Great Games for the Pub

Great Games for the Pub

Playing board games with others is a wonderful thing, but where we play these games is just as important to the experience. It could be the comfort of the home, or class desks during a lunchtime club, but there is that place that was always intended for people to gather and be merry… the pub.

Today’s pubs are a versatile creature. From late night bands with a ‘no glass on the dance floor’ policy, to family friendly late afternoon drink and a parma, to sitting quietly by a fire, whiskey and book in hand. Maybe we call the latter a bar, the former a club, but they are all places where folks can go and enjoy each other’s company. 

Whilst writing my gaming pub experiences out it struck me some of the things that make these games great for a pub:

  • They are quick to learn
  • They are quick to play
  • They are portable

It helps if you start this first paragraph in ‘90’s VHS style and gradually work your way through DVD, first phone cameras, then finally the latest hi-res phone shot video…

My bartending days are behind me, but I do remember the frenetic nights of folks waiting two deep looking to order for several people at once. Two guys are sitting quietly in a corner, ignoring the ebb and flow of patrons, puzzling over a chess board. A pack of dog-eared cards sit next to the captured pieces, with a couple of the pawns replaced by torn up, folded beer coasters. Come 1AM, we call last drinks, they pack up their board, coaster pawns and all, pay their tab, and are off, still smiling, night fulfilled.

Rhino Hero

Rhino Hero

We’re in a bar, late at night, carefully, ever so carefully, placing the thick cards of Rhino Hero (Scott Frisco, Steven Strumpf) onto the ever increasing tower. 

“Don’t breathe” is muttered by several tense onlookers. We use all the cards in a single tower and adults openly cheer at our group success, despite the rules claiming there should be a single winner.. The rhino even makes it back into the box.


Codenames Card Game


A birthday party, a massive wooden table has been booked and people are coming and going with best wishes. A grid of words is laid on the table, with the secret layout being carried around in the pocket of the birthday girl and significant other… Through the afternoon Codenames (Vlaada Chvátil) becomes a focal point of intrigue, as what is normally a sit down and play game, ends being a lengthy discussion on “if this person works at that place, then surely they would get this [insert obscure reference here]?”. The night unfolds in a 3 hour game won by Red because of an Assassin, punctuated with cake, speeches, and joy all around. If you know and like Codenames, then Codenames: Pictures is an excellent addition or alternative. 

Cockroach Poker (Kakerlaken)

Kakerlaken Poker

One of Melbourne Lockdowns has been declared over and my D&D group, who have only ever met online, finally get together in person to celebrate our DM’s birthday at a boardgame bar. We discuss how old we feel, and all giggle at the novelty of seeing facial expressions in real life as we bluff and lie our way through Cockroach Poker or Kakerlaken Poker (by Jacques Zeimet) is both hilarious and otherworldly now our faces are not behind a screen.

Other Great Games for the Pub

Those memories, these experiences, all feature the Pub and all include a great game that got people talking, either about the game or just plain talking. Maybe that game distracts from worldly problems, and maybe we were just learning to take turns, but finding that quick, easy to learn game to play with friends and family in the pub really does lend itself toward making lasting memories.

Here are some other games I’ve played that really fit in the pub, as they're fast to learn and fast to play:

Quatro Board Game
  • Not out of place next to the pub chess set, Quarto brings 4-in-a-row to a new level, not the least when you hand your opponent the piece they need to place…
  • Knowing when to use your chips to say ‘No Thanks’ makes the game of No Thanks a point NOT-scoring card game that makes you scratch your head.

Playing the right game with your favourite humans only makes these experiences sweeter and what better place than your favourite pub?

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