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Parlour game books: old games, new fun

By: Kelsey Jacobi
4.5 minute read

Finding a new game that you enjoy is always a win. Especially in this past year, you may have had more free time to fill or had to search for some different activities to keep entertained. So, explore our digitized parlour game books and you just might find something new and entertaining.

It’s times like these that people have had to find creative ways to entertain themselves. For instance, during the Second World War, Britain had evening blackouts to make it more difficult for German bombers to target its cities. This meant that many people, confined to their homes, had to look for ways to entertain themselves.

Parlour game books

A Game of Chess, 1814. 101 Games to Make and Play; Plate IX.

In such times, parlour or party gamebooks offered creative entertainment ideas. Archives and Special Collections has a selection of these books that we’re sharing to provide some inspiration.


Parlour game books: new ideas from the past

It seemed a fitting time as any to digitize some of these books to see how people in the past entertained themselves – and get a few new ideas for games to play!

The six books currently in the collection list a variety of indoor activities. These books include riddles, coin and string tricks, paper folding, card games, math problems, physical challenges, and much more.

For example, here is a riddle from Diversions & Pastimes: A Second Series of Winter Nights Entertainment (page 16):

“In a certain library no two books have the same number of words.
The number of books in the library is greater than the number of words in the largest book in the library.
How many words does one of the books contain, and what is the book about?”

A blank notebook; about nothing.

Some activities in these books are what you would expect: rock, paper, and scissors; rules for board games like Snakes and Ladders; or instructions for folding a paper airplane.


Other suggestions, however, are not so traditional, or as kid-friendly for that matter! These suggestions include lighting a friend’s cigarette as both participants kneel on one knee while holding the other leg with a hand. One book ignores the rule of “don’t play with scissors” and makes a game of spinning scissors.



Parlour game books: competition, endurance, and engineering

There are many other ideas in these books, and some of the games require endurance, such as a competition of who can lay a cork the farthest while squatting with one hand behind their back.

Other games make use of common household items, like putting a bottle upside down on a piece of paper and trying to slide the paper out without touching or knocking over the bottle.

For those that enjoy building things, these books also include instructions to build your own games, such as table soccer, complete with wooden feet to put on your fingers to “kick” a small ball around.



Parlour game books: ideas and inspiration

There does not seem to be a shortage of ideas to keep people busy when they have spare time. Explore our digitized parlour game books, and perhaps you will find some inspiration in these ideas!

And if you love historical parlour games and are looking for more, explore HathiTrust for collections beyond UCalgary’s Digital Collections.

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