5 Parlor Games to Make Your Gatherings More Fun
Spoons, sardines, telephone charades, and other activities to put a boost in your get-togethers.
Our favorite part of family holidays is after dessert, when we clear the table for a game of “SPOONS.” Our family dynamic is well-suited to this simple, fast-paced game. There are half-hearted attempts at cheating, affectionate name-calling, and exaggerated tales of misconduct. We are loud, lively, and slightly offensive. Alas, our games often end when these traits get the better of us: it’s impossible to carry on because we’re laughing so much, something breaks, or occasionally, someone bleeds.
We “kids” have grown up since we first played the game a decade ago, but it still allows us to let loose after the annual rituals of the holidays. Whether we only make it through three rounds or complete an entire game, we pack up with some reluctance, grab a Band-Aid or a roll of duct tape, apologize to the neighbors, and resume our mild-mannered ways. —L.B.
One deck of ordinary playing cards, or multiple decks to suit the number of players.
One less spoon than the number of people.
Corks may be substituted for spoons—advisable for unruly players if your silverware has pointed or squared ends.
How to play:
1. The objectives are to get four of a kind and, most importantly, to have a spoon in hand at the end of every round.
2. The spoons are set in the middle of the table. Each player begins with four cards.
3. The dealer passes one card from the deck at a time, face down, keeping the cards coming as fast as possible.
4. The next player may keep the card or pass it, but must pass a card to the next player, retaining only four cards. Players continue to pass cards around the circle to the dealer.
5. The first player to collect four of a kind takes a spoon (discreetly) from the center, but continues to pass cards. As soon as players notice a spoon missing they must obtain one for themselves. A mad grab ensues, leaving one player empty-handed.
6. At the end of each round the player who failed to retrieve a spoon is assigned a letter: S, P, O, etc. Players are ejected from the game once S-P-O-O-N-S is spelled to completion.
7. Remove a spoon when a player leaves the game. The final round involves two players competing for a single spoon.
Sardines is a hiding game that is best when played indoors. While one player hides, the others count to a hundred, then spread out to find him. As each player discovers the hiding place they too must squeeze in, often to comical effect. The last player to discover the hiding place becomes the hider in the next round.
This Victorian parlor game creates an amusingly mysterious ambience. One player sits facing a wall or a smoothly hung sheet; behind her on the opposite side of the room, a lit candle or lamp is placed on a table. All other lights are extinguished. Taking turns, each player saunters, shimmies, or creeps across the room between the lamp and the seated person, disguising their silhouette in any way they can. The player facing the wall tries to guess the identity of the person behind the shadow. If she guesses correctly on the first try, that person must take the seat. The game goes on for as long as players can think of new ways to distort their shadows.
Shush is a word game suitable for adults and chatty children. One player leads by choosing a small, common word—perhaps “the,” “but,” “an,” “with”—as the forbidden word. By turns, the leader then asks the other players questions at random, and the players must answer without using that word. Ideally, the questions should demand answers with plenty of explanation, like “How did you get your holiday cakes so fluffy?” or “Why do you believe in the Tooth Fairy?” Any player who uses the forbidden word or hesitates too long with their answer is out for the round. The last player to remain speaking leads the next round.
5. Telephone Pictures
This is a game of interpretation for groups of five or more. Each player needs a pencil and a pile of scrap paper with as many scraps of paper as there are players.
The game begins with each person thinking of a short saying. It might be a proverb or something made-up, like “Aunt Cora’s garlic breath will kill us all slowly.”
Everyone writes their phrase on the paper at the top of their pile. Then they pass their entire pile to the person on their right. Each player silently reads the saying they’ve been handed, puts it at the bottom of their stack, and attempts to illustrate it—without letters or numbers—on the next blank paper. Piles are passed to the right again, and each player translates their newly arrived drawing into words, writes this on the next paper, and puts the drawing at the bottom of the pile.
Papers are passed to the right again, and the process of drawing or writing alternates until each player receives a completed stack containing the words they first wrote. Hysteria abounds as each player shows the group how their saying was mangled along the way. —F.T.
Fabien Tepper is a freelance animal policy journalist, translator, painter, pedicab driver, and dog walker based in Boston.