Have mad fun with these engaging and creative pen & paper games!
Want to amp up the fun at your group outing, but not carrying any games with you?
Trying to cut screen time and prefer to have fun without your phones?
Here’s your ultimate resource - 10 games that you and your crew can play with just pen and paper, including a few hidden games and some real brain-teasers.
And there’s a bonus waiting at the end!
5 top pen-and-paper games for groups
From Pictionary to Dots and Boxes, here are 5 of the best-known pen-and-paper games for your crew!
Where doodles become laughter!
Unleash your inner artist with Pictionary, the ultimate game for those who love a mix of creativity and chaos!
It’s the perfect game for testing your sketching skills and your friends' ability to interpret your…shall we say, artistic vision?
So, grab a pen and paper, and let's get this party started!
How to play Pictionary with just pen and paper
Team up: Split into teams, with at least two players per team.
Choose your words: Use a Pictionary word generator or write down random words and phrases. The wackier, the better.
Draw & guess: Players take turns drawing while their team guesses. No letters or verbal clues allowed - just your incredible drawing skills.
Keep score: The first team to guess a certain number of words wins. Make it 5 for a quick game, or go higher if you’re in it for the long haul.
Want to have crazy fun out in Chicago? Check out our list of unusual things to do in Chicago!
Who hasn’t enjoyed the classic word-guessing game?
Next up, we have Hangman - an old-school favorite that's all about strategy, wit, and a bit of luck.
It’s an ultimate ticking scenario - can you guess a word or phrase to save your stick-figure friend from a terrible fate?
Or, as some of my more erudite friends like to put it - it's a nail-biting adventure in linguistics. Pens at the ready?
Let’s dive in!
How to play Hangman with just pen and paper
Choose the Wordmaster: One player thinks of a word or phrase and draws dashes on paper to represent each letter.
Start guessing: The other players guess letters one at a time.
Reveal or hang: If the guessed letter is in the word, the Wordmaster writes it in the correct spaces.
If not, start drawing your hangman – head first, then body, and so on.
Win or lose: The game ends with either the players guessing the word correctly or the hangman being fully drawn (hanged).
Think that sounds somber? Wait till you read about our popup escape game - The Final Exam!
Tic-Tac-Toe (Noughts and Crosses)
Make no mistake - this is a game of strategy!
Now let's turn to the timeless classic Tic-Tac-Toe (or Noughts and Crosses, as some folks call it).
As you probably know, the entire action goes down in a 3x3 grid.
It's quick, addictive, and always fun, making it a staple for any group gathering.
How to play Tic-Tac-Toe with just pen and paper
Draw the grid: Start by drawing a simple 3x3 grid on a piece of paper.
Choose your symbol: One player is 'X' (crosses), and the other is 'O' (noughts).
Alternate turns: Players take turns placing their symbol in an empty square.
The goal is to be the first to get three of your symbols in a row - horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.
The goal is to be the first to get three of your symbols in a row - horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.
Stalemate or triumph: If the grid fills up before either player achieves the goal, it’s a draw. Otherwise…well, what do you think happens if one of the players achieves the goal?
Did you know? The concept behind Tic Tac Toe may go back centuries, all the way back to ‘Terni Lapilli’, a game played by the ancient Romans. However, the current form of the game (including the name Tic Tac Toe) seems to have developed sometime in the 1800s.
A more complicated version of this game - called Tic Tac Toe Squared - is featured in our blog post on pen and paper games for home.
Dots and Boxes
Draw lines. Make squares. Have fun!
Gear up for Dots and Boxes, a strategic battlefield disguised as a simple pen-and-paper game.
This one's all about outsmarting your friends by connecting dots to form boxes.
It’s a sneaky mix of strategy and foresight, where each line you draw can either set you up for a win or leave you vulnerable to your opponents' cunning moves.
How to play Dots and Boxes with just pen and paper
Set up your grid: Start by drawing a grid of dots. A 6x6 grid is a good size for beginners, but feel free to go bigger for a longer game.
Connect the dots: Players take turns drawing a single line between two adjacent dots.
Scoring: Complete a square to earn a point. When you make a box, you get another turn.
Claim your boxes: Put your initials in each box you complete to keep track of your score.
Finding the winner: Once all the dots are connected and the grid is full, the player with the most boxes wins.
This kind of strategic thinking and problem-solving can boost your brain health.
Put your vocab to the test!
Our final top pen and paper game for groups is Word Search. Think of it as a treasure hunt on paper.
Perfect for vocab buffs and puzzle lovers, Word Search is all about spotting hidden words in a grid of jumbled letters.
How to play Word Search with just pen and paper
Prepare the grid: Start with a pre-made Word Search grid or create your own for an extra challenge.
Choose your words: Decide on a theme (like cities, food, movies) and list the words to find. The more, the merrier!
Get searching: Players scour the grid to find and circle the hidden words. They can be vertical, horizontal, diagonal, and even backwards.
Race against time: Who can find all the words first?
Escape games also involve a race against time to find clues and solve puzzles. If that sounds exciting, check out our escape game themes in Chicago.
5 lesser-known pen-and-paper games for groups
Now, we’ll check out some hidden gems, i.e., lesser-known but exciting pen and paper games for your crew.
From a telephone adaptation of Pictionary to the grotesque-sounding Exquisite Corpse and even the game with a bland name - Sprouts - we hand-picked five options you can choose from!
Telestrations (Telephone Pictionary)
The telephone game meets Pictionary!
In Pictionary, team members guess what their teammate is drawing. Whereas in Telephone, a message is passed through the team in whispers.
Combine the two and you have…Telestrations - loads of fun for your night out!
Let’s jump into how you and your group can play it with just pen and paper…
How to play Telestrations with just pen and paper
Set up your pads: Each player starts with a pad and a pen. Write your name on the front of your pad to keep track.
Write your word: Everyone writes down a word or phrase on the first page of their pad and then passes it to the player on their left.
Draw what you see: Look at the word you received and draw it on the next page.
Pass it on: Pass the pad to the left again.
Keep passing pads till each player gets back their own pad.
Reveal & LOL: Each player reveals the transformation from start to finish.
Apparently, Telestrations prods players into experimenting with creative expression, among other things.
Looking for more games like Telephone? Check out our blog on pen and paper games to play at home.
Not as grotesque as it sounds!
Exquisite Corpse is like Telestrations, except that the objective is to continue a chain of thought rather than try to guess another player’s drawing.
History enthusiasts, take note: Exquisite Corpse was born from the Surrealist Movement in the 1920s.
With that tidbit of history covered, let’s get to how you can play Exquisite Corpse at your next friends’ outing!
How to play Exquisite Corpse with just pen and paper
Start: One player writes a sentence or draws a section of a picture on a piece of paper, then folds it to hide most of their contribution, leaving only the end visible.
Pass it along: Pass the paper to the next player. They’ll continue from what they can see.
Keep it going: Continue passing and adding to the paper. The key is not to peek at the hidden parts!
The Big Reveal: Once everyone has had a turn, unfold the paper, and read the story or view the drawing, in its full glory.
Want to follow that up with a mystery game with your group? Check out our blog on party games for adults.
Words have consequences…in this game!
Here’s a little secret: The first time we went through this game, we were completely at sea. How was this any different from Exquisite Corpse?
It took us a while to clearly grasp how Consequences works - but once we did, we were instant fans!
So, buckle up, as you’re about to add an awesome option to your list of easy-to-play games for your next group outing!
How to play Consequences with just pen and paper
Appoint a game master: He or she will set a sequence of story elements.
Begin the story: Following the game master's sequence, the first player writes a phrase or element, like an adjective or a character's name, and then folds the paper to hide their contribution.
Pass and add: Players continue passing the paper, each adding their part according to the sequence, then folding the paper.
The Big Reveal: Unfold the paper and take turns reading the comically unexpected stories aloud.
An example of what a sequence might look like for a 5-player group
[Adjective for a barista] barista named [name] brewed the perfect [Relevant product]. During a break, they [What they did during a break], leading to [A surprising event]
Each player will fill in a placeholder in sequence without peeking at what the previous person filled in for theirs.
An example of the final outcome
[An awesome] barista named [Freddy] brewed a perfect cup of [Dior handbags]. During a break, they [went home], leading to [TikTok blowing up]
Remember, each player can only see the connectors immediately preceding their placeholder and can’t see what the previous player filled in their placeholder - leading to a hilarious result.
For another version based on drawing a body, check out this website.
The game master is crucial for a great round of Consequences - just like our game masters’ vital role in the escape games!
The game’s a lot more interesting than the vegetables - I promise!
Searching for a pen & paper game for groups that looks like simple doodling, but can be surprisingly strategic and brain-teasing?
Check out Sprouts!
How to play Sprouts with just pen and paper
Place your dots: Place a few dots (around 3 to 5) randomly on a piece of paper.
Join the dots: Players take turns drawing a line between two dots.
Here's the twist - You can draw a line from a dot to itself.
‘Sprout’ a dot: Add a new dot somewhere along your line. This is where the game gets its name!
Warning: Lines can’t cross or touch other dots, except at their endpoints. Think ahead!
Last dot wins: The game ends when no more lines can be drawn. The player who makes the last move is the master of Sprouts!
Fancy your skills as a master strategist? Then you should also be able to figure out ways of beating our escape rooms!
Bulls and Cows
Can you crack the code?
Brace yourself for a brain-teasing adventure with Bulls and Cows! Play detective, trying to crack your opponent’s secret code.
How to play Bulls and Cows with just pen and paper
Here’s how the basic game works -
Set the code: One player (call him the Codemaker) secretly creates a 3-digit number. The digits must all be different.
Guessing game: The other player, the Codebreaker, tries to guess the code.
Bulls and Cows: After each guess, the Codemaker gives feedback -
Bulls: The number of correct digits in the right place.
Cows: The number of correct digits but in the wrong place.
Keep at it: Use logic to progressively arrive at the secret code.
Bulls and Cows tournament for groups
Now, as you’ve guessed, this is a 2-person game. You can adapt it for your group by organizing a tournament.
An example of a Bulls and Cows response
The “bulls and cows” response might feel a little confusing, so here’s an example…
Say the code is 254.
The Codebreaker guesses 246.
Then the Codemaker’s response would be “1 Bull and 1 Cow”.
2 is a correct digit in the right place, hence 1 Bull.
4 is a correct digit in the wrong place, hence 1 Cow.
And 6 is an incorrect digit, so the Codemaker ignores it.
This game is a perfect fit for math and logic nerds. Here it is, making an appearance in a MIT Mystery Hunt.
Bonus: 3 exciting games that you can convert into pen-and-paper games
Great to meet you here, and thanks for reading through our 10 must-try pen & paper games for groups!
Here’s a bonus…
We’ll reveal how you can convert 3 very popular party games - Poker, Chess or Checkers, and Battleships - into simple pen and paper games, so you can play even if you’re not carrying game sets.
Can you keep a poker face?
In the mood to wager over who’s got the best hand, even though you’re not carrying playing cards?
We got you!
Here’s how to play the all-time classic - Poker - without a formal deck of cards, only pen and paper.
How to play Poker with just pen and paper
Make your deck: Write down each card (like 7 of Diamonds, Ace of Clubs) on small pieces of paper, fold them, and mix them up to create a makeshift deck.
Draw and bet: Players draw their cards from the paper deck and place bets using tokens like coins or even doodles.
Keep track: Use a sheet of paper to record the betting rounds and player stakes.
Choose your variant: Choose a poker variant (like Texas Hold'em or Five-Card Draw) and follow its rules for betting, drawing cards, and revealing hands.
We’re especially excited, as poker is an old favorite out here in Chicago, where our escape room is!
Chess or Checkers
Will you be the one to declare “Checkmate!”?
Here’s how to play them even if you’re not carrying a set, and want to stay off of your phones…
How to play Chess or Checkers with just pen and paper
Draw the board: For Chess, sketch out an 8x8 grid; for Checkers, a simpler 8x8 will do. Label the rows and columns if you feel fancy.
Mark your pieces: Use initials like 'Q' for Queen, 'K' for King in Chess, and simple or double circles for regular or kinged pieces in Checkers.
Mimic the moves: Follow the standard rules for each piece in Chess or the simple diagonal hop in Checkers.
Fancy your chances as a mental strategist? Care to test yourself against our Zodiac Killer-themed adventure?
Can you sink the enemy fleet?
Wanna clash with your crew over a good old game of Battleship, but don’t have a set?
I bet you’ve worked out where we’re heading with this…
How to play Battleship with just pen and paper
Create your ocean: Each player draws two grids (10x10 squares) on separate sheets of paper. Label rows with numbers and columns with letters.
Deploy your fleet: Secretly place your ships on one grid. Your fleet typically consists of battleships, destroyers, and submarines.
Mark off your fleet on your grid.
Strike: Take turns calling out grid coordinates (like B6, E9) to guess where your opponent’s ships are.
Hit or miss: Mark hits and misses on your own tracking grid to keep tabs on your guesses.
The first player to sink all of the opponent’s ships claims victory on the high seas!