Sometimes, fun-loving groups of people find themselves in places where fun resources are scarce. Especially when traveling — you and your friends might be hankering for some playful competition in places where board games and card games aren’t an option.
So, if you’re all in a hot tub, a hut in the jungle, a turbulent five-hour bus ride, stranded in an airport, hiking, or waiting in the coils of a very long line and are looking for much-needed entertainment, here are a few games that require absolutely no materials — no table, no boards, no cards, and sometimes, not even a pen and paper.
1. How’s Yours?
In this game, a group of people teams up against one guesser to give clues that strike a balance between too easy and too hard. It’s a little bit like 20 questions, but the only question the guesser can ask is, “How’s yours?”
1. The guesser leaves the room (or just covers their ears and hums if you’re all stuck in a small space together).
2. The rest of the group comes up with something that everyone in the group owns or has. A few examples: a passport, a refrigerator, or a tattoo.
3. Once decided, the guesser approaches a person with the question, “How’s yours?” The questioned person gives a truthful clue that will eventually help the guesser figure it out, but nothing too vague or too obvious.
4. The guesser is only allowed one guess per clue given, and the guesser can either go around asking in a fair circle or pick on people indiscriminately for clues.
5. Vague clues like, “Mine’s made of matter” or “mine’s pretty good” are pointless because the guesser will never get any closer.
6. If your clue is too obvious and the guesser guesses the object on your clue, then you lose and you’re the next guesser. If the item is a passport, for example, you probably don’t want to say, “Mine is full of stamps.” Better clues for passport: “Mine might be worth something on the black market” or “mine has an expiration date.”
2. I Went To Market
This may seem like a pure memory game at first, but there’s actually more to it than that. It’s also about using mental associations and mnemonics to think of things that only you are likely to remember. Optimum group size is two to five people.
1. The first person starts, “I went to market and bought a _____.” Say it’s a magazine.
2. The next person lists what has been said before, then adds something. “I went to market and bought a magazine and a pocket knife.”
3. Person three: “I went to market and bought a magazine, a pocket knife, and a margarita.”
4. Whoever errs is eliminated until one winner is left.
This game goes by many names (you may have played it as Bip Bop Boop). It’s called Fishbowl because you’ll need a fishbowl, hat, vase or something to draw paper slips from. You’ll also need a phone to use as a timer. The game is played with two teams and in three rounds. It’s like a combination of Taboo and Charades. Number of players can range between four and 12.
To start: Cut or tear three strips of paper for each player. Each person must think of a proper noun (a specific person place or thing), such as “Homer Simpson,” “The Continental Divide,” and “FOX News.” Write each item on a strip of paper, fold in half, and place in the fishbowl. If eight people are playing, there will be 24 strips of paper in the fishbowl. Divide yourselves into two teams and name your teams.
Round 1: Let’s call this the “Taboo” round. Team 1 picks a performer who will try to get her own team members to guess as many items as possible in two minutes. They can say anything BUT the words on the strip of paper. Suppose they pick “The Continental Divide.” They’ll say something like, “This is a line along a mountain range that separates the water that goes east and the water that goes west.” Once their team guesses correctly, they throw the strip of paper down and quickly moves to the next. Remember — speed is key. The clock is ticking! If the team gets stuck, the performer can return the strip of paper to the fishbowl and forfeit the point. After two minutes, Team 1 keeps all the strips on the floor as “points,” and Team 2 gets two minutes to win the remainder of the strips. Repeat until all strips have been guessed and awarded as points.
Round 2: Let’s call this the “One Word Only” round. All strips are returned to the fishbowl and shaken up. Team with the most points from the last round goes first (or, alternately, continue turn-taking). Repeat the process of Round 1. This time, however, the performer can only say ONE word as a clue. Let’s say they pick “The Continental Divide.” They can say “mountains” or “line.” That’s it. Their team guesses it, he throws the slip down, draws the next one from the fishbowl, etc. Quick — clock is ticking!
Round 3: Let’s call this the “Charades” round. All strips are returned to the fishbowl and shaken up. This time, the performer can’t say anything or make noises. They must act out the item. If they pick “The Continental Divide,” they must act out a mountain range somehow.
Once all points have been scored on all three rounds, tally up the points and see who won. Note that the total number of points will equal strips of paper times three. So, in a game with eight players and 24 strips of paper, the sum of each team’s total points should be 72.
4. Would You Rather
More a rhetorical exercise than a game, this one’s about thinking up scenarios that are equally weighty. Creativity is key. The best part of the game is to see where the subjects wander. It can get heavy and philosophical, but it’s most fun to shoot for levity and laughs. A few to get you started:
1. Would you rather have a leg that has fallen asleep for a week, or a funny bone tingle in your elbow for a week?
2. Would you rather live in a hunter gatherer society or 12,000 years in the future?
3. Would you rather have a permanent boogie hanging from your nose or a permanent piece of parsley stuck in your teeth?
5. Two Truths and a Lie
A getting-to-know-you game, but still a little spicier than obligatory ice-breakers.
1. Each person comes up three “facts” about themselves, two of which are true and one that is not.
2. Then everyone else guesses which two are true and which is the lie.
3. If you manage to stump everyone, you get a point.
Tip: There can be a lot of lag time between turns since it takes a lot of thinking up. Make the three “facts” similar in format. For example, 1) I have this tic where I rub my fingernails underneath each other, 2) I have this tic where I bite my lower lip when I’m trying to recall something, and 3) I have this tic where I smell new food before eating it. Or, “I have this cousin who… / when I was a kid I wanted to be… / I used to have this nickname… / Every morning I… / I once won this contest… etc. If you have at least two truths of a kind, then making up a lie is easier.
6. Fortunately Unfortunately
This is a storytelling game that works well in bad luck circumstances. It will get you thinking about how much worse (and better) things could possibly be.
1. The first person comes up with the premise. “Once there were two identical twins who could always hear each other’s thoughts.”
2. Person two adds with a turn-for-the-worse plot twist. “Unfortunately, one day, one of them got the Price is Right theme song stuck in his head.”
3. Person three takes the story on a turn for the better. “Fortunately, this gave the other a great idea: a road trip to Los Angeles to be in the live studio audience.” Take the story as far as it will go, and see how badly (or happily) it can end.
7. Trace Messages
If you search for “games to play with nothing for two”… This is it: a sweet and cozy game for two. No winners, no losers, just good tactile fun with language.
1. Person one thinks of a message of several words for person two.
2. Person one then chooses and area of person two’s skin that person two cannot see. The upper back works well, or the forearm as long as person two doesn’t peek.
3. If the message has more than one word, decide together what ‘spacebar’ will be.
4. Letter by letter, person one writes her message on person two’s skin. Person two cannot guess until either a full word or the full message is complete.
8. The Category Game
This is a bit like Scattergories, minus the time limit and board. Each person is a team of one.
1. The group decides on a category, such as “breakfast cereals” or “countries” or “kinds of birds.” Tip: The best categories will have at least several hundred possible common-knowledge items in that category.
2. Each person takes turns contributing an item in that category. If you repeat something that someone has already said, or if you fail to come up with something in a reasonable amount of time, you’re eliminated.
3. Play until only one person is left. That person wins the round and gets to choose the category for the next round.
9. Marry, F*ck, Kill
This one is similar to “Would You Rather” but has a darker tone. It’s more for cruel laughs than for points.
1. Someone comes up with a group of three similar items. They can be famous people, foods, places, etc. Everything is fair game. For example: a pet chimpanzee, a pet lion, and a pet snake. Or, more innocently, pie, cake, and donuts.
2. Everyone else has to choose one of these items to marry, one to f*ck, and one to kill. Explain your answers if you feel like it. Cast judgment if you want. It’s just a game.
This post about games to play with nothing for two or more people was originally published on 2011 and updated in 2019.
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