English Renaissance Games

By Lisa Baker
The queen of hearts
body of the queen hearts image by jimcox40 from Fotolia.com

The English Renaissance during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was a time of significant cultural changes that made important literary, scientific and artistic contributions to the western world. Today, many people maintain a lively interest in the culture and developments of the Renaissance. Games that were played at the time are a good resource for educators who are teaching about this period, but they are also enjoyed for entertainment at events like Renaissance festivals.

Card Games

Card games were popular during the English Renaissance. Most card games of the time included gambling, although they can also be enjoyed without gambling. The design of cards during the Renaissance was essentially the same as playing cards today, so these games can be played with an ordinary deck of playing cards.

One example of a Renaissance card game is Maw. It can be played with two to ten players, and each player is dealt a hand of five cards. The goal is to win at least three tricks by playing the card with the highest value in that trick. Cards are assigned a value based on the trump suit, which is chosen by dealing one card after the hands are dealt. The five of the trump suit has the highest value, followed by the jack of the trump suit, the ace of hearts and then the ace, king, and queen of the trump suit. If the trump suit is red, then the number cards are valued from highest (10) down to lowest (2). If the trump suit is black, then the number cards are valued from lowest to highest, with two beating ten. A player must win three tricks in a row to win the hand.

Another Renaissance card game is One and Thirty, which is similar to Blackjack. Players are dealt three cards which they keep face down, and on each turn they can either turn a card face up or discard it. Each card is assigned a number value: aces are worth 11, face card are worth 10 and number cards are worth their face value. Cards must be in the same suit for their value to be added together. The player whose final hand has a sum closest to 31 wins.

Board Games

Board games were also popular during the English Renaissance. Different variations of chess have been popular since ancient times, and it was popular in Elizabethan times. The Renaissance version of chess was essentially the same as the game that is played today. Checkers was also played in the Renaissance and has survived basically unchanged. The Game of Goose was a board game that became popular in the English Renaissance. This game was similar to many board games today. The board had a spiral of squares, and players moved pieces along the spiral by rolling dice. Some of the squares required the player to perform special actions, such as rolling again or going back a square. The winner was the player who reached the end of the track first.

Active Games

Active games were also popular during the Renaissance. In addition to games like archery and hawking, which had a practical as well as an entertainment purpose, there were many games that were popular simply for their entertainment value. One example is Bocce, which is played by two teams with any number of players. Each player has a certain number of bocce balls, and the game has one Pallino ball. In this game, the first player of the first team creates the target by rolling the Pallino, which then becomes the target ball. The first player then rolls his first bocce ball, attempting to get it as close as possible to the Pallino. Players then take turns bowling their bocce balls, with the teams alternating. After all the balls are thrown, then each ball that is closer to the Pallino ball than the closest ball of the other team earns a point. The game continues until one team has earned 12 points.

About the Author

Lisa Baker has been a professional writer since 2001. She has published articles on parenting, environmental issues and religious topics in a variety of print and online venues, including "HomeLife Magazine" and "Pink & Green." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Sweet Briar College.