Suitable for small groups. Fun for the whole family. Keep reading till you get to the bonus game!
Looking for ways to entertain yourself with just a pen and paper?
Want to disconnect from devices, and engage with your family without having to step out of your home?
Searching for stimulating games that don’t require any equipment, or complex setup?
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Here are 20 fun pen and paper games that are everything from boredom busters on a slow evening to ice breakers for when you’ve got guests over.
1 - MASH
Image by Thomas Park on Unsplash.
Possibly the most popular 2-person game that’s still a mystery to a lot of folks.
MASH stands for “Mansion, Apartment, Street/Swamp, and House”. These are various kinds of living situations one may end up in.
So, how do you play MASH?
Step 0 - Write down MASH on a piece of paper.
Step 1 - Select a number of categories, such as spouse, occupation, pet, country you’ll be living in, and so on. Write them down on the paper.
Step 2 - Both players come up with 3 alternatives - 1 they like, 2 they dislike - for each category. These alternatives are written in a column under each category.
Step 3 - Player One closes their eyes, while Player Two starts making tally marks.
After waiting for a few seconds, One says “Stop”, and Two must stop drawing tallies immediately.
Count how many marks have been made.
Step 4 - Cross out items according to the number of marks.
For example, if 3 tallies were drawn, you should cross out every 3rd item.
Every letter of MASH counts as one item, the category names don’t count.
Keep repeating Step 4 till there is only one item left per category.
Now, the surviving items are Player One’s future, while Player Two can choose their future from the crossed out options.
Or, you can keep going with the crossed out options, shrinking the list till you have exactly 2 options per category.
And then the surviving items can be Player One’s future, and the crossed out ones Player Two’s future.
2 - Charades
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Divide up into two teams and hand out blank slips of paper to both teams.
Each team needs to write down different phrases on each slip of paper. The phrases can be famous quotes, titles of books, movies or songs, but they should be something that most people are familiar with.
When both teams have prepared their slips, ask them to place them in separate bowls or boxes.
That done, a person from Team A draws a slip from Team B’s bowl and tries to act out the phrase while the rest of Team A tries to guess what it is.
The team has three minutes to try to guess the phrase.
As you can guess, it can lead to some HILARIOUS situations!
Incidentally, did you know that Charades is a well-known birthday party game? If you're looking to celebrate in Chicago, here is a great birthday activity in Chicago!
3 - Tic tac toe, squared
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Here’s the deal. You’re gonna need a somewhat large sheet of paper.
On the paper, draw a large tic tac toe grid stretching from end to end.
In each of the squares of the larger grid, draw in a smaller tic tac toe grid.
Say “X” goes first. They place “x” on a square on one of the smaller grids.
Now, “O” has to place “o” somewhere on the small grid lying in that square of the larger grid that “X” put their “x” in the smaller grid.
For example, If “X” placed the first “x” on the grid in the middle right square of their chosen smaller grid,
“O” would have to start from the smaller grid in the middle right square of the larger grid.
Subsequently, “X” has to follow “O”’s lead, and so on.
The player who wins in a smaller grid gets to place their symbol on that grid.
The player who gets 3 of their symbols in a row in the larger grid wins.
Depending on who you ask, this game is also referred to as nested tic tac toe, and ultimate tic tac toe.
4 - Who am I?
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.
This game is pretty simple.
Each player gets a sticky note stuck to their forehead with the name of a famous person.
And they have to guess the name of the person on their own forehead by asking everyone else simple “yes” or “no” questions.
It can be questions such as: Am I a female? Am I a historical figure? Am I currently alive?
If the answer to the question is yes, then you get to ask another one.
If the answer is no, then it’s the next person’s turn to ask questions and try to guess the name on THEIR own forehead.
The first player to guess the identity of their mystery person is the winner!
Everyone else can keep playing for second and third place, or you can start a whole new round with completely different mystery people.
5 - Boxes
On a piece of paper, create a square grid (I’d suggest making it a 5x5 grid at minimum).
Now, hand each (there has to be more than one) player a different colored pen.
The point of the game is that each player takes turns drawing a single line on the grid, joining 2 adjacent dots.
Please note diagonal lines are not allowed.
Whoever completes a square gets to place their initials in the square and play again. They are also awarded one point.
The game continues till all the dots have been joined.
Seeing as I already said a player who finishes a square gets a point, do I really need to mention who wins?
6 - Kaladont
This is a Slavic word game that doesn’t even require a pen and paper.
You need a minimum of two players...and the more, the merrier!
One person starts by saying a word that is longer than two letters. Then the next person has to say a word that starts with the last two letters of the previous word.
The trick is not to say a word that ends with the letters “ka”, because the winner of the round who gets a point is the person who gets to say “kaladont”.
The idea is that there are no words in Slavic languages that begin with the letters “nt”, so that is the last word that can be said in any given round.
You can try playing the game in English as well!
7 - Battleship
Image by David Mark from Pixabay.
The well-known game can easily be played with a paper and a pencil. In fact, it started out as a pencil and paper game during World War I.
It’s a 2-player game.
Step 1 - Create 4 grids (I recommend 10x10 grids) on 4 separate pieces of paper.
Each player gets 2 grids.
One records their fleet, and the other records their strikes.
Step 2 - The players agree upon a fleet composition.
Typically, a fleet is said to have - 1 Carrier, 1 Battleship, 1 Destroyer, 1 Submarine, and 1 Patrol Boat.
Each kind of ship will be assigned a position requirement.
For example, a carrier may need to occupy 5 squares, a destroyer 4 squares, and so on.
Pro tip: You can design a larger grid, and increase the size of each ship. For example, you can opt for a 15x15 grid, with a carrier requiring a 5x2 grid, and so on.
Step 3 - Each player stations their fleet on their fleet grid.
Please note the players should not be able to see each other’s grids.
Players’ ships may overlap, that’s fine.
Step 4 - In turns, players announce “strikes” on particular squares, and record it on their strike grid.
The other player announces whether any of their ships have been “hit”.
When all the squares of a particular ship are “hit”, that ship is deemed to have been “sunk”.
The player whose entire fleet sinks first loses.
8 - Mafia
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The idea of the game is that players draw pieces of paper from a hat with different roles written on them.
At least two of the players will be the Mafiosi and the remaining players will be the townspeople or the Innocents.
The game is played in two alternating phases, the “night” when the mafia “murders” one of the innocents and the “day” when the innocents try to find the perpetrator of the “murder”.
The game is played until all the Mafiosi are eliminated, or until there is more of them than the remaining townspeople.
This game can be really fun but its rules are a bit too complex to explain in this blog post in detail. So, if you decide to play it, we recommend that you find its exact rules online.
Pro tip: Best enjoyed by groups of 7 or more players.
9 - Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!
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This paper chit game is more suited for small groups of people.
One several chits of paper, write down...anything you want. Random sentences, idioms, events...as long as they’re not too long.
How many chits - Make it a multiple of the number of players. For example, if you have 6 players, have 18 chits...making for a 3 round game.
Throw the chits into a bowl.
Now, ask all the players to learn the NATO Phonetic Alphabet.
Once they say they’re done, have them take out a chit from the bowl, and read the message in the NATO alphabet.
Obviously, anyone that already knows the alphabet will have to sit this one out.
10 - Hot and cold
This game actually requires no props at all and it can be played by as many people as you like.
The player whose turn it is to play steps outside the room, while the others come up with a secret action that the player must do once he or she comes back into the room.
Once the player is back, they must figure out what they need to do according to the reactions of the group.
The player basically starts doing anything and if they are getting closer to the mystery action, the others say “getting hotter!”.
If they are going off track, then the others respond “getting colder!”.
Speaking or giving hints is not allowed, but only cheering and booing.
You can play this game until everyone has had a go at it or as long as you like, because there are no winners or losers. The only point is to have a great time!
11 - Can you cartoon?
Image by Shubham Dhage on Unsplash.
Another paper chit game for groups, only more physical.
Write down everyday actions, like turning on a tap or cutting vegetables, on chits of paper, and throw them into a bowl.
Now, ask players to fish out a chit of paper and read what their action is. Read, but don’t tell anyone else.
The challenge for the player is to enact the activity in the way it would be shown in a cartoon (comic exaggeration).
And the others can try to guess what the activity is.
12 - Hangman
This one is a classic that practically everyone knows.
It is a word guessing game that can be played by two or more players. The rules are pretty simple.
Player 1 comes up with a word and draws a number of dashes that corresponds to the number of letters in the particular word.
layer 2 then starts guessing letters that could be found in the correct answer.
For every correct guess, Player 1 enters the letter in the correct place.
Incorrect guesses get a body part drawn onto a little stick figure hanging from the gallows.
Player 2 is free to guess the correct answer at any time and if they get it right before the stickman figure is completed, they win.
If not, then Player 1 is the winner.
If you want to play this game with little kids, you can also draw an apple tree with 10 apples instead of a hangman and simply cross out an apple every time a wrong letter is guessed.
13 - Blind man (person) drawing
Image by Kirill Balobanov on Unsplash
Suitable for as many players as want to play.
If the name didn’t give the whole game away, I’ll spell it out.
Each player selects one object in the room. They take a good look at it.
Then they are blindfolded, and have to draw out the object on a piece of paper.
If you want to make it a little more fun, ask players to not lift the pencil from the paper while drawing.
14 - Rock Paper Scissors
This game needs no introduction and you have almost certainly played it in grade school.
It is played between two people where both players simultaneously form one of three shapes with an outstretched hand - rock, paper or scissors.
Rock is a closed fist, paper is a flat hand and scissors are a V sign formed with the index and middle finger.
Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay.
Rock crushes scissors, scissors cut paper and paper covers rock.
The game only has two possible outcomes, either one of the players wins or it is a draw. You can play two out of three, three out of five, keep score, or simply play until one of you gets a cramp in their forearm.
15 - Categories
Another very simple yet highly stimulating game. Suitable for a small group of players.
Step 1 - Select 4 categories. They can be anything from “girls’ names” to “Chicago foods”. (On a side note, if you are yet to taste Chicago foods, go through our Four Chicago foods for 2021 post).
Step 2 - Select a letter.
Step 3 - Players have 2 minutes (you can set your phone timer) to come up with as many objects in each category as they can, that begin with the chosen letter.
Step 4 - Once the time is up, have each player read out their objects, category-wise.
Any object chosen by more than one player gets crossed out.
The player with the most unique (i.e. not crossed out) objects wins.
16 - Pantomime Games
In addition to Charades which we mentioned above, there are many other simple pantomime games that you can play with your kids.
In the Mirror Game, one person makes various movements and another person tries to mirror them.
Passing the face
Another simple pantomime game is called Passing the Face.
One person in the group makes a funny or emotional face to the person sitting next to them. Then that person makes a variation of the same face to the next person and so on.
Another version of Charades
You can write a bunch of different activities on slips of paper and mix them all up in a hat.
Everyone draws a slip of paper and tries to act out the activity while everyone else tries to guess what it is.
It can be anything from pretending to open a Christmas present you’ve been waiting for all year, hailing a taxi, to being a fireman putting out a fire with a water hose.
Pantomime games for children don’t really have any winners or losers. Their whole point is to bond with your kids, act silly and have some fun.
17 - Two truths and a lie
Simple, yet teaches players to focus on details and think on their feet. A quality shared with Chicago’s best-loved escape room.
Each player makes 3 assertions about themselves to the rest of the group.
Two out of the three are true; one is false.
The others have to figure out which is the false one. Each of them says which one they think is false, and why.
Requires the kind of skills you’d need to beat our Like Father, Like Son game.
18 - Telephone
Image by Louis Hansel on Unsplash.
This is a popular game played by children all around the world and it is known by many names.
Everyone forms a line and the first person at the beginning of the line whispers a short message into the ear of the person standing next to them.
Then the second player whispers the message to the subsequent person and so on.
At the end, the last person in line has to announce what they heard to the whole group.
In most cases, you’ll find that by the time the message reaches the last person it has undergone a pretty hilarious transformation.
This game has a flipside as well. Every person in the line can intentionally change a part of the message so that something completely different comes out on the other side.
A simple game, but it can give your kids boatloads of laughs.
19 - Fix it!
Divide the group into teams of two or three people each. Give each team a pen and a piece of paper, of the same size.
Present a problem for them. It could be anything from installing a rack to preparing a dinner for a party at short notice.
Every team has to present their solution on their piece of paper.
20 - Lip-Reading Challenge
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The name of this game is pretty self-explanatory.
You can play this game as a single group just to have some laughs, or you can split up into two teams and compete.
Write as many different words or phrases on slips of paper and mix them all up in a hat.
One person from the team needs to put some headphones on and play loud enough music so they can’t hear anything else in the room.
The rest of their team draw phrases from the hat and say them out loud, while the person with the headphones tries to read the words off their lips.
The teams can take turns in 2 minute intervals or simply draw a certain number of cards each.
Whichever team has the most correct answers in the end is the winner.
Needless to say, the amount of ridiculous stuff that will come out of people’s mouths will have you gasping for air with laughter!
Bonus - online game to play with friends - virtual happy hour
Image by Compare Fibre on Unsplash.
This is ideal for playing in a virtual meeting online. Aimed at WFH types.
Set a theme. Say, FRIENDS. The more specific, the better.
Assign each player a character.
The objective is for each player to plan a drink that relates to their character.
Once, they have to reveal what their drink is, and how it relates to their character.
Pro tip: I said “plan a drink” as we’re going for pen and paper games. If you want players to whip up the drinks, be my guest!
We hope these games come in handy for you to have fun as a family at home, and bond over engaging activities.
Which of them do you like the most?
Want to check out even more games? Here are some party games for adults that you may find interesting!
Tell us on Twitter, with the hashtags #games #home #fiab #chicago, and don’t forget to tag us!
Banner image by Sigmund on Unsplash.