While the French Revolution was perhaps not the most appropriate time for fun and games, both revolutionaries and royalists found some time for recreation. Many of the games and sports they played are the same as or similar to games and sports we play today. If you want to recreate the lives of the men and women of the French Revolution, or just cut off their heads, there are activities and games out there for you.
What games did the doomed nobles of the French Revolution play? Whist, a card game similar to bridge, was popular, as was faro, another card game that was like a smaller game of baccarat. As for dice, hazard was a game that evolved into our game of craps. Some games played during the French Revolution era are still popular today, like chess and backgammon; vingt-un—French for “twenty-one”—was the 1700s equivalent of blackjack.
Tennis was a popular sport during the French Revolutionary era, as was horse racing. Hunting was a favorite pastime for the nobility. Billiards was also played—Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette would often play against each other. Fencing was standardized, with fencing masters all part of the French Fencing Academy. During the French Revolution, the Academy was disbanded and fencing discouraged. For hot air enthusiasts, ballooning was a newfangled entertainment, with the first recorded manned flight occurring in Paris in 1783.
If you’d like to live the French Revolution experience, you can become a reenactor. Americans looking to reenact the French Revolution era a little closer to home can join a French and Indian War or Revolutionary War reenacting group. French soldiers fought on the American revolutionaries’ side during the Revolutionary War, including figures such as the Marquis de Lafayette, who later played a part in the French Revolution.
There are some French Revolution-themed strategy board games. In Liberté, players compete for power over the Revolutionary French government and win by influencing royalists, moderates, and radicals. La Revolution Francaise is an even more complicated version of this concept; all the historical political factions are represented and diplomacy between players is a factor.
Guillotine is a French Revolution-themed card game in which players collect points for “beheading” noble cards. Certain cards are worth more than others; a noble is worth more than a priest, for example. The card in the front of the line is “guillotined” (the front of the line is marked by a cardboard guillotine). Players use action cards to change the order of the line and to take other actions.
J.D. Wollf has been a writer since 1999 and has been published in a variety of newspapers and newsletters. She has covered everything from local sports to computer accessory reviews and specializes in articles about health issues, particularly in the elderly.