Christmas · History Facts

Medieval Games that You Can Play This Christmas

Hello everyone! How we all doing? With Christmas essentially being cancelled in the UK, I just want to check in with everyone. I know, I honestly am gutted and my heart goes out to everyone who has had to change their Christmas plans.

If you’re angry, hurting or sad that’s fine. You’re allowed to feel like this. But please don’t just decide to do what you want and meet up with all your friends and family. This is only one Christmas, and for me personally, I know that I would rather celebrate another ten more Christmases then risk this being the last one with all my loved ones.

So, with that all being said, it seems that the majority of people will now be staying inside their homes. Since it’s winter, it’s going to be a lot harder to stay sane. It’s cold outside, you can’t really enjoy a pleasant stroll outside and I don’t know about you, but all I want to do this winter is eat a lot of food, and hibernate. How great would it be if you could just go to sleep and this whole pandemic would just be over when you woke up – we can only dream!

Anyway, since we’ll be stuck inside most of the time (although I strongly suggest that you get out for a walk, or do some form of exercise when you can, safely of course), now is the perfect time to find a few new games to play and since this is a history blog, then medieval games are what we’ll be delving into 😀

So what medieval games and pastimes can you enjoy in this next lockdown? Let’s take a look…

The Popular Medieval Game of Chess

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Chess, who hasn’t heard of chess? I will admit it is a game that I am not very knowledgable about, but it was a very popular game that people would have played in medieval time. Chess is actually an ancient game, that has many variations.

The earliest known reference of chess that we know about was from a story that was written in India prior to 600 AD. But the version that you see today, was actually played by the Vikings in the 10th century. The really great thing is that we can actually see the written rules for Chess from the late 1200s, and these rules still exist today! Very little has changed.

Of course, now anyone can play the game (although I wouldn’t say I understand it completely). But back in medieval times it would have been more popular among the nobility, rather than the peasants. The reason behind this, is because they considered it as a excellent practice for planning battle strategy, and when you look at the names and pieces that are involved in chess it makes perfect sense.

You’ve got one king and queen, a few elite clergy (seen on the board as bishops), knights, castles (called rooks), and many peasants (or pawns) who would make up the largest section of a Medieval army.

As in Medieval warfare, the peasants (pawns) are typically the first to charge into battle followed by the knights and other special forces. There are some minor differences between how Chess is played today and how it was played during the Middle Ages though, which is understandable considering how things always like to change and evolve.

Don’t worry if you know nothing about chess, it takes time and a lot of practice to perfect it – if you don’t know where to begin, then why not check out The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. Apparently, chess sales have soared since the success of this show, so clearly chess is becoming a popular game once more! If you haven’t already tried it, then maybe it’s time that you start learning how to play chess this lockdown.

Medieval Christmas Game: King of the Bean

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So, this isn’t a game in the traditional sense, but during the medieval times playing King of the Bean during Christmas was always a great success. This is a tradition that still survives in some parts of Europe to this day, and it’s one that is pretty easy to do and can also be a lot of fun when it comes to preparing for this “game”.

Basically, the King of the Bean, is when a small bean would have been baked inside bread or cake, and the one who found it in their portion would have been crowned king of the holiday feast. Another show on Netflix called Reign includes this game in one of their episodes, but they have a queen instead for the day!

Now we can see many different versions of this as well, for example, putting a silver coin in a Christmas pudding is another age old custom, and is one that can bring the coin finder good luck. I love traditions like this, as it’s something so simple, but we all want to have a little bit of extra luck these days. Plus, having some traditions is a great way to keep yourself entertained.

And if you don’t think that finding a bean or silver coin is exciting, then at least you can have some great fun baking a banana bread in your free time (that’s what every made in the first lockdown right? I actually made a load of Anzac biscuits at the start, but luckily it was during summer so I could do a fair bit of hiking and not worry about all the sugar I was eating)!

Gambling With Dice

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I’m not encouraging gambling, but certainly back in medieval times gambling was a great source of entertainment for people, and a great way for people to lose money as well. There were many ways that people could gamble in medieval times, both in the traditional format and in a simpler version played with dice. Dice were easy to carry and were played in all ranks of society, including the clergy (surprise, surprise).

Playing with dice is fairly simple, and there are many different games that you can actually play with a couple of dice. People always seem to forget how simple a game needs to be sometimes, particularly when you look at all the technology and complex gadgets in use today – well you can forget about those.

All you need to concern yourself with is playing a game of chance. This was one of the popular games that medieval players would have enjoyed, and all the different variations of dice were a huge hit with medieval people.

One of the most famous dice games was Raffle. This game is simple, but can be rather enjoyable. All that the player would need to do, is to land three dice with an identical number on all three or hit the highest pair of identical numbers to win. Simple right?

There was another really great game as well called Hazards, which nowadays is know as Craps (although Craps is a much more tame version of the game Hazards). The game Hazards contained a lot of high risk, which I sure you would have guessed by now.

It is a game that is played with two dice, but it does have a few complicated rules. All I will say about this game is that it has been around since the 14th century, and was even mentioned by Geoffrey Chaucer who refers to the game in the Canterbury Tales.

Remember I’m not encouraging gambling, these are all just for a bit of fun, and are games that people would have really enjoyed during the medieval period!

A Pack of Cards Can Go a Long Way

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I always have a pack of cards in my handbag, whenever Luke and I used to go to the pub (oh the good old days), we might have brought out the pack to play a few different games which I’ll talk about in just a second. I was also obsessed with playing a few card games on my lunch break at my old job. It was just a great way to relax and get your mind off of work!

Of course, there are many card games out there, and the majority of these games only really work well with two or three people. But you could buy multiple packs and just combine the cards if you wanted to (of course, if you have got a larger group, I hope it’s people in your household or bubble).

Anyway, what I find really interesting is that it was the medieval period that saw the introduction of card games into British culture. So I guess I really need to thank the people who introduced it during this time, as I do like playing cards for fun. They were popular in China since the 10th century though, and then came to Britain in the 15th century.

In the late Middle Ages and early modern times, card playing was widely enjoyed by all levels of society, perhaps because it was more challenging than dice and other games of pure chance yet less cerebral than chess.

I’m not entirely sure what the card games would have been, as there wasn’t the set standard pack of cards that we have nowadays. Because there was no uniformed deck, the games that would have been played varied, but the general idea of playing cards was there.

So I think it’s only right that I let you know about two fantastic games that I always use to play with my friends.

The first one, we named Speed, and it’s thanks to a good friend from my old job that introduced me to this game. It will only work with 2 players, and is essentially solitaire but for two people. You split the cards into two piles, and then do five rows of cards (first row has 1 card face down and then 1 face up, and then the next row has 2 cards face down, and 1 face up and so on). You create two piles and flip one card over on each turn. If you have a card that is higher or lower you can get rid of a card. The first person to get rid of all their cards wins, which is why you need to be speedy!

The second favourite game, which you can play with a 2-4 people (more if you have several packs of cards) is Threes, it’s also known as sh**head, but Threes is the more polite version. A player will have three cards face down, and then three cards face up on top of them. You don’t touch these until the end. You then get dealt three cards in your hand. You must then place a card in the middle and take turns putting a card down that is higher then this one. You can then have “magic cards” which do certain things. E.g. a 2 will restart the game, a 10 will blow up the pack. I had a few other rules, but I think we just made it up as we went along.

Those are my favourites, and I’m not sure if I’ve explained them very well, but I’d be happy to talk about them in the comments if you want to!

But those aren’t the only two card games out there, of course, there are so many different ones. So if you do a quick google then you can easily find that can keep you entertained for hours, you just got to find the right one for you. Start off simple if you don’t normal play cards, and then find something with a few more rules, you’ll soon become a pro at thrashing your opponents!

Other Medieval Games That You Can Play in “Normal Times”!

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I had planned to do individual paragraphs for all the different medieval games that you could try out during this lockdown, but there are actually so many different games out there. So I’m just going to sum them up in this next section!

If you haven’t already guessed, then there are some games that were played during the Middle Ages that are still played today, including bowling, prisoner’s base, blind man’s bluff (also called hoodman’s blind), and simple “horseplay”. If you have a large household then great, you can play these games with all your siblings. But if it is just you or your significant other, then these games aren’t exactly games that you can play with your neighbour during this lockdown (when things are safer you can do whatever you want)!

For games that were enjoyed indoors, or what might be referred to as a more relaxed game, then draughts (checkers) and backgammon were a popular pastime for adults. Whereas children would have wrestled, swam, fished and played a game that was a cross between tennis and handball. The outdoors was their play area – of course this doesn’t really help us now, since we should limit the time we spend outside, and with who we spend it, but I just think it was nice knowing that even during medieval times, children could just enjoy their time as a child.

Activity / Sports Games

  • Bocce: a form of boules.  
  • Bowling.
  • Curling
  • Pall-Mall

Dice games – knuckle-bones 

  • Well all you need was a couple of dice, and you could play whatever you wanted really.

Board Games

  • Alquerque
  • Fierges
  • Fox & Geese 
  • Game of the Goose
  • Merels 
  • Nyout 
  • Parchisi 
  • Senet 
  • Tablut 
  • Wari 

Card Games 

  • All Fours
  • Alouette (2 or 4 players)
  • As Nas
  • Basset
  • Karnoffel
  • Tarok

As you can see, medieval people certainly loved their games! There are probably hundreds more that I have missed, some that you can play by yourself, games that you can play with your household etc. All I ask is that if you are planning on playing a game that involves other people just be safe, and follow your guidelines for the tier that you live in. Keep your distance, wash hands etc. You know the drill.

This Christmas isn’t how any of us pictured it. We all had hoped that things would be safe, and a bit more normal, but obviously this virus doesn’t care what we think. Please don’t blame anyone for what has happened, just do what you can and stay safe.

We’re just one day closer to this all being over, so stay strong.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, it was only meant to be a little bit of fun and give you some interesting game suggestions that you could play if you were feeling a bit bored at home. I know I haven’t covered everything, so it would be great to find out if you play any games? Do you enjoy doing a puzzle, or playing on your phone, or maybe you like making up stories?

Whatever game you like playing, I’d love to know in the comments, and if there’s a medieval (or any history) connection than that would be great!

17 thoughts on “Medieval Games that You Can Play This Christmas

  1. Such a fantastic post this is, and some great games to play, I used to play chess but I wasn’t brilliant at it, I always got check mate at the end of the game.

    I need to spruce up my card games, I’m getting better, I will have to challenge you again next year 😉

    Stay safe as you say and hopefully next year will be a better year for us all!
    Happy Christmas x 🎄

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Card games are always fun – there’s so many different card games out there. I always like the quick simple ones though, otherwise I get too confused! Hope you have fun playing them though, and have a Merry Christmas!

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  2. This was an interesting read. I am sure a lot of people will be playing games this holiday especially since most of us are not traveling. Great suggestions!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well exactly! I’m hoping these games suggested will just provide people with a bit of entertainment since we can’t really travel. Although there’s plenty of things that people could do that would hopefully add a bit more festive cheer this holiday season, particularly as things aren’t exactly how we had hoped! Hopefully you have a Merry Christmas though!

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  3. I love this list of medieval games! Recently members of my family have taken up playing poker for fun. A pack of cards does indeed go a long way.

    My heart goes out especially to all the people who find themselves suddenly alone for the holidays. A family gathering goes a long way to lift spirits so I am hopeful that people will find their own ways to make the day special. 🙂

    Happy holidays and solstice!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Poker is a classic! You really can have a lot of fun with a pack of cards!

      Same, it really wasn’t the news that people wanted to hear. I know a few people who are based in London and they are disappointed, but they’re being positive and have just said they will have a massive celebration when it’s safe to do so!

      Happy holidays to you too!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed! I love playing a game or two, particularly when the weather is wet and miserable outside (at least it is where I live haha)! I hope you have fun playing them, and I hope you have a Merry Christmas!

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