doll or dolly and the fewer attempts you have to knock the dolly of its perch wins. Sometimes the wooden skittle is dressed up to look like a doll, and perhaps that is where the name originates from. It is also possibly the origin for the coconut shy, which is so popular in fetes and fairs the world over.


Quoits is played by throwing a horseshoe at a pin in the ground, it could have been originated as a proper game from the pastime of horseshoe pitching. Horseshoe pitching is still being played today in many countries and its rules are very similar to Quoits. There is one theory that the Quoit is very similar to the ancient discus, and perhaps Quoits was an early Olympic sport played in Greece. And later it was used as a weapon in warfare but this has not been substantiated.

We resume our exploration into the most popular games played in tavern and pubs in part two of our best traditional games.