Thinking of party games may bring to mind memories of Pin the Tail on the Donkey and piñatas, but there are so many more party game ideas out there that won’t make you feel like a kid again. Like road trip games, clever party games can be tailored to the crowd playing them, and these ideas are practically guaranteed to make sure everyone has a great time.
If there’s no room in your party-planning checklist for game time, that’s fine. (Sometimes, great conversations and catching up with distant friends are all a successful gathering needs.) But if you would rather fill your holiday party with laughter and activity, or if you need to keep little ones entertained, these people-pleasing party games have you covered.
Because these games have flexible rules and little to no supplies, you can keep them casual and make them work for any event, whether it’s a birthday party, a holiday celebration, or another gathering. Most can work for adults or kids, depending on what rules you play by. They’re all great for families, so you have something to do after your gift exchange ideas and games or Thanksgiving feast besides gathering around the TV.
Pick a few party games that work for you, and keep them in mind for any gathering. They’re so easy to explain and play that you can whip them out at a moment’s notice if the party’s energy begins to fall, saving your celebration from a tired fade-out.
Party games for any occasion and all ages
1. Saran Wrap Game
This one requires a little prep: You’ll need a box of plastic wrap and a bag of candy, or an assortment of small, durable goodies. (Packs of gum, dollar bills, lottery tickets, and the like all work.) Pick one item to place at the center of your saran wrap ball. Wrap it thoroughly in plastic wrap, then add more items as your wrapped ball gets bigger, trapping them in layers of wrap. (To make the game more challenging, tear the wrap into smaller sheets as you go.) Once you’ve used a whole roll of wrap (or more, if desired), you’re ready to play.
Gather in a circle or around a table. Give one person the wrapped bundle; give the person next to them a pair of dice. The person with the saran wrap bundle must unravel as much of the ball as possible before the person with the dice rolls doubles. (Any prizes that fall out during your turn are yours to keep.) Once the person with the dice rolls doubles, they pass the dice down and receive the bundle. Repeat until the ball is completely unwound.
For alternative versions, have the person with the plastic wrap ball wear oven mitts, or set a timer for each turn instead of using dice.
2. Post It Note Game
You’ll need a stack of sticky notes and a pen. Write a name of a well-known public figure or character on each note, then pass them around until everyone has one. Without looking, each person should stick their note on their forehead or back. Have everyone mingle, or sit in a circle and take turns asking yes or no questions to discover your assigned identity. (“Am I living?” is a great place to start.) Play until everyone has correctly guessed their identity, or pass out prizes to those who guess correctly.
3. How’s Yours?
Pick one person to be “It” and send them from the room. With the people remaining, select a common characteristic: hair, articles of clothing, or body parts all work. When the person returns, they’ll ask someone, “How’s yours?” That person should then give a one-word adjective to describe theirs. (Itchy, thick, and stretchy all work for shirts, for example.) Repeat until the person asking guesses the attribute being discussed.
4. Most Likely To
This party game works best for close groups of friends or family members. Gather in a circle. Begin with one person asking, “Who’s most likely to trip over their own feet?” (Or another situation, trait, action, etc.) Count down from three (performing a drumroll with your hands is encouraged) and then have everyone point at who they think would be most likely to do said act. Whoever has the most fingers pointed at them is out. Go around the circle asking, “Who’s most likely to…” until all but one person is out. You can skip the eliminations to make the game last longer.
5. Never Have I Ever
Sit in a circle. Begin with one person saying, “Never have I ever…” and finishing with something they have never done. (Traveled to Africa, eaten escargot, and the like all work.) If someone has done it, they must hold up one finger; if no one in the group has done it, the person saying “Never have I ever…” must hold up a finger. Continue around the circle until one person has three fingers up: They’re out. This party game can get as racy as you make it, so play carefully and set ground rules ahead of time if sensitive grandparents, kids, or conservative guests are involved.
6. Would You Rather?
Gather in a circle. Ask the person next to you, “Would you rather…” and include two challenging situations. (“Would you rather not shower for a year or not brush your teeth for a year?” for example.) After their response, it’s their turn to ask the person next to them. Continue until you can’t think of any more scenarios.
7. Heads Up!
This game requires an app: The Heads Up! app is available from the App Store and Google Play. After the 99-cent purchase and download, though, you have hours of entertainment on-hand at all times. (In-app purchases are also available.) One person will hold a phone to their forehead, facing out. Everyone else will act out or describe whatever appears on the screen while the person with the phone guesses. They have one minute to make as many correct guesses as possible, and then the phone goes on to the next person. Categories include animals, movies, public figures and celebrities, and more.
8. I’m Hosting a Party…
For a more cognitive game, play this brain teaser. Say you’re hosting a party, and only people who bring the right contributions are given an invitation. Pick a secret rule: Typically, everyone must bring something that begins with the same letter as their name, but you can also get more creative with it. Don’t tell anyone else your rule.
Go around the room and have each person say what they’re bringing; you respond to each suggestion with a “Yes, you’re invited,” or “No, you can’t bring that.” Continue until everyone figures out the rule.
9. Two Truths and a Lie
Pick three statements about yourself: “I have two siblings, I’ve been to three continents, and I love cats,” for example. Two should be true; one should be a lie. Everyone else must guess which is the lie, and then the next person goes. This is a great getting-to-know-you game; if you’re playing with family or friends, pick obscure details to trick each other to make it even more fun.
10. Sticker Stalker
Purchase a pack of stickers. (This one is a great Christmas party game or Halloween party game, so try to find stickers that suit the occasion.) Give everyone one sheet of five to 10 stickers (or less, depending on the size of the party). This game works best at a party where everyone is mingling, so you can incorporate it easily into your happy hour or neighborhood function. Each person must discreetly place all their stickers on other party guests; the first to use all their stickers wins. If they get caught stickering someone, they must accept a sticker. At the end of the evening, you can laugh about how sneaky some people are—and wonder how you ended up with stickers all over your back without even noticing.
11. Mail Call
Place chairs in a circle, using one less than needed. Have everyone take a seat; the one person without a seat must stand in the center of the circle. They’ll say, “Mail Call for everyone…” and pick a descriptor, such as “wearing red” or “has a cat.” (There’s a lot of room for creativity here.) Everyone that descriptor applies to must get up and find a new seat without retaking their initial seat or moving to the seats next to them. The person in the middle will also be racing for a chair; whoever is left standing at the end stands in the circle next, and the game continues.
Find a deck of cards and a set of spoons. (Pieces of candy also work.) Have enough for each player, minus one. Deal four cards to each person playing. One person, the dealer, will keep the remaining deck next to them and draw one card at a time. They will look at the card and trade it out for a card in their hand or pass it along to the person next to them, who will do the same thing. The goal is to collect four of the same card; when that happens, reach for a spoon. When someone spots a spoon missing, they, too, can grab one; whoever is left without a prize at the end is out. Remove one more spoon and play again.
Alternatively, play by sticking out your tongue when you’ve collected four of a kind. If others notice, they can stick out their tongues, too; whoever notices last loses.
13. Camera Hot Potato
Pick a phone to pass around the group. Set it to self-timer mode—10 seconds is best—and use regular photo mode, not selfie mode. Pass the phone around, with each person holding the phone up for a moment, posing for the camera. Pass until the photo is taken, then repeat. At the end, take a look at the (probably undignified) photos.
14. Crossed, Uncrossed
This is a trickier take on I’m Hosting a Party. Sit in a circle and designate yourself as the host. (Just don’t tell everyone the name of the game.) Say you are hosting a party but will only invite people bringing the right items. Go around the circle and have everyone suggest contributions; the host will say who is invited and who isn’t. Instead of basing the invite on what they’re bringing, though, base it on their posture: Whoever has their legs crossed can come, and whoever doesn’t can’t, for example. Continue until everyone figures it out.
15. In a Perfect World
Similar to I’m Hosting a Party and Crossed, Uncrossed, have everyone sit in a circle. Say you’re describing your perfect world: “In my perfect world, there are doors but no windows.” Have the next person describe what might be in your perfect world. Your perfect world has only double letter items: schools but not universities, for example, or apples but not bananas. If someone gets it right, say, “Yes, that would be in my perfect world.” If they don’t, say so. Continue around the circle until everyone figures it out.
Have everyone sit or stand in a circle. Each person should select a hand motion (or leg motion, if you’re standing). Go around the circle and have everyone present their motion. Memorize these. Have everyone begin clapping or stomping a steady rhythm and pick one person to start: They will do their motion and then the motion of someone else in the circle. This next person will do their own motion, then the motion of a third person, who will do the same. There are no passbacks and no hesitations. Whoever messes up first is out; continue indefinitely.
17. Straight Face
Find a pad of paper and writing tools. Have everyone write an outrageous phrase on a slip of paper, and collect everything in a hat. (If it’s a mixed group, set propriety guidelines ahead of time; if it’s adults-only, go wild.) Gather in a circle. Give one person the hat. They must draw a piece of paper and read the statement aloud to the group. The goal is to keep a straight face. Whoever laughs or smiles loses. Pass the hat around until everything has been read.
Have everyone sit around a table. Everyone will put their heads down; count down from three, and have everyone sit up and look at someone else in the circle. If you make eye contact with someone else, you’re out. If the person you’re looking at is looking at someone else, you’re safe. Repeat until everyone is out.
19. Mr. Freeze
Pick one person to be Mr. Freeze. Have everyone playing the game move around the party as usual. When Mr. Freeze freezes, though, everyone else must freeze too. Whoever freezes last is out. Repeat for the duration of the party.
Oldies but Goodies
20. Musical Chairs
Okay, it’s a popular party game for kids, but adults can also get in on the fun. Set up chairs (or seat cushions) in a circle facing outward, with enough seating for everyone playing, minus one. Designate one person as the music player and have everyone else stand in a circle around the circle of seats. When the music starts, walk around the seats; everyone must find a seat when the music ends. Whoever doesn’t is out. Remove one more chair and begin again, until two people are fighting for one seat. To make musical chairs more interesting, add your own rules. Allow people to sit on top of each other (as long as their feet are off the floor), for example, or make your own alterations.
This tried-and-true party game can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. Have everyone write down concepts, movies, people, shows, and more to act out and divide into teams. One person will act out something drawn from the assortment while their team members guess what it is. When time is up, switch teams and repeat. Add time limits, scoring systems, silence rules, and more as desired.
Gather in a circle. Pick one phrase to whisper in the ear of the person next to you—no repeats. That person will whisper what they heard to the person next to them, and so on until the phrase gets back to you. Prepare to laugh at how distorted it gets. To make it more difficult, play music in the background.
23. 20 Questions
Pick one person to go first. That person will think of an item, animal, movie, public figure, etc. Everyone else will ask yes-or-no questions about what or who they are; they have 20 chances to guess, or the other person wins. Whoever guesses correctly can win a prize, or be the next to answer questions.
How to make any party game a drinking game
For adults, if you want things to get a little wild, just add alcohol. For most games, instead of someone being “out” after losing, have them take a sip of their drink (or a shot, if you’re feeling particularly rowdy). In games involving rule-making (Kings, Cheers to the Governor, etc.), any rule can be turned into an instruction to drink: Women drink, men drink, people wearing black drink, etc. If you are introducing drinking games to your gathering, drink responsibly, and stay safe. (And don’t forget to offer non-alcoholic mocktail options for designated drivers and people who are staying sober.)
Party games for adults
24. Telephone Pictionary
Tear or cut sheets of paper into pieces, or give each person playing a notepad, and pass around pens or pencils. Each person should have as many pieces of paper or pages as people playing: If it’s a group of 10, each person should have 10 pieces of paper, for example.
Without letting anyone else see, write a word or phrase on the first piece of paper. Everyone should pass their stack of papers or notepad clockwise. The next person will look at the word or phrase, move it to the bottom of the stack, and then draw their interpretation of that word or phrase. Once everyone is finished, pass clockwise again. This person will look at the picture and interpret it into a word or phrase, moving the drawing to the bottom of the stack. Continue passing, alternating between drawings and words, until the stacks have gone full circle. Flip through the results, and prepare to roar with laughter.
This game is also known as Assassin, Werewolf, or Village. If you have a large group, a deck of cards, a lot of time, and long attention spans, this intense puzzle of a game is a lot of fun, if a little complicated. See the full rules for Mafia; essentially, certain members of the group are the bad guys (the mafia, assassins, etc.); others are villagers, and still more are police officers. One is the game moderator. The police officers are trying to guess who the bad guys are before they can kill all the villagers.
Shuffle a deck of cards and gather everyone around a table. Place a can of beer or soda in the center, and arrange the cards facedown around it. Follow the assigned rules for Kings or assign your own rules for each card. After drawing a card, slide it under the can’s tab before performing the card’s rule. When the can pops, whoever placed the last card must drink it.
Party games for kids (and kids at heart)
27. I Spy
Pick one person to go first. That person will pick something in the room and describe it: “I spy, with my little eye, something green.” Everyone else will guess what it is, asking only yes or no questions. Whoever guesses correctly first can win a prize, or be the next Spyer.
Find a ball of string or yarn. Have everyone stand in a circle. Pick one child to go first; give them the yarn and have them begin describing their life. When they say something (“I like dogs,” for example) that someone else in the circle has in common, the second child will shout “Connection!” The first child will toss them the yarn, and the second child will begin describing their life. Repeat until everyone has gone, and the yarn has created a web between all the children.
29. Minute to Win It Games
If you’ve ever seen the old TV game show, these are funny physical or mental challenges that your party guests have to complete in under a minute (great for a lot of laughs). Think picking up Cheerios with a toothpick (and their mouths), reciting the alphabet backwards (without any mistakes!), sorting a big bowl of M&Ms or Skittles by color, or bouncing ping-pong balls into an egg carton.
This time-honored party game lets kids try to see how low they can go. (All you need is a broom and some calypso music to make limbo happen!)