Forfeits | Old Fashioned Games

"Forfeits" oil painting by George Bernard O'Neill

When Meredith Sweetpea was in Ireland this spring she met a gentleman who told how he and his friends would play a game of “forfeits.” Forfeits is an old game, played for centuries. In it, a person is challenged to do something silly or outrageous when he fails at a task or, in this case, wants to retrieve an item. It can be played with any number of people and is lots of old-fashioned fun.

How to Play Forfeits

All players should sit in a ring, and each player puts a piece of clothing, jewelry or something personal into a pile or a closed box.  These are the “forfeits.” Try to put each item in in secrecy, it adds to the fun.

One person is chosen to be the judge, and another holds up any item from the pile over or behind the judge’s head. The judge cannot and should not see what the item is.

The person holding the items then says to the judge:”

“Heavy, heavy hangs over thy head.
What shall the owner do to redeem the forfeit?”

The judge then commands the owner of the item to do an act or stunt in order to get back their property.

Of course, the judge and the person who is holding up the forfeit also have articles in the pile, and they must act out a command in order to get them back, too!

Here are 20 forfeit ideas to get you started:

  1. Stand on your head.
  2. Have each person in the group ask a question to which you have to answer “yes.”
  3. Sing a song.
  4. Tell a ghost story.
  5. Tell a joke.
  6. Make at least 3 people laugh.
  7. Dance a jig.
  8. Travel across the room on your knees.
  9. Act like a cat: meow and rub up against someone while on all fours.
  10. Give a one-minute talk about elephants.
  11. Say five times fast: “Three big blobs of a black bug’s blood.”
  12. Yawn until you can make someone else yawn.
  13. Say five times fast: “Truly rural.”
  14. Holding on foot in one hand, hop around the room.
  15. Crawl under the table on all fours and bark like a dog.
  16. Recite a limerick.
  17. Mimic how to make a pie without talking.
  18. Eat popcorn out of a bowl without using your hands.
  19. Kiss the wall backwards. Stand 20 inches from wall and lean backwards until your lips touch the wall. (no lipstick please)
  20. Place three strong straight-backed chairs side by side. Life with your head on the first chair and your feet on the third, with folded arms and a stiff body. Have someone remove the middle chair and hold your post for 10 seconds.

Forfeits” by George Bernard O’Neill (17 July 1828 – 23 September 1917), a prolific Anglo-Irish genre painter. Game excerpted from

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