The History of Games: Victorian Era Games

Playing games was a way for families to have fun together.
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The Victorian era is named for the years that Queen Victoria ruled in Britain -- from 1837 to 1901. Americans and Europeans did not have video games or televisions in the 19th century, but they had a lot of fun entertaining themselves in other ways. In Victorian times, parlour games, charades, table games and sports became extremely popular, and some games we still play today were invented during that time. Many of these games were played outdoors, with indoor pastimes including playing with dollhouses, popular victorian toys and other such activities for children.

1 Lawn Tennis

Lawn tennis was officially invented in 1874, according to Durham University, and quickly grew in popularity. Major T. H. Gem and Mr. Perera are credited with creating the game and designing a court in the garden of Perera's home in Warwickshire. The dimensions the men used to design the court are still used for tennis courts today, though the net height is different. Gem and Perera are said to have played the game as early as 1869. By the late 1870s and early 1880s, tennis clubs were all the rage throughout Victorian England and America. Today, we know the game simply as "tennis”. This has become one of the most popular pastimes for adults and children alike.

2 Happy Families

Happy Families was a card game introduced in the mid-1800s, according to BBC Primary History. The game was played with a pack of 48 cards with printed pictures on them. Each card featured a different member of one of 12 families, and each family had four members. All 48 cards were dealt to the players at the start of the game. Three or more players could play, but depending on the number of players, some players would begin the game with fewer cards than others. The goal of the game was to collect as many families as possible, which meant collecting groups of four cards. To do this, when it was a player's turn, he would ask another player if a certain family member was "at home." If the player had the card, he would give it to the asking player. If the player did not have the card, he would tell the asking player that the family member was "not at home," and then it would be the telling player's turn to ask. Once all of the families were collected, the players then asked each other if they had certain families. The player who collected all 12 families was the winner. This was another popular amusement and contributes to the popularity of card games in modern times as well.

3 Tiddlywinks

Tiddlywinks was also invented during the Victorian period and became very popular in the 1890s. This game, which is still played today, was usually played on the floor, and although it started as a parlor game for adults, it became one of the most popular children’s games of the time. The goal of the game is simple: To flip as many small "winks" into a cup as possible. Today, the winks are plastic disks, but in the past they have been made of wood, ivory or metal, among other things. Their shapes have varied, too, from square to winks shaped like tiny golf clubs. Many other inventors copied the game, but it fell out of popularity in the early 1900s almost as quickly as it became popular.

4 Ludo

Ludo was a board game derived from the ancient Indian game of Pachisi. It was invented in 1896 and quickly became popular in Victorian England and America. The game is played by rolling a dice and seeing which player can go around the board and return his or her tokens to "home" first. The board features four equal, colored areas of red, blue, yellow and green, and each colored area matches four tokens. It is very similar to a well-known modern game called "Sorry!", which has similarities to this traditional game played in the victorian era.

5 Badminton

Contemporary badminton was invented in the mid-1800s and was another of the popular games in this era. It was brought to England by British officers who had played a similar game in India. The original game was played as far back as the 1600s. It was called shuttlecock, and players hit a shuttlecock back and forth with bats. The net didn't appear until the 1800s, and by 1898, the first tournament was held in England, and what we know as badminton was established. The game was also popular in America during that time and into the early 1900s.

6 Blind Man's Bluff

This is yet another of the Victorian games that excited people of that time and grew in popularity over the years. Blind man’s bluff was played with a group of people, with one player put in a blindfold and spun around in circles multiple times to disorient themselves. The other players would run around this blindfolded player and call out to the “blind man” and dodge out of the way to avoid being tagged. Sound familiar? It is very similar to the game we play now, known as Marco Polo.

7 Strategy Games

Chess is the quintessential strategy game and the first World Champions were crowned in the late 19th Century. In fact, an American from New Orleans, Paul Morphy is the initial champion of the modern era. Before him an Englishman named Howard Staunton was considered the strongest player after beating the French champion in the 1850s.

Checkers is a simpler game to initially play than chess. Pieces all move similarly, rather than Chess. Draughts was considered the proper English name, but countries had different board sizes: 8x8 in England and 10x10 in Poland, for example.