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5 Pub Games (To Play While Drinking Responsibly)

pub games mascarade

Few things in life are better than a visit to the pub with friends. No, don’t give me that ‘satisfaction of a job well done’ rubbish, we all know it’s ‘PUB’. You don’t even have to be indulging in the amber nectar to be honest (though it helps), it’s just the fun of being with people you know in a friendly place… having fun. But what could make that fun more funner than a fun, funny collection of pub games?

Please note, I’m not talking about drinking games like ‘think while you drink’ or ‘Pass Out’, which do not encourage responsible drinking, games which emerge when you’ve been drinking (I’m looking at you, Cards Against Humanity and Porno Charades) or games that you have to drink through to tolerate (Monopoly, Oath and, I’m sorry to say, some games of Twilight Imperium – you will have your own list, I’m sure). These are games that can help break the ice, or get things going when things get quiet in the snug, or even prevent a fight from happening… not sure about that last one though.

Another couple of conditions. The games have to be playable on a small table - I could have put Codenames here, but 1) it takes up a lot of table space and 2) after a spilled pint incident at Zatucon… yeah, sick move, Neil.

Also, the game has to come in a fairly small box – not everyone turns up to a night at the pub with a Kallax-sized games bag like me, so it has to be either pocketable or small bag-able – this is why I have left off Big Potato games like Chameleon and Sssnakesss because their boxes are too big for the games they contain – take note, Big Potato.

Finally, the rules must be simple enough for someone who is suitably ‘relaxed’ to be able to understand – Exploding Kittens went down like cooking fish in a communal microwave on a night where drinking had been… not so responsible.

So here are five pub games to make that greatest of experiences even greater. And yes, I have held my first-born child; I went to the pub afterwards...


Now the box for this is still a bit sizeable, but is a lot more portable for pub games play than the next few. Mascarade is a hidden identity/bluffing game where players end up not even knowing who they are. Standard.

The idea of the game is to get 13 gold – simple. To do this, players activate their characters ability – for instance, the King can take 3 gold whereas the Bishop takes gold from the richest player. This would be very simple… if you could be sure of who you were. Because the other action you can do is swap your card blindly with another player – neither of you will know who has what. The third action is that you can look at your card, but as you can imagine, when someone does that it’s swappy time.

What this means is that when you use your character, you can be challenged by someone else who thinks that they are that character. If you are right, all is well – you activate your ability and the challenger puts gold in the courtroom (which is where the Judge gets their gold from), but everyone will know who you are. If they are right, the opposite is true. If you are both wrong – well, the Judge is gonna get rich. Unless they get challenged too.

It sounds tricky, but after a few rounds (both kinds when playing pub games), the silliness and skulduggery become most enjoyable. You can also play with up to 13 people so… it can get very silly indeed.

Just One

If there was just one game I would take to the pub, it would be Just One - see what I did there?

Just One is a cooperative hinting game for up to seven people, where one person has to guess one of five words on a card. To do this, all the other players write just one word as a clue to the word chosen on the card. Before showing the words to the guesser, though, they must check to see if anyone has written the same word, because if they have, all words that are the same are eliminated. So there’s a balance between giving a good hint and not giving an obvious hint. Good times. And because it’s co-operative, there’s no feeling of competition with anyone but the game. Kinda.

No Thanks!

When I go to the pub and suggest a game for those pub games moments, this is the usual response I get, so why not be clever-clever and always have it with you? [I am so much fun to know]

Joking aside, No Thanks! is an ideal game for the pub as it is incredibly easy to explain (you are trying to get the lowest score by picking up low value cards, runs of cards and/or keeping hold of the most counters because these reduce your score), very simple to play (pick up the card or place a counter; if you have no counters, you have to pick up the card) and a whole lot of fun when someone totally misjudges a run (the cards are valued from 3 to 35, but nine are removed at random at the beginning of the game). Might get a bit heated with multiple plays though.

Both Just One and No Thanks! almost didn’t make it onto the list due to the size of their respective boxes when looking at pub games – come on Repos and Amigo, you know you can make boxes for these games as minimal as your names. From here on in, things get smaller…

6 Nimmt

The smallest box in this lot with possibly the biggest table presence – it’s no Ark Nova though, so still more than manageable.

On similar lines to No Thanks!, 6 Nimmt is a game where you try to get the lowest possible score by not picking up cards. Nice and easy. The only problem is that everyone else is doing the same thing as well at the same time.

A single game of 6 Nimmt takes place over ten rounds. In each round, everyone plays a card face down that should be higher than the highest card on one of the four rows in the middle of the table (the game starts with four rows of one card each) – the card must be placed on the row that their card’s number is closest to. If they play a card that is lower than the cards in the rows, they must pick up one of the rows and put it in their score pile. Players will also have to pick up the row if theirs is the sixth card played to a row – nimmt means ‘take’ in German, you see – leaving that card as the starter for the row.

Once all cards have been played, the players then tot up the number of bull heads on their cards to get their score. The person with the lowest score wins; the person with the highest score doesn’t. You can leave it at this or you can keep playing until someone reaches 66 points to see who the ultimate winner/loser is.

With everyone playing their cards at the same time, no-one feels left out, and this really is one of those games where you see victory snatched from the jaws of defeat and vice versa from round to round. May cause harsh language.


This could have been Cockroach Poker, which is also a really fun bluffing game, but how could I miss out a game that is played with beer mats? I ask you!

Skull (or Skulls and Roses, if you like) is a bluffing/bidding game where players take it in turns to put down one of their four cards face down in front of them. This can either be one of their three flowers or a skull. Once everyone has put down a card, the first player then decides whether to put down another card or bid. If they put down another card, the next player gets to make the same choice. If they bid, they have to say how many flowers they can uncover, starting with their own. The next player then has to decide whether they raise the bid or fold.

Once everyone has folded and only one bidder remains, they must flip over enough flowers to fulfil their bid. If they do, they win the round. If they reveal a skull, the player whose skull they revealed gets to choose one of their cards at random to discard. Run out of cards and you are out of the game. The ultimate winner is either the first player to win two rounds or the last player with any cards left.

Bluffs, bids and beautiful beer mats – what could be a more perfect game for the pub? As long as money doesn’t start changing hands, things should be fine. No, I don’t want to make this ‘interesting’…

And there you go, five pub games (pub-friendly) that can be played by the most doubtful ludophobe. You know you’ve cracked it when they say ‘another round?’ and they’ve still got a full drink in front of them.