Party Games of the 1800’s

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Party games! Don’t you love them? My household is a family of “gamers.” Over the years, snow-days and holidays and birthday parties, whenever we were all together, we would usually have a game of some sorts going. It has come in handy this winter, which has been quite a LONGGGGG one! We are all ready to see some spring flowers here in the Midwest.

What would we have played if we all lived in the 1800’s? Some of the social games like free bingo real money from then survived into my childhood, such as Blind Man’s Buff and Twenty Questions and Musical Chairs. But no matter the year, games have always provided a way for people to have fun, “let down their hair” a little, laugh, interact socially, flirt, and enjoy socially approved physical contact.

The spirit of these social games in the 1800s involving boys and girls, men and women of the middle and upper classes, was that an overly competitive attitude was considered “poor form.” The idea was to have fun together and not to “out-do” another player to the point that feelings were hurt. Camaraderie, a relaxing of inhibitions, and laughing at one’s self were the important aspect of social games. I imagine that cowboys, used to a barn dance or two, would feel out of place playing some of these games, but I bet they would have brought an entirely new competitive atmosphere to them!

Barn danceHere are a few examples of games from the 1800s that involve a mixing of the genders ~

Puss, Puss in the Corner

For the game, all that you need is a fairly square room with four corners and the furniture moved out of the way. If played outside, you need something to denote the four corners such as bean bags or chairs. I suppose a baseball diamond could be used, but such a large area would make for a very energetic game. The game requires five or more players. One stands in the center of the square, while the others stand in each corner. The central player calls out: “Puss, puss in the corner!” On the word “corner” everyone moves to a different corner. Since there are five players, one will always be left out and that one becomes the new “Puss.” If more players are involved, the one left out of a corner goes to the end of a line of the others waiting to play, and the first in that line becomes the new “Puss.” Sometimes when this game was played, a “forfeit” was demanded of the one who became the new Puss.

Twirl the Trencher

In this game, everyone sits in a large circle (with or without chairs depending on the age of participants.) Each player is assigned either a number, an animals name, or a flower’s name. The starter goes to the center of the circle and spins a plate on its edge (wooden or some other unbreakable plate or disc.) He calls out a number or one of the names and dashes to his seat. The person being called out, must jump up and rush to the plate to spin it again and call out another player. The play continues until someone is not quick enough and the plate falls. That player, then must pay a forfeit.

The Key of the King’s Garden

This is a memory game much like Grandmother’s Trunk. Players sit in a circle. The one starting begins by saying “I sell you the Key to the King’s Garden.” Then indicates a player on his right or left. That player adds to the sentence. For example, by saying, “I sell you the chain that held the Key of the King’s Garden.” Then it is the next person’s turn in the circle. “I sell you the dog that wore the chain that held the Key of the King’s Garden.” This continues around until everyone has played. If someone does not repeat the words exactly, a forfeit is demanded.


(My favorite part!)

These games were played for fun with a light-hearted attitude. Keeping score (numerically) wasn’t done. However, there was such a thing as “forfeits” which added tremendously to the fun. (Personally, I think these should make a comeback!)

Forfeits occurred when someone made a mistake, lost their chance to a seat or space in the game, or lost in some way. That player would write their name on a piece of paper, which would then be placed in a bowl or basket. At the end of the game (or the evening,) a judge would be chosen. A second player would select a paper from the bowl and announce: “I have a forfeit to be redeemed.” The judge would ask whether it belonged to a lady or a gentleman. Upon learning which it was, he would then assign a task for the person to perform (not knowing the actual person’s identity.)

Examples of “forfeit” tasks ~

The Imitation
A man puts on a lady’s hat and imitates the owner. Or a woman puts on a man’s hat and imitates the owner.

The Statue
The “forfeiter” is posed by a selected number of other players, usually in ridiculous positions.

Bow to the Prettiest, Kneel to the Wittiest, and Kiss the One You Love Best
This is reserved for a man. (Hopefully he will do all three tasks with the same lady!)

The Nun’s Kiss
A lady kisses a man chosen by the judge, performing the kiss through the bars of a chair.

The Counsel
The person must give a piece of advice to all (or just one) players. (Always done in the spirit of fun and good humor.)

The Will
The person leaves to each other player an item or a quality he thinks he possesses. (Also done in the spirit of fun and good humor.)

Kiss the One You Love without Revealing Who It Is
The individual must kiss all the players of opposite gender, without letting on which player is the one he or she loves.

There are many others – as varied as the imagination of the judge!

* * * * * * * * * *

With teenagers constantly watching their phones
rather than communicating face to face,
I can’t help but think that these would be fun to bring back!

Who is with me?

What is a social game of yours that you have enjoyed playing?

Comment to be entered into my giveaway drawing for my newest release!

“This book was a pure delight.”
The Prairie Doctor’s Bride/San Francisco Review of Books



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33 thoughts on “Party Games of the 1800’s”

  1. My favorite childhood game was playing hide-n-seek at night. We had rather large boundary lines so that made it a lot of fun. When the person that was it found the first person they would go on to find the third together and so forth. I’m one of 6 siblings and neighborhood kids often played with us. If it was taking too long we often would just call out to come to house and start over or find another game to play. As far as board games I love Scattergories. A game we play a lot is Uno. I loved this blog and I do believe we should bring back many of these games! I don’t think we as people in this day and time could handle not being competitive in any game we play though. Puss, Puss in the corner would have to have its name changed because the game would never get accomplished because of having to call out that name every time. Too much laughter and shenanigans would happen every single time.

    • Hi Stephanie,

      Sounds like you had a great neighborhood to grow up in! My children loved UNO and I did too! I chuckled at your comment about Puss, Puss in the Corner. Yep — times have certainly changed! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Hide and seek and duck duck goose is some I remember playing as a child. Games such as these are big missout for today’s children and teens I personally think we as children and teens got along and thrived better because of the more active social involvement.

    • Nice to have you stop by Glenda. Hide and seek was a big one here at my house when my kids were young, but we played it mostly inside in the winter here. We even got the dog in on it. My boys would hold a tiny bit of hot dog, and then hide in a closet or the shower or behind a door. Then I’d tell our pup to “go seek.” It was always fun.

  3. When I lived at home we use to set up half the night playing Aggravation or Rook Cards. Last year we were all at my sisters house for dinner or something and she had an Aggravation game and we played. It was a lot of fun. I had forgotten how much fun it was to get together like this and play.

    • Hi Quilt Lady! Oh my — I’d forgotten about Rook! I don’t even remember how to play it anymore, but I know I used to quite often. Aggravation is fun. I’m glad you got to play it again recently and had that chance to “enjoy the moment.”

  4. I remember going to birthday parties where we often ended up playing the game where the first person whispers a secret in the next person’s ear and this was repeated down the line. By the time the last person heard the secret the end result was nothing like the beginning. I don’t really know the name of this game but I’ve used it in children’s church to illustrate how wrong gossip can be. Words are added or omitted and before long there is not much truth left in the story!

  5. Kathryn, these sound so fun to play. I’ve never heard of Forfeit. I’m sure it could get pretty wild. And cause a lot of jealousy if two women had romantic feelings for a man. Very interesting. When I was a kid, I loved playing hide and seek and red rover. When I got older, I was more into doctor and nurse. Ha!

    Congrats on the newest book!

  6. My favorite youngest memories are of playing board games like Candy Land, Parcheesi, Chutes and Ladders, Checkers, Chinese Checkers, Life and Monopoly. Two of my cousins and I always loved Christmas because one of us was sure to get a new board game that we would play seemingly endlessly.

    • Hi Eliza,
      Candy Land — oh yes! I started out my boys on Candy Land as their first game because it is a game one can play without knowing numbers or reading. It’s a fun way to learn the names of colors. Plus, the board and the idea of a land made out of candy is so fun that we made up stories of the people that lived there. Thanks for commenting!

  7. Hi Linda,

    Yep, I think the idea of Forfeit instead of keeping score could be a lot of fun. It sounds like (so far) that Hide and Seek is the most played and remembered game that everyone liked. So good to have you stop by Linda!

  8. What Great games! I am an only child but grew up with two great boys. We played Cowboys and Indians, Army, Chase, to named a few games. At school there was always Red Rover, Thumbs Up, Mother May I and Marbles.

    • Hi Colleen,

      I didn’t play Red Rover but only a time or two. Duck, Duck, Goose was the game we played inside at school on rainy days, so I always associate it with school and letting off steam in the classroom.

    • Hi Kim,
      My grandson loves to play Monopoly. I played it as a child (and with him under duress). Seems I NEVER won that game and half the time we would all quit before getting to the very end. I guess I don’t have the competitive gene with that particular game lol. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Thank you everyone for stopping by and taking a moment to comment here at P & P! It is such a treat to get to know you a bit through these exchanges and posts!

    Yvonne Wohlfeil won my giveaway! Yvonne — contact me at Kathryn at kathrynalbright dot com and let me know your address so that I can send you a copy of The Prairie Doctor’s Bride!

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