800 Years of Shuffleboard: The Game's Surprisingly Long History

800 Years of Shuffleboard: The Game's Surprisingly Long History

When home entertainers think of setting up their all-important game room, numerous ideas will pop into mind. Probably leading the pack is buying a home pool table. This totally makes sense: billiards are probably the most common of table games folks invest in. If you’ve got room to expand, you might want to add more fun stuff.

Maybe an old-school standup arcade video game. Air hockey is a favorite for those looking for fast action. Or perhaps one will search for a pub-perfect professional foosball table. All of these are fine choices, but there’s another to consider. One with a long and impressive pedigree.

If you’re lucky enough to live near one of those familiar neighborhood bars that keep folks entertained with everything from dartboards to trivia nights, you may have noticed folks leaning over a long, thin stretch of wood and wondered, “What the heck is that game?”

Congratulations, you’ve discovered the majestic shuffleboard table! Imposing yet inviting, it’s among the best pub games making its way into American homes. It’s got the regal feel of a billiards table, the sliding puck action of air hockey, plus the precision skills of darts, with a spoiler function that literally lets you knock your opponents out of the running.

And here’s the crazy thing: this seemingly humble and understated tabletop game has actually been around for the better part of a millennium! It’s just about as old as billiards (which have been around since the 1300s) and blows modern games like foosball and air hockey out of the water! If you’re ready to literally lean into the fun sport of shuffleboard, check out the venerable past which has brought it into your present.

A Game of Kings

While no one is entirely sure when shuffleboard was first created, we do know that in England, sometime around the time of King Henry V (whose reign lasted until 1422), an early version was recorded. Known at the time as “slide-groat” or “shove-groat,” it was typically played with coins on a common tabletop. As with the modern game, the idea was to shove the large English silver coin known as the groat down the table into a zone where it could score points.

Those more expensive coins were the groat of choice used by superfan King Henry VIII in the 1500s. Eventually, though, the common folks caught on. Slide-groat soon became a favorite of anybody who had a few pennies to lay on a table, taking both home parties and pub gatherings by storm all across the British Empire. What started out as an exclusive royal competition was now found in all corners of everyday life. There was one British colony in particular where it really picked up.

Shuffling off to America

Early English settlers in the Americas were incredibly fond of their penny-pushing groat games. Whether you saw soldiers relaxing to it or families having friendly fun, we know for sure that records indicate shuffleboard was a thing by 1692. In fact, 20th century playwriter Arthur Miller discovered this when penning his classic drama, The Crucible, incorporating it into his story. So the game has been on our shores even longer than there’s been a United States!

Fast forward to the 19th century, and professional American cabinetmakers were making shuffleboard tables for wealthy families. This is where the modern version we all know came from. By the 1890s, there were even professional competitions happening, reported in newspapers next to baseball scores. By the 1940s, they started popping up in taverns all over America and even became a way of raising spirits during WWII, with celebrities playing in public exhibitions.

Nowadays, there’s a Shuffleboard Hall of Fame and while professional competitions aren’t as big a deal as they were in the 1950s, they still happen! Of course, we all know the concrete deck version we’ve seen on cruise ships. But the original tabletop version is what you should be bringing home. When you do, don’t forget you’re carrying almost a thousand years of legacy in every friendly game!