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A game of Bagatelle being played.

Bagatelle (from the Château de Bagatelle) is an indoor table game related to billiards, the object of which is to get a number of balls (set at nine in the nineteenth century) past pins (which act as obstacles) into holes. It probably developed from the table made with raised sides for trou madame, which was also played with ivory balls (Gloag 1969 illustrates a London design that was current in 1782) and continued popular into the later nineteenth century. Bagatelle is a precursor of the pinball machine (which is also descended from pachinko), and laterally related to miniature golf.

The game bagatelle evolved from efforts to bring outdoor games, such as croquet and shuffleboard, inside and atop tables. History records the existence of table-based games back to the 15th Century, and a 17th-century table is preserved in the Great Hall at Hatfield House. While some games took the wickets of croquet and turned them into the side-rail pockets of modern pocket billiards, some tables became smaller and had the holes placed in strategic areas in the middle of the table.

In France, during the reign of King Louis XIV, someone took a billiard table and narrowed it, placing the pins at one end of the table while making the player shoot balls with a stick or cue from the other end. Pins took too long to reset when knocked down, so the pins eventually became fixed to the table, and holes took the place of targets. Players could ricochet the ball off the pins to achieve the harder, higher-scoring holes.

In 1777 a party was thrown in honor of the Louis XVI and the Queen at the Château de Bagatelle, recently erected at great expense by the king's brother, the Count of Artois. Bagatelle from Italian bagattella, signifies a trifle, a decorative thing. The highlight of the party was a new table game featuring the slender table and cue sticks, which players used to shoot ivory balls up an inclined playfield. The table game was dubbed "Bagatelle" by the Count and shortly after swept through France.

"Bagatelle" in this sense made its debut in English in 1819 (OED), its dimensions soon standardised at 7 feet by 21 inches.[1] Bagatelle spread and became so popular in America as well that a political cartoon from 1863 depicts President Abraham Lincoln playing a tabletop bagatelle game.

The Price Is Right TV gameshow sub-game "Plinko", although its name might suggest that it was based on pachinko, bears more resemblance to bagatelle.

See also

Bagatelle is also a great house in Barbados , it got it's name from the great house being lost in a card game , the losser of the game remarked " it just a bagatelle " mean a trifle


  1. ^ John Gloag, 1969. A Short Dictionary of Furniture, "Troumadam" (London: Allen & Unwin)

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BAGATELLE (French, from Ital. bagatelle, bagata, a trifle), primarily a thing of trifling importance. The name, though French, is given to a game which is probably of English origin, though its connexion with the shovel-board of Cotton's Complete Gamester is very doubtful. Strutt does not mention it. The game is very likely a modification of billiards, and is played on an oblong board or table varying in size from 6 ft. by I Z ft. to To ft. by 3 ft. The bed of the table is generally made of slate, although, in the smaller sizes, wood covered with green cloth is often used. The sides are cushioned with india-rubber. The head is semicircular and fitted with 9 numbered cups set into the bed, their numbers showing the amount scored by putting a ball into them. An ordinary billiard-cue and nine balls, one black, four red and four white, are used. The black ball is placed upon a spot about 9 in. in front of hole 1, and about 18 in. from the player's end of the board a line (the baulk) is drawn across it, behind which is another spot for the player's ball. (These measurements of course differ according to the size of the table.) Some modern tables have pockets as well as cups.

Table of contents

Bagatelle Proper

The black ball having been placed on the upper spot, the players "string" for the lead, the winner being that player who plays his ball into the highest hole. Any number may play, either separately, or in sides. Each player in turn plays all eight balls up the table, no score being allowed until a ball has touched the black ball, the object being to play as many balls as possible into the holes, the black ball counting double. Balls missing the black at the beginning, those rolling back across the baulk-line, and those forced off the table are "dead" for that round and removed. The game is decided by the aggregate score made in an agreed number of rounds.

Sans Egal. - This is a French form of the game. Two players take part, one using the red and one the white balls. After stringing for lead, the leader plays at the black, forfeiting a ball if he misses. His opponent then plays at the black if it has not been touched, otherwise any way he likes, and each then plays alternately, the object being to hole the black and his own balls, the winner being the one who scores the highest number of points. If a player holes one of his opponent's balls it is scored for his opponent. The game is decided by a certain number of rounds, or by points, usually 21 or 31. In other matters the rules of bagatelle apply.

The Cannon Game. - This is usually considered the best and most scientific of bagatelle varieties. Tables without cups are sometimes used. As in billiards three balls are required, the white, spot-white and black, the last being spotted and the non-striker's ball placed midway between holes i and 9. The object of the game is to make cannons (caroms), balls played into holes, at the same time counting the number of the holes, but if a ball falls into a hole during a play in which no cannon is made the score counts for the adversary. If the striker's ball is holed he plays from baulk; if an object-ball, it is spotted as at the beginning of the game. A cannon counts 2; missing the white object-ball scores i to the adversary; missing the black, 5 to the adversary. If there are pockets, the striker scores 2 for holing the white object-ball and 3 for holing the black, but a cannon must be made by the same stroke; otherwise the score counts for the adversary.

The Irish Cannon Game

The rules of the cannon game apply, except that in all cases pocketed balls count for the adversary.


This variation is played with a bridge pierced with 9 on amore arches, according to the size of the table, the arches being numbered from i upwards. All nine balls are usually played, though the black is sometimes omitted, each player having a round, the object being to send the balls through the arches. This may not be done directly, but the balls must strike a cushion first, the black, if used, counting double the arch made. If a ball is played through an arch, without first striking a cushion, the score goes to the adversary, but another ball, lying in front of the bridge, may be sent through by the cue-ball if the latter has struck a cushion. If a ball falls into a cup the striker scores the value of the cup as well as of the arch.

Trou Madame

This is a game similar to Mississippi, with the exceptions that the ball need not be played on to a cushion, and that, if a ball falls into a cup, the opponent scores the value of the cup and not the striker.

Bell-Bagatelle is played on a board provided with cups, arches from which bells hang, and stalls each marked with a number. The ball is played up the side and rolls down the board, which is slightly inclined, through the arches or into a cup or stall, the winner scoring the highest with a certain number of balls.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


German Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia de


Bagatelle f. (genitive Bagatelle, plural Bagatellen)

  1. bagatelle


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