If we are going to talk about Victorian games, we probably should distinguish between games for adults, games for children and games for the whole family. Many were invented by the Victorians and are still popular today.
A lot of toys were expensive in Victorian times and even children from rich families would have few toys, so these toys really did get used a lot and passed from child to child within the family.
Poor children would not have any toys to speak of and those that they did have, they would be homemade such as, a doll fashioned out of odd bits of fabric, or soldiers whittled out of a stick with a penknife.
A popular Victorian children’s game was a jumping rope, where a rope would be swung in a circular motion between two people so that a third person could jump in and over the rope and the motion got faster and faster until it caught the person jumping.
These were usually made of wood and had moving parts powered by a hand crank.
Toy soldiers were very popular in the Victorian era and remain a popular plaything for little boys today, with children re-enacting battles they had heard about from older members of the family.
These were and still are produced in a large range of styles and colours however the really beautiful glass marbles were out of the price range of poor families. Instead, they might have had marbles fashioned out of clay. Games often involved knocking other people’s marbles out of the way whilst trying to get your marble to a target.
This could be used to put on a pretend afternoon tea for themselves or the characters in a dolls house, as the Victorian girls loved to imitate adult life whilst playing.
This is the archetypal rich. Victorian family toy that was a real investment piece and would be passed down through the generations. The poor child’s equivalent was the hobby horse, a broomstick with a horse’s head fashioned out of spare offcuts of fabric. The child would be able to prance about happily on this, probably having more fun than they would on a rocking horse as it demanded imaginative play and could be taken out and about with the child.
Toy theatres were another toy that gave children great opportunities for imaginative play. They would re-enact scenes from family life or from outside the home and in those families where the adults attended theatre performances, children might try to recreate these shows. They would then put on a performance for parents to enjoy once everyone was assembled at home.
The spinning top and yoyo were other cheaper toys popular in the Victorian era by all types of children.
Another great, late Victorian craze that is still around today, is toy trains. This was a wonderful, collector hobby because a child could start off with a basic toy train set and then additional parts and sections could be added to it over time.
What games did Victorian adults or families play?
As for Victorian adults, with the absence of TV and other cheap entertainment, board and parlour games were very popular.
The game of charades was certainly a Victorian favourite and is still played a lot nowadays at family gatherings, especially at Christmas time. To play charades, you need a list of phrases or words that can be acted out, it will help if the phrases are likely to be known by all the participants. The players are divided into two or more groups with each group taking a turn at acting out their phrase and their team guessing the phrase therefore scoring a point.
Blind man's Buff
Now more commonly known as blind man’s bluff, involved blindfolding one of the players while all other guests scattered around the room. To start, the blindman is spun around several times to make him feel dizzy and confused. The blindfolded person has to try to catch someone and when they do, identify them. If they get it right then the captured player becomes the blindman. If the blindman is unable to identify who they have caught, then the prisoner is freed and play continues.
Pass the Slipper
Pass the slipper involves a player standing in the centre of a circle and closing his eyes whilst the slipper or other small object is passed around the circle from player to player. The person in the centre then opens his eyes and guesses who has the slipper. If he is correct, someone else goes into the centre of the circle.
Other games commonly played included forfeits, lookabout, squeak piggy squeak, Reverend Crawley's game and Kim's game to name a few – all very entertaining but quite exhausting!
The Victorians also loved their board games and some of these were invented well before the Victorian era such as chess, dominoes and backgammon but still played widely by the Victorians. However, many new children’s board games were invented in the Victorian era that were educational as well as fun.