How to play Bagatelle (Basic Gameplay Instructions)

Bagatelle is a game that can make even the hippest person fall in love with the classics. With a bagatelle table that intrigues, a set-up that’s unique, and a game play that one can just not get tired of, Bagatelle is easily one of our favorite traditional games.

Ever since the modern bar-billiard bagatelle was discovered in the 19th century, it has been a classic favorite of the masses. From large, hefty tables to small boards with intricate patterns of pins, the game has inspired a variety of other games and has been redeveloped to suit local preferences.

Although it doesn’t have a world championship in its name, Bagatelle has several districts and state-level tournaments under its wing. The Chester and District’s Bagatelle League is particularly famous across the globe.

Let’s walk you through all you need to know and master the game of Bagatelle. Learn the basics of the game, what you need to get started, and the different game variations you can try playing.

What Is Bagatelle?

Bagatelle Game Info image

Bagatelle is a classic billiard-styled table game that traditionally involves overcoming hurdles to land balls in guarded cups on the bagatelle table. The game has branched out into several versions with varying bagatelle game rules.

Number Of Players: 2 to 8 (teams of even-numbered players).

Ages: Fun for all ages.

Difficulty: Medium.

Length of Play: Under 30 minutes

Main Objective: Landing the maximum number of balls in the higher-scoring cups.

Why We Love It: It’s a fresh change from the regular pool games like 8-ball pool and 9-ball pool but it also maintains the spirit of billiards. With the same equipment, we can try out different variations and never get bored.

An Overview Of Bagatelle’s History

Bagatelle’s history goes back a long way and further boasts of a rich descent.

Traditionally, bagatelle was a popular billiard-derived game which was played on an elaborately set up bagatelle table among the rich and regal. The table had patterned, movable wooden pins or pegs and the main object of the players was to get a number of balls past these obstacles into well-guarded holes.

Right from the table dimensions, the number of cups, the nature of cups, and the balls used, as well as the types of cue sticks have been varying across countries and centuries. The most ancient ones can be traced back to 15th century France.

By the 19th century, the table dimensions were standardized to 7 feet and the balls used were no longer ivory, thereby effectively making it a game for the common man. It became so popular among the masses, that during the World War, it is believed that the French brought their favorite Bagatelle tables along to the US. And hence began its consolidation in the country.

The game developed further in the 20th century. While a variation played with metal pins became popular and gave rise to more modern games, classic bagatelle developed into a bar billiards bagatelle table game.

What You Need To Play The Game

The currently popular version of the game involves a set-up quite similar to the pool billiard games. Have a look below to learn the specific.

Bagatelle Table

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– The length can range anywhere between 7-8 feet and is generally 2-3 feet wide.

– Unlike pocket billiards, the table is not exactly rectangular, it rounds at one end.

– Instead of pockets on the sides and corners, Bagatelle tables have 9 cups embedded in the playing field or table itself.

– These cups are arranged in a circular pattern towards the rounded end with one cup at the center.

– The center cup accounts to 9 points and the rest of them are numbered randomly, generally in the order 1, 4, 8, 3, 5, 2, 7, 6 clockwise from the bottom.

– The table is covered with a cloth or felt and is generally made up of heavy woods like Mahogany.


– Total 9 balls; the colors, and types depend on the variant that is played. A black ball is constant.

– In the classic Victorian bagatelle, the remaining 8 balls are all either white or red.

Cue Stick

– Regular cue stick used for playing pool, about 17 inches in length.

Traditional/ Victorian Bagatelle Game Rules and Instructions

Bagatelle game rules are primarily the same across versions with only minor changes. The victorian bagatelle is by far the most popular version of the game and has relatively very simple rules. Some might even compare the gameplay to bumper pool. Let’s find out why.

Starting The Game

Every player plays one ball down an empty table. The player who pots a ball goes first. In case of a tie, the one with the higher score goes first and the lower scoring players follow.

A Player’s Turn

Regardless of the number of players, each player’s turn consists of shooting all the eight white balls towards the rounded end of the player, aiming to cup the maximum number of balls. In a turn, a player can shoot one ball only once. Every ball is shot from behind the front spot marked in the center towards the rear end of the table.

Hitting The Black Ball

The black ball is the key to unlock the highest score in the game. At the beginning of the game, the black ball is placed in the center towards the rounded end of the table. The first shot ball, in any player’s turn, must hit the black ball.

If the ball doesn’t hit the black ball, it is out of the game and the player loses the chance to make it score. In the next shot, the player tries again, until the black ball moves. When the black ball is hit and then potted, the number corresponding to the cup is doubled and added to the score.

While dodging the eight surrounding cups and landing a ball in the center cup, which is the highest scoring (9 points) is difficult, players try their best to land the black ball in that cup. This will shoot up the score by 18 points.

If the first shot neither misses nor pots the black ball and simply hits, the game continues with the rest of the white balls unlocked for free hits. Now the player need not compulsorily hit the black ball.


Players play their turns aiming to pocket the most balls and the black ball in the cups with the highest possible value. The balls, unlike pool games, do not hold value. The cup in which they are deposited adds to the score.

Towards the end of a player’s turn, scores from balls in each cup are added. The maximum possible score in a turn, when all balls are cupped and the black ball is in the 9th cup at the center, is 54. Players keep alternating turns until the total score of 120 is crossed.

Towards the end of the game, the scores of each player are compared, the player with the highest score wins. Cupping the black ball does not play any role in deciding the winner.

Popular Variations

Sans Egal

Equipment variation: 4 red and 4 white balls are used. One set is assigned to each player/team.

Rules Variation: Players alternate turns after every shot. The first shot must hit the black ball else the player gets a penalty of -5 points and any points scored by cupping the ball are also deducted. The next player then has the responsibility to hit the black ball.

Sans Egal is more competitive than victorian bagatelle because any player who pots a ball from the opponent’s set scores the ball for him/her. To further increase the difficulty level of the game, some rules dictate that the black ball needs to be hit each time until it is potted.

Winning Variation: The threshold for winning the game is generally 25 or 31.

Northern Bagatelle

Equipment variation: Tables are generally 8×2 feet in dimensions.

Rules Variation: Northern bagatelle game rules are purely about increasing the level of difficulty and requires better technique. The gameplay is entirely the same as Victorian bagatelle. The rules, however, make it compulsory for every shot to hit another ball to consider a pot legal.

Until the black ball is in the play, every shot ball must hit the black ball. Once it is potted, any other white ball must be hit so that the potted ball in the shot can score. When all white balls are potted, the shot ball must hit a wall.

Winning Variation: Since this version is generally played among multiple players, the team scoring the highest wins the game.

Southern Bagatelle

Equipment variation: A larger table of about 10×3 feet in dimensions with two side-pockets towards the rounded end is used. 7 white balls and 2 red balls are used. In terms of set-up, the two red balls sit on the spots directly in front of the side pockets.

Rules Variation: This variation takes the northern bagatelle’s difficulty level a notch higher. Here, the players are required to hit the red balls to consider a potted ball legal. Once both red balls are potted/ pocketed, any white ball must be hit. All the shots are taken from behind the front-spot so any ball pocketed in the side pockets scores 10 points. Red balls double the score.

Winning Variation: None.


Equipment variation: On the bagatelle table in this variation, the cups are replaced by arches of varying sizes towards the rounded end of the table. The purpose and scoring of these arches are similar to victorian bagatelle.

Rules Variation: Gameplay remains the same as victorian. For a shot to be considered legal, the ball must first hit the wall and then pass through one of the arches. The arches are numbered randomly and the ball passing through an arch after hitting a wall adds up that value to the score. If the ball fails to hit a wall, the arch number through which it passes is added to the opponent’s score.

Winning Variation: None.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is the hardest version of Bagatelle?

Southern bagatelle, owing to its need for precision and technique, is often considered the hardest. However, due to the more complicated obstacles, many believe Mississippi is the hardest.

Which version of Bagatelle can children play?

Among kids and anyone looking for an easier, handier version of bagatelle, parlor bagatelle is the most popular.

Which games are directly derived from and similar to Bagatelle?

The bagatelle variant with immovable metal pins, popularly known as the Billiard Japonais, is said to have directly influenced the development of games like pinball and pachinko. Both of these games are extremely popular in modern-day game parlors.

Similar Games That You Might Like

Bagatelle is the perfect game for a bar vibe check. Despite the variations, after a point, you might want to try out more interesting games apt for a similar setting. We are here to introduce you to a few.

There are always other games like bumper pool and bank pool if you love the basic concept of Bagatelle, but for something quite different, you can always trust Cutthroat pool to surprise you. For nights with high competitive spirits, don’t forget to try out One-ball pool.

For more inspiration on traditional games, you can always rely on our pool of exciting game guides.

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