Nearly free party games

I’m frugal and I love games. And sadly, group Go hasn’t caught on yet. Thus, here are a collection of free games that are basically minimalist knockoffs of commercial party games.



Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but, unlike charity, it should end there. — Clare Booth Luce

Requirements: index cards, pens/pencils, a die, a timer

Set-up: Each player gets a stack of index cards and writes phrases on them, one per card. Each player should also write their name on their cards and specify the best category for phrase, such as person, place, thing, action, or event. The phrases are limited only by the sense of fair play of the players. Shuffle all the phrase cards together face down. Save some blank cards for “sketches” rounds.  Select one player to be the first lead player.

Play: The lead draws a card, announces the category, rolls a die, and gives clues of a kind determined by the die roll. The other players attempt to guess the phrase, except that the player who contributed the phrase may not guess it. The lead has 3 minutes to give clues (use a timer!).

The clue styles match the die rolls as follows:

  1. Charades.  The clues must be miming; no language, props, or other clues are allowed.
  2. Sketches.  The clues must be drawings; no language or other clues are allowed.
  3. Taboos.  The clues must be speech only, and may use no words from the phrase or any related word forms.  No other clues are allowed.
  4. Puppets.  The clues must be by puppetry using anything in room, including other people, as props; no language, first-person miming, or other clues are allowed.
  5. Sealed lips.  The clues must be by humming or mumbling with the mouth closed.  No other clues are allowed.
  6. Interrogators.  The other players ask questions aloud, and the lead must answer each question with a single 3-letter word.  No other clues are allowed.

After the clue is guessed, the time runs out, or the lead player breaks the censor rules, the round ends.  Points are awarded.  Then the next player becomes the new lead player for the next round.

Scoring:  If the clue is guessed T seconds into the round, the guesser and lead are each awarded T points; if multiple players guess correctly, only the first gets points.  If the time runs out with no correct guess, no points are awarded.  If the lead player breaks the censor rules T seconds into the rounds, the lead receives a penalty of -T points.



The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it always to be kept alive. — Thomas Jefferson

Idea: The players are members of a secret cabal seeking to overthrow a tyrranical government. They will select members to go on a perilous mission, but they must choose carefully, because the government has spies in their midst.

Requirements: a deck of cards

Set-up: For N players, select X black cards and Y red cards from the deck. Also prepare M pairs of cards, with one red card and one black card in each pair. The chart shows N, X, Y, and M.

(cabal members)
(government spies)
(team members per mission)
4 2 2 2
5 3 2 3
6 5 1 5
7 5 2 4
8 6 2 5
9 6 3 4
10 8 2 6
11 8 3 5
12 8 4 4
13 10 3 6
14 10 4 5
15 12 3 7
16 12 4 6
17 12 5 5
18 13 5 5
19 15 4 7
20 15 5 6

The numbers were calculated to give everyone as nearly equal a chance of winning as possible if everyone plays with equal skill. Shuffle the cards and deal them face down, one to each player. If a player receives a black card, he/she is a member of the cabal. If a player receives a red card, he/she is a government spy. Players should keep their cards secret during the game.

Pick a player to start the game. Just prior to the start of the game, everyone should close their eyes and look down. The chosen player should announce that the spies have thirty seconds to look up and see who each other are, and that everyone else should keep their head down and eyes closed. After counting off thirty seconds, the chosen player should tell the spies to close their eyes and look down again, and then everyone to open their eyes normally and start the game.

Play: On a player’s turn, he/she selects and announces a set of M players that he/she proposes should go on the mission. Players are encouraged to discuss to the matter and reason out whatever they can. Lying is permitted, especially for spies. When the discussion is finished, the players (cabal and spies) vote on whether to send that team on the mission. If the majority votes in favor, then that team goes on the mission. If the majority votes against or if there is a tie, then that team does not go on the mission and it becomes the next player’s turn.

Going on a mission: The players selected to go on the mission receive a pair of cards, one red and one black. Each secretly chooses one card from his/her pair and places it face down into the mission stack, then puts the other card back into the deck. Cabal members must choose the black card, which signifies that they work for the mission’s success. A red card signifies sabotaging the mission. Each spy may choose either the black card or the red card. After all the chosen cards have been placed in the mission stack, the stack is shuffled, then revealed. If all the cards are black, then the mission succeeded. If one or more cards are red, then the mission was sabotaged.  If the mission is sabotaged and there have been fewer than five missions, then it becomes the next player’s turn.

Winning: The cabal has five mission chances. If all five missions are sabotaged, then the resistance fails and the spies win. If the cabal wins a mission, then the resistance succeeds and overthrows the tyrannical government.


Nomic variants

Imagination rules the world. — Napoleon Bonaparte

Variety is the spice of life, and these games can never get old.

Bartok : Start playing standard Crazy 8s. After each round, the winner announces a new rule to be added to the game.

Mao : Bartok, except it is forbidden to describe the rules. Players figure the rules out by trial and error.

1000 Blank White Cards (KBWC) : Players draw on index cards to make game cards of whatever style and function they want. Then they shuffle them together, deal them out, and see what happens.

Calvinball : Start with a ball. Any player may unilaterally add a new rule at any time by announcing it. The only permanent rule in Calvinball is that you can’t play it the same way twice!



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