Traditional French Games: 14 Cool Ways to Play and Study Hard
Games don’t just have to be “fun.”
There are lots of great French games that will not only help you pass the time, but also have educational value.
Playing them with exchange partners, fellow learners and French friends is a really fun way to learn about the language and culture at the same time.
In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the best traditional games that have truly become an essential part of French culture.
- What Do Traditional French Games Have to Offer Language Learners?
- 14 Fun Traditional French Games for Stress-Free Learning
- 1. Pétanque
- 2. Escargot (Snail)
- 3. Jeu de la Barbichette (Game of the Goatee)
- 4. Les Loups-garous de Thiercelieux (Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow)
- 5. Le Bilboquet (Cup and Ball)
- 6. Qui Suis Je? (Who Am I?)
- 7. Mille Bornes
- 8. Le Nain Jaune
- 9. Concept
- 10. Mots Croisés: Crosswords
- 11. Mots Fléchés: Arrow puzzles
- 12. Monopoly
- 13. Pige Dans Le Lac or Pêche (Go Fish)
- 14. Psychiatrist
What Do Traditional French Games Have to Offer Language Learners?
Games that have been passed down over many years can tell us a lot about a culture. Through French games, you’ll learn about how the French enjoy spending time, the ways in which they connect with friends and family and what things they consider important enough to continue to share with each new generation.
Also, while playing traditional French games won’t necessarily always have value from a linguistic perspective, they’re loads of fun. They’ll also give you plenty of opportunities to practice French if you commit to using the language for the duration of the game.
What’s more, you’ll definitely pick up French words and phrases associated with the game, such as ways of referring to certain scores or terminology specific to each pastime.
Plus, playing is a great way to relax your mind and have fun while learning.
With all that in mind, it’s time to call your friends and start enjoying the following popular French games!
14 Fun Traditional French Games for Stress-Free Learning
Pétanque is a famous and popular outdoor French game that’s played in almost every French city garden and park at almost any time of day.
This game comes from La Ciotat , a small town in Provence , where it was invented in 1907.
All you need to play is one small ball and eight larger balls (usually made out of metal).
Pétanque’s rules are very simple.
- Players divide into two teams and choose someone to throw the small ball (known as the jack).
- Once the jack is in play, teams take turns throwing the larger balls, trying to get as close as possible to the jack.
- The game is played in several rounds, and at the end of each one, teams get a point for each ball closer to the jack than those of their opponents.
- Players can knock the other team’s balls away from the jack, which spices things up as you’ll never know who’ll win until the very last ball has been thrown.
No French game list is complete without pétanque, and you’re sure to look like a real Frenchie if you’re seen playing it.
2. Escargot (Snail)
Everyone associates escargot with the French—and perhaps rightly so, as their infatuation with snails goes far beyond eating the delicacy.
Believe it or not, escargot is also a French variation of hopscotch that probably dates back to ancient times.
However, instead of drawing a traditional linear path with chalk, the French draw—you guessed it—a snail!
- The snail is divided into 15-20 squares.
- Players take turns hopping on one foot to the center while avoiding stepping on any lines or opponents’ squares.
- If you step on a square or line you’re not supposed to, you lose a turn.
- If, however, you reach the center, you can claim a square by putting your initials inside of it. As you can imagine, the more squares that are claimed, the more difficult it becomes to get to the center.
- The winner is the player with the most squares claimed (once all the squares are claimed) or it’s become impossible to hop to the center.
You can’t get more classic French than escargot, and it’s certainly a great opportunity to practice your French numbers.
3. Jeu de la Barbichette (Game of the Goatee)
Jeu de la barbichette is a very basic French game often played by children and needing no materials whatsoever.
It’s a pretty silly—if somewhat bizarre—game. Essentially, it’s played by continuously holding your opponent’s chin for the duration of the game—thus the name barbichette (goatee).
- Sitting across from your opponent, look them in the eyes and grab their chin.
- While doing so, both players sing a short song called Je te tiens, tu me tiens… (I Hold You, You Hold Me…) together, which you can find at mamalisa.com. This little French song is a learning bonus as you’ll have to memorize it before you can play the game.
- Once the song is finished, the first person to laugh or smile loses the game.
- I must warn you that, traditionally, the reward for the winner is to have the opportunity to slap their opponent!
Children have played this game in schools and playgrounds all across France for many years. In fact, there was even a national televised tournament that took place in 2017 called La Barbichette Cup.
4. Les Loups-garous de Thiercelieux (Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow)
Les Loups-garous de Thiercelieux , also shortened as loups-garous (werewolves), was created by French authors Philippe des Pallières and Hervé Marly in 2001. It’s immensely popular and is sure to be a French favorite for generations to come. So it’s “traditional” in a more modern sense, but highly relevant to the culture.
Loups-garous is a role-playing game that you’re sure to play if you attend just about any French party.
- The game, centered around a village contaminated with werewolves, can accommodate anywhere from 8 to 47 players.
- Each game is led by a narrator (usually the party host), who must learn the rules inside and out and be both attentive and creative, as they will control the flow of the game.
- As for the other players, most people simply write the names of the characters on pieces of paper and draw them randomly to decide who will be who. You can also buy the cards to make this part of the game easier.
- Characters’ identities are kept a secret, and each person has certain rules regarding how they may play to kill villagers or discover who the werewolves are.
- The goal of the game differs depending on the character you’re given. But generally, the werewolves win if they kill all of the villagers and the villagers win if they discover and eliminate all of the werewolves.
This French game is a must whether you’re hosting a dinner party or just out in the park with a group of friends. It will definitely leave you with some new French vocabulary.
5. Le Bilboquet (Cup and Ball)
You may be familiar with toys consisting of a ball, cup and string where you have to catch the ball in the cup by using one hand to swing it.
Yet perhaps you didn’t know that this game is actually called le bilboquet and has been a traditional French game since the 1500s.
In fact, the French author François Rabelais mentions the game in his well-known book, “ La vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel ” (“The Life of Gargantua and Pantagruel”), which was written in 1534.
Even King Henry III was known to constantly have le bilboquet in hand!
- There’s only one rule for le bilboquet: using a cup with a ball tied to it, swing the cup in a way that it’ll catch the ball as much as possible.
- The game has evolved somewhat over the centuries, mostly in that people usually buy the balls and cups rather than make them at home.
- Additionally, you can now either choose a classic wooden bilboquet or play with any number of designs made to render the game more or less difficult.
While you may not get a lot of opportunities for French practice if you just play this game by yourself, you can always play it with or around friends. If nothing else, it’s an important cultural reference for you to learn about as a French student.
6. Qui Suis Je? (Who Am I?)
Qui Suis Je? is a fabulous game for rehearsing your speaking skills through the construction and comprehension of questions.
It’s also easy to tailor the potential vocabulary to your recent topic of focus.
- Group the players in pairs or in a larger group.
- Assign each other certain aliases (celebrity or otherwise) and then race to correctly guess your given character through clever and definitive questions. For example: “ Est-ce que je suis blond? ” (Am I blond?)
Been working tirelessly on French sporting culture? Turn your opponent into Thierry Henry or Mary Pierce. Of course, you aren’t limited to celebrities or French people for that matter—but hey, where’s the cultural education in that?
This can be a fantastic game to practice with your French buddies, fellow language learners or even as a nice ice breaker on a tandem language exchange.
7. Mille Bornes
Mille Bornes (lit. “a thousand milestones”) is a classic French card game that basically every person from the Hexagon has played at least once in their life.
- The aim of the game is a simple one: win the “race.” If you’re not in the best physical shape, don’t worry: this game doesn’t involve any actual running or driving. Instead, it simulates a road race using cards.
- There are a variety of hazard, remedy, safety and distance cards that, if chosen, force players to play a certain way.
- The rules can seem daunting on paper, so here’s a video to give you a visual guide on how to play this game.
Want to sound like a real pro? Challenge your opponents to another game the French way by saying, “ On fait la revanche ? ” This literally translates to “We do the revenge?” and can be used in reference to nearly any game, including a tennis match!
If you’re going for best out of three, don’t be afraid to propose, “ On fait la belle ? ” (“We do the beauty?”), which should only be said when seeking a third round.
Although simple in nature, Mille Bornes is useful for learning vocabulary pertaining to cars and roads—plus the added benefit of much number practice, which can always be a hurdle at the beginning.
8. Le Nain Jaune
Le Nain Jaune (The Yellow Dwarf) is another classic French card/board game that uses an allocated point system to a normal deck of cards, plus tokens and a specific board to play on. It’s ideal for three to eight players, and involves half luck and half genuine strategy—a bit of a gambling game if you ask us.
- Have a card set suitable for playing Le Nain Jaune.
- Draw cards from the deck. The player with the highest card picks their seat first, followed by the player with the next highest card and so on.
- Chips are given depending on the number of players and the desired length of the game.
- The first player is the one sitting to the dealer’s left. They will put their card face up on the table starting from the highest to the lowest card. Once they’ve played all their cards, they should say “Pass” to signal that it’s the next player’s turn.
- The suit of the cards doesn’t matter. However, if a player plays a king, the current sequence will end and the player must start the next sequence.
- Each player collects chips from the other players based on the cards they have on hand. For example, an ace would cost one chip.
- Once a player runs out of chips, the game ends.
You can find more detailed rules in French here.
The benefits of playing this game lean more toward the cultural significance, but as with most card games, it encourages practicing French numbers. For the daring, you could impose a strict French-only vocabulary.
Unleash your inner compétitivité (competitiveness) by saying, “ Dépêche-toi ! À ton tour ! ” (Hurry up! It’s your turn!)
Board games, or jeux de société , are some of the most interactive and fun French games. They’re always played with others, meaning you’ll have the opportunity to mingle with those who can teach you some of the intricacies of French.
One popular board game in France is called Concept.
- The idea is to use the cards which contain different universal symbols, such as a drop of water, a white paint splotch and a plate of dinner food.
- Players should pull a card that contains the word they must describe using these picture cards. For example, if you pull the word poisson (fish), you can put the card that includes a photo of sea life with the card that contains a drop of water to indicate “an animal that lives in water.”
Concept is only one of many examples of fun, enjoyable games that will certainly strengthen your vocabulary.
10. Mots Croisés: Crosswords
For those at a more advanced level of French, mots croisés (crosswords) can be the perfect challenge.
They stretch your skills to an entirely new level, forcing you to first understand the nuances of each clue. You must then expand that understanding to pinpoint the one word that fits in the designated spot—and spell it right.
- The crossword puzzle will already be laid out for you beforehand. You’ll have a grid with groups of blank squares that intersect and go either horizontally or vertically.
- Each group of squares has a tiny number inside the first letter corresponding to the clue you need to fill out that group.
- Using the corresponding clues, fill out the squares with words that match the clue and the number of squares given. To make things even more interesting, the letters at each intersection should be correct in order to fill out the other groups of squares correctly.
Crosswords no doubt require a dictionary at your side, but even if a single clue takes you longer than you might desire, you’re bound to learn more than you think.
Luckily, you don’t have to subscribe to a French magazine or newspaper to play crosswords the old-fashioned way. You can always purchase classic mots croisés books online.
11. Mots Fléchés: Arrow puzzles
Mots fléchés (Arrow puzzles) are essentially crossword puzzles with a twist.
- Unlike your typical crossword puzzle, the clues are inside the puzzle rather than next to the entire grid.
- Using the clues, the direction where the arrow next to the clues is pointing and the number of squares, fill out each horizontal or vertical group of squares .
You’ll often find mots fléchés in puzzle magazines in France or dedicated books. They’re similar to crosswords in that you’ll be working your vocabulary skills as you try to complete them.
Okay, so this isn’t strictly a “traditional” French game, but this is great for French fluency—and potential emotional devastation.
- At the start of the game, all players have a certain amount of play money.
- Each player rolls the dice to determine how many squares they need to move along the sides of the board.
- Once the player lands on a property, they can either “purchase” it with their play money (if the property isn’t owned by another player) or “pay rent” on it (if another player owns it).
- There are other rules you can read about here.
The best part for language learners comes from the very detailed “chance” cards every player encounters throughout the game. This forces you to improve your reading skills and overall vocabulary through deductive reasoning or conferring with your opponents.
Along the way, you can practice saying something like: “ mille euros Monopoly pour moi s’il vous plaît !
” (One thousand Monopoly euros for me please!)
For those keen on French geography, make sure you have your eyes on ‘” Gare de Nord (North Station),” “ Montparnasse (Montparnasse),” “ Gare de Lyon (Lyon Station)” and “ Saint Lazare (Saint Lazare)”—because we all know the train stations win Monopoly.
13. Pige Dans Le Lac or Pêche (Go Fish)
Pige Dans Le Lac ( Pêche ) isn’t super popular in France, but it’s a goodie if you need practice with the basics like counting and asking in French.
- The aim is to have the most pairs of cards by the end of the game.
- A small amount of people begin with three or so playing cards each.
- To accrue the pairs necessary to win, you’ll have to ask another player if they have the card you’re looking for. For example, if you want to swipe a two off your opponent, you can express yourself comme ça (like this): “ Tu as un deux ? ” (Do you have a two?)
Just a heads-up: the names of cards and their suits can be a little different in French compared to their English counterparts.
- Clubs – Trèfles (clovers)
- Diamonds – Carreaux (tiles)
- Spades – Piques (pikes)
- Hearts – Cœurs (hearts)
- Jack – Valet (Valet is sort of an equivalent to a knave)
- Queen – Dame (Lady)
- King – Roi (King)
If your French-speaking friends are into party games, you can get them to play the popular Psychiatrist with you.
- The game should have between four to 10 players.
- One person is deemed the “psychiatrist” and everyone else leaves the room to discuss what “sickness” they should all have. This can be anything, and it can be as simple as not using the letter “e.” Of course, the sicknesses should be in French.
- The job of the psychiatrist is to ask questions to determine what’s wrong with everyone.
- If the psychiatrist makes a correct guess, a new person is designated as the psychiatrist and the game begins again.
Party games like Psychiatrist are played at events like bridal showers, baby showers, birthday parties and gatherings of friends. These games are designed to get everyone to interact with each other and have fun. A lot of times, games like these require you to think outside the box and force you to approach French in a totally new way.
Playing games is a fun and carefree way to practice your French and get in touch with the culture. Play them on the side while you utilize other learning resources that can steadily increase your fluency in the language. And no, you don’t just have to return to textbooks and workbooks once playtime is over.
You can use resources that, like the games above, inch you closer to true French immersion, whether it’s French music on Spotify, French newspapers online, or the subtitled French videos on the FluentU language program.
The more you delve into authentic French content and matters, the more you can make your language studies genuinely fulfilling and enjoyable.
Traditional French games can teach us a lot about how people find joy in life and the ways in which they share and connect with one another, so play on!