18th-century parlour games

1. Spillikins or Pick Up Sticks:

This game can be recreated with straws, matches, chopsticks, pencils or any other objects like this where all the ‘sticks’ are the same size and length. If you would like to follow the rules below you should find a way of colour coding your pick up sticks. Jane Austen was known to enjoy playing Spillikins, and the game is still played today but commonly known as Mikado! The image below is of a bone-carved set made in 1803 by a Napoleonic Prisoner of War.


  • Player one begins the game by holding all of the sticks in their hand and then dropping them to the ground, scattering them across the floor.
  • The player then proceeds to pick up the sticks, one by one, without moving any sticks other than the stick they are attempting to pick up. If any of the other sticks are moved, the players turn ends, and play continues to the left.
  • The next player may choose to pick up a stick from the scattered sticks or scoop up all of the sticks and drop them again prior to attempting to pick them up.
  • Players continue picking up sticks until their turn ends, and if a player picks up all the sticks, they retoss them and continue the process until their turn ends. Make sure to keep track of your score before tossing the sticks.
  • According to the Pick Up Sticks rules, if a player successfully picks up the black stick, known as the “Master Stick,” the player may use the “Master Stick” to move the sticks around in the playing area, separating sticks that are close together and isolating sticks so they are easier to pick up. No other stick can be used in this way.
  • The game ends when a player reaches the agreed upon end-score. Starting at 500 to 1000 points is standard.
  • Pick Up Sticks Scoring Rules: After each players turn, calculate the score before proceeding. The sticks have the following values:
  • Black = 25 points
  • Red = 10 points
  • Blue = 5 points
  • Green = 2 points
  • Yellow = 1 point
  • Note:If a player picks up a red, blue, and green stick in that order, their points are doubled for those three sticks.


2. Ringing the Bull:

Originally this game was played by swinging a ring onto the horns of a mounted bull’s head on the wall of a pub. It is still played at fairs, fetes and carnivals today, but more commonly in the form shown below! You could use a hook like on the back of the bathroom door, or even a doorknob, to play this today.

Rules: The idea couldn’t be simpler – you swing a ring (such as a spare keyring ring or an old hoop earring) on a string across the room at a hook embedded in the wall. It’s harder than it looks but practice makes perfect. Players can be given a time-frame and then take turns to go, and the person with the most ‘ringers’ wins. The more space the better with this game. If you can be creative in the garden with attaching a hook to the wall and a string to your washing line to swing onto the ‘bull’ it would work brilliantly- but you could do this inside or in a more confined space too, just use a shorter string and a smaller ring!


3. Qoits:

This game has plenty of variations, and can be made more or less complicated accordingly. It is thought to derive from the ancient sport of Discus throwing, and although there is no written record of Quoits until the early 19th century it is thought to have been played much earlier than this.

To keep things simple we propose playing this with some easy household items! The aim of the game is to take it in turns throwing rings (bangles, bagels, or make your own by getting creative and stuffing an old pair of tights) over or as near as possible to what is called a hob, or mott or pin – which could easily be replaced with a water bottle, kitchen towel tube or even a wine bottle.

The image below is of ‘deck quoits’ which became popular in the 1930s on cruise ships.


4. Shove Groat or Shove Ha’Penny:

This is an early version of Shuffleboard, so you will need a flat smooth object and some pennies to be able to play it. You will need to be able to draw on the lines so maybe a cheap chopping board or whiteboard, or even a sheet of A3 paper could be used.

This game can also be made more or less complicated and the rules below would not stand in a true competitive pub game of Shove Groat. King Henry VIII was said to have lost large sums of money to his drinking partners whilst playing ‘the game of shufflegroat’!

To play an easy and simple version you will need;

  • Two willing players
  • 5 coins of the same size, i.e. five 10p coins (this will help you keep track of how many turns each player has taken)
  • A flat surface marked with ten straight lines horizontally across the surface, there should be space for about 1 and a half coins in between each of the lines
  • The spaces in between the lines are called the beds
  • The lines are each given an increasing score, beginning with 1 and reaching 10 for the top line
  • Each player will take it in turns to ‘shove’ their coin up the board with the aim of scoring the most points at the end of their five goes
  • Remember to leave some space at the bottom of your board in order to keep a tally of the scores- you must keep recording the scores after each turn!
  • If your coin lands in a bed, you should add on one point to the line below it for your score; for example, if your coin landed in between lines 4 and 5 you would score 5, because you would add one point on to the line below it. If it landed between 5 and 6, you would score 6.
  • Each player takes it in turn to shove one penny at a time, using the same five coins. This means that after each turn has been taken the coin is removed from the board to prevent it being moved by other player’s goes.
  • If you shove your penny off the board entirely, or do not reach line 1, you score zero for that turn!
  • The winner is the player with the most points at the end of the round