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The plates sit on the holly-patterned tablecloth, scraped clean, while candles flicker invitingly, adding to the crisp burning smell of the crackling fire. You’ve helped wash the “good china,” everyone is serving up a round of eggnog, and the conversation begins to wind down.

I love the smells, the sounds, the textures, and the feeling of the holiday season, especially when I gather with friends and family I don’t often see throughout the rest of the year. After the loud, animated conversations over dinner, however, the evenings usually splinter into sections. Some choose to watch the football game, others help clean up—sometimes there’s even a holiday showing of The Sound of Music, a Rabuse family tradition.

In recent years, especially as my cousins and I have gotten older, I’ve realized that I don’t want that dinner feeling to end once the last plate has been put in the dishwasher. If you, like me, have been dubbed the extended family “cruise director,” what better way to keep the holiday spirits going than by initiating some fun group games?

If you’re looking for something to keep the momentum going, try out my two favorite games with the instructions below. All you need is some paper, pens, and a willingness to laugh.

Bag (or Bowl or Hat) of Nouns

This game never fails to get people excited. It can be played with as few as four people or as many as sixteen. The important thing is that this game is meant to be played in two teams and consists of three rounds.

  • Cut a few sheets of paper into small squares. I typically use between forty and sixty slips of paper per game (though you may need more if it’s a large group playing). Distribute the slips equally among the individuals participating, and divide the group into Teams One and Two.
  • On each slip of paper, write a noun. It can be a common noun, like “chair,” a proper noun, like “Winona Ryder,” or something a little more complex, such as “purple nail polish.” Tip: It’s helpful to gauge the group and see how challenging they want to make it (the more specific or odd the nouns, the more difficult the game will be). Depending on how well the group knows each other, it’s also fun to include family or friend-specific references or jokes.
  • All of the pieces of paper with the nouns go into the bag (or other receptacle of choice).
  • Designate someone to be the timer—one minute per round.
  • One member of Team One takes the bag of nouns. The timer starts with one minute on the clock. In that one minute, the member of Team One will try to get their team members (stay quiet, Team Two!) to guess the words on as many slips of paper as possible by giving clues.
  • For round one: The person giving clues can say any word to describe what is on the paper except what is written down. For example, if the word is “campfire,” you can say “s’more,” “woods,” or “songs,” but you can’t say “camp” or “fire.”
  • After the minute is up, Team One gets one point for every noun guessed correctly. If the team couldn’t guess and skipped a few nouns, one point per skipped noun is subtracted from the total. The nouns that have been guessed are set aside until the second round.
  • The bag then goes to Team Two, who also has one minute to guess as many nouns as possible. Alternate teams until the bag is empty, changing the clue-giver each time so that everyone gets a chance. Once the round has ended, put all the used nouns back in the bag to start round two.
  • For round two: Now the clue-giver can only say one word to describe what is on the paper. For example, if the noun was “cupcake,” I might say “dessert.” It’s easier than it sounds because everyone in the room has already heard all the words once—so make sure you’re paying attention, even when it isn’t your team’s turn!
  • For the third and final round: The clue-giver can now only act out the nouns as charades.

It may seem like there are a lot of steps, but once the game gets going, it goes by quickly! It’s a great game to get people engaged, watch ridiculous pantomiming, and keep the fun going long after dessert is served.

The Question Game

This game had my eighty-eight-year-old grandma nearly rolling on the floor laughing. You will need paper, pens, and a pair of scissors. This game works best with more than five people and has no limit to how many can play.

  • Grab a few sheets of paper and cut it into strips long enough to write a sentence on.
  • Hand a strip of paper and pen to each player.
  • On one side of the paper, everyone writes a “What If?” question. For example, you could write, “What if everyone in the world had blueberry muffins for hands?” The questions can be as funny, ridiculous, or genuine as you like.
  • Have everyone flip their paper over and write the answer to the question they just wrote. Make sure the answer starts with “Then.” In this case, I could write something like, “Then you’d never have to pack snacks.”
  • Once everyone has filled out both sides of their paper with the question and answer, put all the slips into a bowl.
  • Pass the bowl around. Each player takes a different slip (ideally not their own).
  • Once everyone has a slip, it’s time to start! One person (it doesn’t matter who) begins the game by reading their question—for example, “What if your parents had given you a different name?”
  • Now, the person to the right of the question-asker will read their answer—e.g., “Then the plains would flood and we would all develop gills.” The second person then flips their paper and reads the opposite side, which would be the question that the “gills” sentence answered.
  • Once the second person has read their question, the person to the right of them reads their answer, then starts the next question with the one on the other side of the paper. It keeps passing around the circle until the last question matches up with the first person’s answer. Hilarity usually ensues, especially when answers actually end up making a lot of sense!

It’s a quick, easy game, and from my experience, people usually end up playing multiple rounds because the surprise element keeps it fresh and entertaining.

I love using these games during the holidays, but they’re great all year round as well. Bust them out at your girls’ night, for work team-building, or even on road trips (although that might make charades a little difficult). You don’t need to buy an expensive, colorfully packaged board game to bring family and friends together—sometimes all it takes are a few office supplies and some crazy suggestions.