entertainingFood & Drink

Entertaining: Old-Fashioned Parlor Game Party

by Maxwell Tielman

I think I can say, without a shred of a doubt, that I would never want to live in Victorian times. In addition to poor hygiene and pre-antibiotic diseases, the era was known for its nonexistent child labor laws, straitlaced moral codes and inflexible social roles. Even from a design standpoint, the Victorian era was lacking, with some of the most reviled, anti-ergonomic design known to mankind. All of this being said, though, the Victorians did do some things right. Like entertaining.

When it came to throwing a good party, those Victorians sure knew how to have a good time. Unlike today, when all of our social skills have atrophied to the point where we can’t interact without “@” tags before our names, the people of Victorian times had social interaction and ice-breaking down to a science. No awkward small talk with The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With. No hovering near the food table while trying to look invested in a deep, textual conversation. No needing to drown out the silence with loud music! How did those suave, debonair Victorians do it? I’ll tell you. They did it with games.

The parlor game, while still in existence today, had its heyday in the nineteenth century when home entertaining was all the rage. In need of affordable diversions, the new middle class turned their parlors into meeting places — salons for imbibing, regaling and merry-making. One of the many customs to gain popularity from this Victorian practice was parlor games — games that could be played by a large group of people with few or sometimes no supplies. Games like Charades, I Spy, Bridge and dominoes proved to be big hits for Victorian partygoers, and it’s no surprise why.

In recent years, I’ve had the opportunity to attend a few parties where parlor games were central to the festivities. Whether I was playing Catchphrase or Settlers of Catan, I found that games were amazing ways to liven people up, lighten the mood and get people talking. Pair that with some good cocktails and a few finger foods, and you’ve got yourself a good night! While I’m definitely happy to be living with all my modern contrivances, I tip my hat to my nineteenth-century predecessors for knowing how to get down. To celebrate the lost art of the game party, we decided to throw one of our own! After the jump, you’ll find inspiration for fabulous party crafts, food and, of course, games! — Max

Above image: Some good parlor-game kit supplies include pencils, paper, playing cards, dice, a timer and a dictionary for word games. We put all of our supplies into a used cigar box, available for a few dollars at tobacco shops. Pencils from InkKit, playing cards from Dry Goods, vintage dice from Modern Anthology.

Above image: We created a portable backgammon board by sewing some canvas to a heavy army fabric backing and stenciling 12 thin triangles onto each side.

Above image: We used regular wooden dominoes to create chic coasters, perfect for game night or everyday use! Simply adhere eight dominoes to the sticky side of cork contact paper and cut away the excess with a craft knife.

Above image: To create theme-appropriate cocktail tumblers, we applied classic card suite icons to glasses with gold leaf. For an in-depth tutorial, click here.

Above image: Small finger foods make the best game-night snacks.

Above image: We crafted a super simple playing card wreath by folding down the corners of red and black playing cards to form triangles and then hot-gluing them into a circle.

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  • I love game night! It has never grown out of fashion for some of us, to get together with friends and play games. Of course there is always good food and drink involved as well.
    One of our favorites is “Dictionary” all you need is the book , some paper and pencils. The “It” person picks a word they think no one will know, and writes out the definition. All the players make up a definition, then all the answers are read by IT, then players vote for the one they think is the actual definition; you get 10 points when you pick the correct one, 5 points when others pick your ( fake) answer, and if you are “It” and no one guesses correctly you get 10 points.

    This is always good for lots of laughs and you increase your vocab too!

  • I *love* this post! Great ideas — especially the handmade backgammon board. Headed to game night tomorrow night!

  • Love it. I agree completely, so bored with the typical gathering in front the antisocial tv. What happened to the days when people would just talk and interact with each other instead of staring mindlessly at their tv?

  • Wow, love the card wreath! Please show pic instructions on how to make one, thanks!

  • Game night a fun idea, but I must say the playing card wreath stole my attention. I HAVE to make it!! So neat!

  • Max I love the fact that I expand my vocabulary when I read your posts. I’m going out imbibing tonight!


  • I think a lot of modern party games are just monetized adaptations of old parlour games. (What Bridget from Refined Vintage describes above is exactly like the game of Balderdash.)

    When we’re too many or feeling too dumb for real board games, these are some of my group’s favourites:

    Telestrations: http://www.telestrations.com/ Like the telephone game, but with drawing. You can play this with just paper and pencils by folding the paper to hide the previous drawing or word, but the white board books and dry-erase markers in this set are great. It’s almost more fun if you have no drawing skills.

    Things: http://www.thingsthegame.com/ Based on an prompt from the card (“Things you wouldn’t do in front of Grandma…”), everyone writes out a response, puts it in a hat, and you guess who said what. Again, something you don’t need to buy the game to play, but it does help having the pre-made prompts. Fun to make up your own prompts too!

    Headbands: http://www.hedbanz.com/ We played the kids version of this in a pub a few years ago, and it was HARD. Then someone gave us the Red Green version (found unopened at Goodwill). It seemed silly, but it’s actually become a mainstay. A friend has also suggested playing it while playing another game, for added confusion. Again, easy to make up your own cards. (I used to play this with elementary school kids and pictures of animals cut out from magazines, taped to their back. Good for learning descriptive vocabulary!)

    These are a lot of fun if you’re looking for alternatives to cards-and-dominoes. Bonus, everyone, from kids to grandmas, can play them. The subject matter sometimes changes a bit from audience to audience though…

  • I agree with Sande’s comment; would love to see exactly how to make that wreath. Please share!! Great post — thanks!

  • I came back to see other party game suggestions, I am so glad I did… I have another game to add that my daughter bought us for Christmas. Quelf, it is not new but I had never heard of it, and all I can say is that is is one of the most interesting, fun games around, Unlike anything you have ever played. It is great for all ages too, and very fun for a group of friends!

  • I LOVE the idea of an old fashioned parlor game party!!! I might have to try this very soon!

  • I’m seriously so glad this is coming back in vogue. We used to play games as a family, and now my husband and I play cribbage almost every evening after dinner. So lovely and so much better than watching netflix.

  • Are there detailed instructions (maybe with photos) of how to make this card wreath??

    • Are there instructions on how to make this card wreath.
      I have a group of twelve ladies that I play cards with once
      a month. Would love to make this wreath for them!!!!