Parlor Games: or what to do at home
Updated: Aug 20
During the pandemic, we were all at home more than most of us were used to. Some of us enjoyed reconnecting with family, having extra time for hobbies, cooking more from scratch, and tackling the to-read pile. And some of us were bored out of our minds.
If it was regency-era England, and no one wanted to read aloud, or no one was interested in dancing, if you were tired of card games, how do you pass the time indoors at a house party?
You play a parlor game! Games were not only a fun way to pass the time but a way to solidify social bonds. They also gave men and women the chance to interact with more freedom than the era’s society restrictions typically allowed.
Some were word games. Consequences is best described as a regency-era Mad Libs. Each player takes a turn writing one of the following words or phrases:
1. Adjective for gentleman
2. Gentleman’s name
3. Adjective for lady
4. Lady’s name
5. Where they met
6. What he wore
7. What she wore
8. He said to her
9. She said to him
10. The consequence was
11. What the world said
The player writes their answer, folds the paper so the next player can’t see it, and passes it to the next player until the phrase is complete and the amusing result is read aloud.
Another word game is I Love My Love with an A. It’s a turn-taking alphabet game. Each player incurs a forfeit if they can’t come up with a suitable word. The format is:
I love my love with a(n) ___ because s/he is ___. I hate my love because s/he is ___. I took him/her to ___ to the sign of the ___. I treated him/her with___ and his/her name is ___.
The first player might say, “I love my love with an A because he is ardent. I hate my love because he is angry. I took him to Albany to the sign of the acorn. I treated him with apples and his name is Andrew.”
A more active game is Buffy Gruffy. One person stands blindfolded while the players arrange their chairs in a circle and exchange seats. The player approaches a chair and pushes their knee forward to see if anyone is there—I can imagine Mr. Wickham nudging someone’s skirts more than necessary. The blindfolded player asks 3 questions to determine who is in the chair and the seated player disguises their voice to answer. If the player guesses correctly, they exchange places. If they miss, they pay a forfeit and have to proceed to another player until they successfully guess.
The Ribbon is an easy game, but it offers the chance to incur a lot of forfeits. Each person has a pice of ribbon and holds one end in their hand. They form a circle around the player who is conducting the game, and they collect the ends of ribbon, tie them together and hold them. When the conductor yells “Pull!” everyone has to let go of their ribbon and when they say “Let go!” they have to pull. Supposedly, if the conductor repeats the commands quickly players are more likely to make a mistake and have to pay a penalty.
A key element to many of these parlor games was the forfeit, which was usually in place to ensure that everyone participated to the best of their abilities. For every loss or error a player makes, a forfeit has to be paid. Sometimes they were a trivial stunts or slightly embarrassing actions or a riddle to solve.
Or... they could be kissing forfeits! Physical contact between the sexes was limited, so opportunities to flirt and maybe kiss someone’s cheek were not to be missed.
One kissing forfeit was “kiss the person you love best without disclosing the secret”. This one is pretty simple to pay: The gentleman has to kiss all the ladies present so his love stays a secret.
A more challenging kissing forfeit was “kiss if you can”. Both the loser and the person assigned to them kneel on the floor back to back. The lady looks over her left shoulder while the gentleman looks over his right shoulder. He has one chance to kiss her cheek while she tries to evade him by either leaning down or standing up. A motivated and quick man might be able to get an arm around her waist and catch a kiss.
Parlor games were an important way both sexes in Georgian England entertained themselves in the evenings outside of music or cards. Maybe games like this can help us pass the time, too.