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What is Skittles?

An overview of the game

Skittles involves hitting pins down with a ball or weight.

As a sport it never found its place nationally because the game rules and format varies significantly depending on where you are in the UK.

In essence there are three main types of skittles game.

In North England and Scotland it is more common to see skittles played as a table-top game.

It is usually played on a pub bar or a table with a weight tied to a string, and swung to knock pins over.

In the East, skittles has many similarities to boules - balls are thrown at the pins rather than being rolled.

In South England the game is played on an alley, and has many similarities to Ten Pin Bowling.

It is believed the Dutch took skittles to America, where the ten pin version of the game was formed and made popular around the world.

As well as these regional variations of the game, there are also differences at regional level - even from town to town.

For example, some leagues in the Midlands require the ball to be bounced down the alley, some require the ball to roll smoothly. Some leagues don't use balls, but use missile shaped objects instead.

Most leagues use nine pins in a diamond shape; others (such as Irish leagues) have just five pins.

Most leagues play straight down the alley (each player has a go in turn), whereas others play in legs (splitting the game into three parts). The size of the team varies depending on the league.

There are usually six to ten players per team.

Attempts to form leagues which cover larger areas to gain popularity for the sport have been tried in the past, but because the game has such wide ranging localised rules it proved too difficult to create a standard version of the game.

What is the Malmesbury & District Skittles League?

The Malmesbury & District Skittles League is one of many local leagues in the West of England. The game is played on alleys in pubs and private clubhouses. Three balls are rolled per go to strike nine pins. A game usually lasts around 90 minutes.

Two teams play per game and each team has nine players. The game is divided into three legs. Each player takes their turn to have six goes - three balls with each go.

If a player knocks down all of the pins before their third ball, the pins are reset. It is theoretically possible to score 27 per go, however this has not happened in the League's history.

Teams score two points for each of the three legs they win (or one point each for a draw). The team which scores the most overall receives four points (or two each for a draw). This means there are ten points available during every game.

The Malmesbury League is one of the larger leagues in the region, carrying more than eighty teams and twelve hundred players within a ten mile radius of Malmesbury town centre.

The pins are placed in a diamond shape; they are larger than what you would find in Wales, but smaller than those used in the South West. The pins are known as the ‘Gloucester’ shape. The alleys are around thirty feet long.

How does skittles differ to bowling?

Skittles is often incorrectly referred to as ‘bowling’. Although the ideology of the two games is similar, there are several key differences.

  • Bowling alleys are highly polished and pristine. Skittle alleys are often old, chipped and sometimes slightly warped making the game more unpredictable and less reliant on player skill.

  • Bowling balls are large with finger holes. Skittle balls vary in size, do not have finger holes and, like the alleys, are often old and chipped.

  • Bowling pins are perfectly shaped and centred on the alley electronically. Skittle pins are placed on the alley by a human, and show the scars of thousands of games. Again, this adds to the unpredictable nature of the game.

​It could be argued the above points make skittles less of a game of skill and more about luck, but long-term players become familiar with the characteristics of the different alleys, and can use this to their advantage.


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