The Victorian’s idea of ‘Home Care’ didn’t just involve physical exercise, they also had to come up with inventive ways to pass the time and stay mentally stimulated while at home – with no television or internet! Victorian Parlour Games were extremely popular, many of which are still played at parties today or have even been adapted into modern commercial board games. We think most of these games could prove pretty entertaining and could be played at home the old fashioned way, or virtually, through a video call with friends and family. Some of these games might be silly and one outright dangerous, and although added here for laughs, it would be better to leave them to the Victorians). OK! Try having a go at the following games during this Coronavirus lockdown:

A board game with squares and numbers with the penalties, forfeits and rewards and instructions. Coloured lithograph. 

‘Fictionary’: one player (the judge) takes a dictionary and picks an obscure word, which everyone else must write made up definitions for. The judge then reads out loud all of the definitions, including the real one, and everyone must vote on which one they think is true. Players earn points if their fake definition gets votes, and also, if they correctly guess the true one. If no one guesses correctly, the judge takes a point. 

Parlour Games 2 Ls
An interior of a games room: anthropomorphic figures playing, drinking, and smoking. Colour lithograph

‘Consequences’ :  one player starts the game by drawing a head (this can human, animal, or mythical) on a piece of paper, and then folds it to hide their work before passing it on to the next person, who draws the torso, and the next the legs, and so on. When it is complete, players unfold the paper to reveal the masterpiece they’ve created together. This game could also be adapted to drawing different things (buildings, machines, patterns) depending how you fold and pass the paper and how imaginative you are.

Parlour Games 3 Ls
Children playing in their nursery: performing at and attending the theatre. Chromolithograph after E. Lees after A. Havers, 1890.

‘Elephant’s Foot Umbrella Stand’ : one player (the leader) comes up with a secret rule for the round, such as all words must end with the letter ‘E’. The leader then starts the game by saying ‘I went to the store and I bought…’ followed by an object, that abides by their rule. The other players take turns trying to figure out the rule with their own objects. If a player says ‘I went to the store and I bought some bread’ the leader would have to say something like ‘they were sold out of bread’ to indicate they are wrong. But if a player says ‘I went to the store and I bought a bicycle’ the leader would approve. The game continues until all players have figured out the rule. 

Parlour Games 4 Ls
A board game with forfeits, penalties and rewards. Etching. 

‘Forfeits’:  To start, all players must forfeit an item of value to them, and give the items to one player (maybe the winner of a previous game) who has been designated ‘the auctioneer’. The auctioneer will sell off the items to other players, who must pay an amusing price (singing a song, doing a dance, making another player laugh, imitating an animal, etc.). This game could be added onto the end of other games or be played on its own.

Questions and commands; or, the mistaken road to He-r-f-rd; a Sunday evenings amusement by James Gillray.

‘How? Why? When? Where?’ : one player thinks of an object and all other players must try to figure out what it is by asking (only once) the following 4 questions: ‘How do you like it? Why do you like it? When do you like it? Where do you like it?’. The player with the object in mind must answer correctly and honestly, but they can of course be as creative as they like. The player who guesses correctly takes their place.

Parlour Games 6 Ls
Two men and two women sit at a table playing a board game with counters and dice. Engraving

‘Are You There, Moriarty?’: This game for two involves both players being blindfolded, lying face down on the floor, head to head, and about an arm’s length apart. Each player is equipped with a rolled up newspaper (or something similar…maybe a pillow?) in one hand and holds onto the other player’s arm with their free hand. One player calls out ‘are you there, Moriarty?’ and when the other responds, tries to hit them over the head with the newspaper. There is supposedly some level of skill to being able to trick the other player with your voice or movements or speed, but, realistically, we imagine this game just continues until both players feel too silly and can’t stop laughing. 

Blind Man’s Bluff, a variation of Squak Piggy Squeak.

‘Squeak Piggy Squeak’: To play the game, one player is chosen to be the “farmer”; the others are the piggies. The farmer is blindfolded and holds a pillow. All other players then sit in a circle surrounding the farmer. The farmer is spun around three times and then has to make his or her way to the piggies, place the pillow on the lap of the chosen piggy without touching the piggy with his or her hands (to maintain the anonymity of the piggy), and sit down, squashing the piggy. The farmer then says “Squeak Piggy Squeak”. When the chosen piggy squeaks, the farmer has to guess the name of the player on whom he or she is sitting. If the farmer guesses correctly, the piggy becomes the farmer in the next round. If the guess is incorrect, then the farmer remains to be spun again for the next round. The piggies all switch chairs so that the farmer will not know who is sitting where. Instead of “Squeak Piggy Squeak”, any other animal sound can be substituted, like “Moo Cow Moo” or even “Roar Lion Roar”.

Parlour Games 5 Ls
Seated at a card table are Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with Lord Normanby and Daniel O’Connell at the ends. Coloured lithograph by H.B. (John Doyle), 1839.

‘The Minister’s Cat’: In the basic game, all players sit in a circle, and the first player describes the minister’s cat with an adjective beginning with the letter ‘A’ (for example, “The minister’s cat is an adorable cat“) Each player then does the same, using different adjectives starting with the same letter. Once everyone has done so, the first player describes the cat with an adjective beginning with the letter ‘B’. This continues for each letter of the alphabet. If you want to make things even more interesting, each player must remember the adjectives which have gone before, adding his/her own adjective beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. So the fifth player might say “The Minister’s cat is an adorable, beautiful, cute, delightful, ELEGANT cat.” In all variations, a player is “out” of the game if they are unable to think of an adjective, or if they repeat one previously used (or can’t remember the adjectives which have gone before, in the last variant). Players may clap in unison or speak in a rhythmic manner during the game, setting the pace for each player to speak his line; if a player falls too far behind the pace while thinking of an adjective, he may also be declared “out.”

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Games and music

‘The Sculptor’: This game gives players a chance to show off their inner artist. Players stand still while the person chosen to be “the sculptor” walks around positioning everyone into silly poses. Participants aren’t allowed to laugh, move, or smile. If this happens the sculptor becomes a statue and the player who broke character assumes the role. Everyone should get to be the sculptor at least once, since he or she obviously has the most fun of anyone. 

Bullet Pudding
“Bullet Pudding” by Francis Hayman.

‘The laughing game’: One player begins by saying the word “ha” with a straight face. The second player continues saying “ha ha,” followed by “ha ha ha” and so forth in a circle. The object is to keeping going as long as possible without cracking up. If a player breaks so much as a smile, he’s out of the game. 

Wink Murder Party Game For Kids
Wink Murder

‘Wink Murder’: To play this game, one participant acts as the “murderer,” while another plays the detective whose job it is to identify him or her. The murderer covertly winks at the other players in the circle, causing them to drop dead. Using his or her deductive reasoning skills the detective has three shots to guess which of the players left alive is the murderer. 

Snapdragon 1024X772
A group of Victorians playing Snap Dragon.

‘Snap Dragon’:  To play snap-dragon, party guests, typically together for Christmas Eve, would dunk raisins in a bowl of brandy and set the booze on fire. Players would then attempt to pick out the raisins and pop them in their mouths. There’s not really a point to the game other than to avoid getting burnt. Maybe we should leave this one to the Victorians. 

Victorian Parlour Fun & Games