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Classic Victorian Games

Updated on February 2, 2015
CuAllaidh profile image

Jeff Johnston is a medieval reenactor and avid history fan. He is also the publisher at Living History Publications.

Classic Victorian Toys and Games For Sale and Woodworking Plans

The Victorians have a reputation of being uptight and fairly serious, but they did play. Many of the classic Victorian games and toys I will showcase in this article will probably be familiar to you. In addition to highlighting some classic Victorian games for sale on amazon I have hunted down plans for a variety of the games so you can make them yourself at home.

Many Victorian games are classics that are still common today and make great toys and games for children and adults alike. Many of the games and toys listed in this article are a lot of fun, and I have personally played with each type.

Shut The Box

Shut the box is a dice based math game. You start with numbers 1-9 (10,11, and 12 varients exist) showing, you roll two dice and the total of your roll is the number you turn over. If you roll a 3 you can turn over 1 and 2 or 3, and so on. You continue rolling until your dice roll does not add up to the remaining tiles or until you turn over all the tiles.You score by adding up all the remaining tiles you have left, if you turn over all the tiles you have "shut the box" and score zero. Traditionally shut the box was a tavern gambling game.

Bar Skittles - AKA Devil Amongst The Tailors

This is a classic British pub game. A ball on a string is swung and how many skittles are knocked over depends on your score. This game is related to modern 10 and 5 pin bowling as well as lawn bowling. Skittles is the common name for bowling pins and this is just a shrunken version of bowling with the ball attached to a string. In Victorian England pubs often had a wide variety of games, some even had a skittles alley for playing an ancestor to modern bowling, this game is the direct ancestor of both bowling and Devil amongst the Tailors.

Top Tafl - Aka Table Skittles

Top Tafl, or table skittles actually go by many names, in short its bowling using a top instead of a ball. It's a lot of fun, requires more luck than skill. This game has a maze of sorts with various skittles (pins) set up at key points. The object is to spin the top and let the top fly through the maze knocking over as many skittles as possible, each skittle is assigned a number of points based on the likely hood of top reaching those pins. Highest score wins.

Jacob's Ladder

This is more a toy than a game, but it has always been a personal favourite, I remember playing with a jacob's ladder just like this as a kid. I was fascinated with the concept. I don't think I could even begin to guess how many hours I spent playing with this trying to figure out how it worked. I never did figure it out as a kid, but having done research into games I have seen plans and now understand the mystery that is Jacob's Ladder.

Cup and Ball

Cup and ball is a classic toy. A real hand eye coordination skill tester. Most people don't believe it, since I have two left feet and am incredibly clumsy, but I am great at this game.

Elaborate Rocking Horse  from the Beamish Museum, County Durham, England.
Elaborate Rocking Horse from the Beamish Museum, County Durham, England. | Source

Rocking Horse

The Rocking Horse dates back to the middle ages, but for the most part early versions were not really considered toys but practice tools for jousting. In the Victorian era the idea of a rocking horse as children's toys really took off. They became an incredibly popular toy, and pretty much every household (that could afford one) had one.

Being as the rocking horse was wood with no moving parts one would assume they would be quite in-expensive, but the intricacy of the designs meant specialized skills and hundreds if not thousands of hours of manual labour to create one. Rocking horses have always been fairly expensive.

© 2013 Jeff Johnston

Do you have any memories of these classic Victorian games?

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    • CuAllaidh profile image
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      Jeff Johnston 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

      @PaigSr: Shut the box is great fun. Found out about it at a Pioneer Village in a city I used to live in, spent quite some time mastering it and playing against others.

    • PaigSr profile image

      PaigSr 4 years ago from State of Confussion

      Several of these are familiar. The only one that I am not familiar with is the Shut the box. I will look into that though. Thanks.

    • CuAllaidh profile image
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      Jeff Johnston 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

      @clevelandtommy: That's a great tip, I've used that strategy sometimes as well :D

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      clevelandtommy 4 years ago

      Shut the box is very popular in Thailand, where it is called the "dice game". Basic strategy is work outside in.

    • CuAllaidh profile image
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      Jeff Johnston 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

      @Aunt-Mollie: verily it is true there was indeed :D

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      Aunt-Mollie 4 years ago

      So there was life before video games!

    • CuAllaidh profile image
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      Jeff Johnston 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

      @miaponzo: Shut the box is a blast, tougher than it at first appears.

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      miaponzo 4 years ago

      I have never even heard of Shut the Box before!!!! Looks fun! Thanks for introducing it to me!!! Blessed!

    • CuAllaidh profile image
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      Jeff Johnston 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

      @Valerie P Davis: I was unaware of that.... good to know

    • Valerie P Davis profile image

      Valerie Proctor Davis 4 years ago from Birmingham, Alabama

      Jane Austen was skilled at cup-and-ball, and similar games of dexterity.

    • CuAllaidh profile image
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      Jeff Johnston 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

      @Mission1: Yes, I've played it a few times, it is a blast :D

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      Mission1 4 years ago

      Played 'shut the box' in a local bar in Germany for rounds of drinks. Cool game!