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Best Bar Games For Your Bar or Brewery (2021)
Bar games conjure a variety of mental images. Visions of darts and billiards evoke the dive bar aesthetic, reminding us of a time the beer-and-skeeball combo was exclusive to reluctant parents at Chuck E. Cheese. But as Bob Dylan once said, “these times, they are a’changing!”
The concept of bar and brewery games dates back to the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. when Ancient Greeks could be found playing Kottabos, a game that involved flinging wine sediment at targets in exchange for prizes. Today, games continue to attract patrons and keep them coming back for more. And while the concept of pairing games and alcohol is ancient, bar and brewery owners are concocting new ideas for what the pairing can look like in modern taprooms.
Keeping games on hand gives guests a reason to stay longer (and thus spend more) while elevating the customer experience, making your taproom a destination. Having theme nights and group games as a recurring event increases engagement, and can be used to create a regular crowd on what would otherwise be a slower night.
We’ve organized 42 games into nine different categories to help you decide what will best fit your establishment:
Depending on your free space, clientele and overall vibe, your choice of games may change. One thing is sure, introducing games adds something unique for patrons to enjoy and creates a deeper sense of community as guests interact in ways that get them talking, laughing and connecting not just to one another but to your establishment and brand.
While most bars and breweries provide games free of charge, others choose a paid system with a per-game or day-pass fee. These fees are nominal (between $1.50-$5.00) but can add up and require minimal investment. Others, like Cleveland, Ohio’s Tabletop Board Game Cafe, off year-long memberships for around $25, giving patrons a reason to return on a regular basis.
If you’re looking to make your bar, brewery, or taproom a bit more fun and up your food and beverage sales, try bringing some of these games on board.
If your taproom has space for an arcade game or two, grabbing an old-school arcade cabinet can go a long way toward attracting patrons. Some breweries, like Marz Community Brewing in Chicago, even have full arcades! Having coin arcade games also adds another revenue stream, as each player pays per game.
- If you’re going to pick a single arcade cabinet, it better be Pac-Man. The dot-devouring namesake is a must for arcade players. And what’s better than Pac-Man? Pac-Man and beer.
- A classic arcade game, the likes of which first made an appearance in saloons of the 1930s. Pinball in its varying forms—from James Bond-themed to The Simpsons—is a forever fun game, bringing in multiple generations of players. Some places, like Kickback Pinball Café in Pittsburgh, even make this a centerpiece of their experience.
- The 1981 classic galactic shooter game was a pioneer in arcade games. The pixelated starfighter fighting off deadly aliens provides hours of fun... should you make it that far.
- The competition in this classic game never ends. Challenge your patrons to Skee-Ball competitions, upping the ante for a commitment to the cause.
- Old School Nintendo
- No space for a retro cabinet? Consider setting up a Nintendo Console for patrons to enjoy, just like the old days. Bars like Charlotte, North Carolina’s Salud Beer Shop made a name for themselves with this simple staple, with patrons grabbing a beverage and challenging one another to hours of Mario and Zelda.
If there’s one thing Millennials and younger brewery-goers love more than anything, it’s nostalgia. Lean into this trend in your game selection and watch your younger crowd go wild. These games are easy to store on a shelf or behind the bar. Having a designated space for check-out helps keep you games in good condition. These games are great for the younger bar crowd or establishments that cater to families.
- Operation is hard enough as a semi-steady-handed kid. Throw a couple of beers in the mix and you're sure to see a fun crowd of bar-goers challenging themselves time and again to retrieve organs without deploying the loud buzz and bright red nose.
- It really is “fun getting into Trouble,” as the old tagline suggests. Red, blue, yellow, and green pieces evoke the familiarity of childhood games with the stationary dice that won’t disappear as the game wears on. .
- Guess Who?
- A game of minor skill, Guess Who? is great for those first-time Tinder dates or long-time couples looking for something to talk about.
- Steady hands are a must! One by one players remove blocks from a skyscraper. The more pieces you take out the shakier the structure becomes. The first person to tumble the tower loses.
- A bit more aggressive than the previous options, Battleship allows players to work out their strife by sinking ships of their opponent. Curse that pesky patrol boat!
If you’re looking to offer something atypical, step outside of nostalgia and into vintage games. Try scouring thrift store shelves for rare games, giving your taproom a unique edge — just make sure they have all the pieces.
- Murder Mystery
- Grab this classic whodunit for patrons ready to try and catch a killer.
- Mall Madness
- In 2020, Hasbro updated this classic game, but how much cooler would it be to showcase an original? Let customers shop until they drop all while experiencing shopping malls — a unicorn in modern shopping life.
- Following the Murder Mystery trail, Clue breeches nostalgia and vintage fun by allowing patrons to find a killer in a boardgame mansion.
- Honestly, I’m not sure if anyone truly knows how to play Parcheesi. But what better place for one to try their hand than over beers with friends?
For those looking to hang for an afternoon, a game of strategy allows patrons to set up camp (literally) and try their hand at attacking a fictional civilization. Once word gets out that you offer strategic games, you’ll pull in a niche crowd in addition to your mainstream drinkers. Strategy games are great for keeping customers for an entire afternoon or evening and ultimately increasing sales. These games tend to come at a higher price point (Settlers of Catan runs around $45 with expansion packs starting around $25) so these may be good games to either require a membership or at minimum collateral to ensure the game gets back to you in one piece.
- Settlers of Catan
- Groups of 3-4 can gather around and build their settlements, using their negotiation skills to acquire resources and outsmart opponents. Games typically take a few hours, giving customers plenty of time for fun and multiple rounds.
- A conquest game for anywhere from 2 to 6 players, Risk involves significant analysis and is a precursor to Settlers of Catan. Just make sure not to insult Ukraine.
- Ticket to Ride
- All aboard! Build your tracks across the United States in a race to see who can construct the best routes. The longer your railroad the more points you earn.
For those looking to challenge others to a game of smarts, grab some of these intellectual games. These are inexpensive games that often come in various themes. You can choose stylized versions to speak to your clientele while showcasing the unique character of your taproom.
- Imagine the words patrons will come up with after a few brews. Make sure to have the official Scrabble dictionary on hand to ward off any potentially unfriendly rivalries.
- Dice, math, and strategy take hold during this classic intellectual game where players attempt to get as many points as possible through a series of rolls and wit.
- That’s right — good ol’ fashioned chess. With The Queen’s Gambit making us all believe we harbor an internal chess prodigy, chess will make your patrons feel smarter just for having a board at their table. Bonus points if you have an official timer (you may also benefit from a few how-to-play manuals!).
Having small games on hand for guests to take to their tables is an easy go-to, without much to keep up with. Price points are low, though requiring collateral for checkout is a good standard. When choosing cards, make sure to choose a material that is largely waterproof to increase longevity.
- Regular ol’ cards
- Bicycle cards are perfectly fine. Grab at least 2 decks and patrons can challenge one another to MaNueVer, a strategic card game, as often happens in Legion Brewing’s Plaza Midwood Taproom in Charlotte, North Carolina.
- Cards Against Humanity
- Honestly, any opportunity to get in some adult jokes tends to go a long way for taproom fun. Cards Against Humanity can be played from PG to MA and players make the call.
- Phase 10
- Not only is this game fun but it takes forever to get through, especially with lots of players. Allow your patrons to be entertained for literallyhours with just one $6 deck.
- Sushi Go
- Sushi Go is not only incredibly cute (tiny little maki rolls smile up at you from the deck) but it’s also a very engaging, fast-paced, points-based game involving varying card combinations for ultimate point acquisition.
- Sleekly packaged, Tenzi consists of four sets of ten dice, each set its own color. Players roll all ten dice repeatedly until they make the pattern or combination on the card pulled from the accompanying deck. Make sure to pick up the expansion pack for more combinations.
Ready to bring groups to the table? Team games are a great way to engage your guests while setting them up for fun and adding to your events calendar.
- Bring on a local trivia master to host a fun game for patrons. Some breweries and brewpubs like Charlotte’s Legion Brewing host a weekly team trivia. Others, like Wytheville, Virginia’s 7 Dogs Brewpub host music trivia with faithful followings as song clips are played and teams rush to recall names. Asheville’s Hi-Wire Brewing hosts Socially Distanced Trivia in their Bier Garden. And there’s always the classic fallbacks of themed trivia, like The Office and other iconic themes, or general trivia to test common knowledge.
- An easy game to facilitate (all it takes is a few packs of Bicycle cards), bring Bridge back with tournaments not relegated to 1950’s housewives (though a theme night could be fun). Fun fact: the Seven of Diamonds is informally the Beer Card. Set a house rule that if a player wins the last trick with this card, the partner has to buy them a beer.
- Good weather, good beer, good game. While quite possibly the most basic of brewery games, cornhole is tried and true and is perfect for lovely days outdoors. Or, if there’s space, bring the game indoors and take advantage of the unused brewery or unoccupied event space. Gathering guests up for a tournament keeps people engaged and looking for more.
If you’ve got the space, table games build a community vibe, unique to the games you choose and the neighborhoods you serve. Keep in mind your clientele by picking unique games not available nearby.
- Shelby, North Carolina’s Newgrass Brewing has strategically placed their shuffleboard table on a second-story loft, overlooking both the stage and brewhouse. Cinderlands Brewing in Pittsburgh has the game on their first floor. Patrons sand down the table and slide the pucks down a 12-foot table. This game is astoundingly fun! People stop in just for the novelty.
- Air Hockey
- An excellent nod to childhood, air hockey is plain ol’ fun. Patrons visiting Elkin, North Carolina’s Angry Troll Brewing love hopping on board with air hockey boards and other games in their arcade not typical to breweries, bringing in crowds from across the state and more. If you’re in Denver, definitely check out the tables at Sancho’s Broken Arrow, an incredible Grateful Dead dive bar.
- Ping Pong
- You honestly can’t go wrong with this classic game. Indoor or outdoor, ping pong gives guests an easy way to connect and be active while playing a game where (really) the rules don’t matter.
- Perfect for most taproom vibes, Foosball is small and compact and a stand-out at breweries. In Standpoint, Idaho, MickDuff’s Brewing Co. lineup of group games includes foosball, making it fun for patrons and their families to enjoy an afternoon with plenty to do.
- We would be remiss not to add in classic billiards to a list of table games. It goes without saying that this is a quintessential bar game that isn’t simply for dive bars.
Bring in some outdoor flare for a packed patio and to grab the attention of passers-by. If your taproom has a more relaxed atmosphere, outdoor games will draw in a crowd ready to play the day away.
- Giant Games
- Whether it’s giant chess, giant Jenga, giant Connect 4, add some creativity to your set-up with picture-worthy patio games. Charlotte’s VBGB Beer Hall and Garden is the master of outdoor games and people can’t get enough.
- While they’re acing the giant outdoor games, VBGB has multiple sand volleyball for patrons to enjoy, complete with the occasional competition. Whether patrons are looking for easygoing play with friends or a full-on competition, sand volleyball (or even a portable net in the parking lot) is a great time made even better by great beer.
- A team game (with lots of bright colored balls on a lovely grassy court), bocce is a great game to deviate from the norm. Stone Brewing’s Liberty Station World Bistro & Gardens in San Diego sets a lovely standard for this historic game and Chicago’s Half Acre Beer Company’s Balmoral location’s outdoor bar features a bocce court. Take it a step further by registering with American Bocce Company for official league status.
- Whether indoor or outdoor, nothing says old-school fun like a game of darts. Morganton, North Carolina’s Sidetracked Brewery brings the fun with barrel tables set up next to a dartboard for a fun, cheers-worthy game.
- Ladder toss
- Whether you DIY with piping or purchase the official ladder toss, this game of skill and balance is fun and surprisingly challenging, especially with drink-in-hand.
- Duckpin bowling
- Having made its way into our cultural game lexicon in the early 1900s, duckpin bowling has seen a bit of a comeback as bars and patrons look for something different to do while drinking. Cincinnati’s Hoppin’ Vines brings mini-bowling alongside their vast selection of nationwide brews while Berlin’s Brewdog rents lanes by the hour inside their educational brewery.
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