Games sampler

A bunch of games for you to play, as presented at Pot of Gold Religious Education Conference today.

What are games? Games are FUN. Games have AN OUTCOME. Games are SOCIAL.

Some types of games useful in UU groups:
— Icebreaker and name games: for whenever you have a newcomer
— Classic kid games: for any age, just to have fun
— Fantasy games: unleashing fantasy and creativity
— Active games: get up and get moving
— Simulation or teaching games: learning by doing
— Theatre games: awareness of self, awareness of others
— Energy breaks: very short activities designed to regulate the group’s energy level

Every game-playing group of which I’ve been a part — from Sunday school classes with little kids to adult groups — usually has one or two games that they love best, and the group can play that game over and over again. My goal with every group is to try a bunch of games until I find at least one game we want to play over and over again. Of course I want to play lots of different games, but if there are one or two favorites, then when all other plans fail, we all know that at least we can play our favorite game. The games below marked “Fave Game” been a favorite game of at least one group I’ve led or been a part of.

Please note that rules of games are mutable — you may know one or more of these games with slightly different rules. The rules given here are rules that I know work, but you should change and adapt them as you wish.

Icebreaker and name games:

Grocery Store Game (age 8-adult)

Here’s how I play this game:

“Pick an item that you can buy in the grocery store,” I’ll say, “the name of which begins with the same letter or the same sound as your name. So I’m Dan Dogfood.”

We go around the circle and players chose grocery store names for themselves: Sara Saran Wrap, Zach Zucchini, Melissa Marshmallow, Dori Doughnut, and so on.

“Now one person stands in the middle of the circle with a pillow,” I say, demonstrating what I mean, “and one person, let’s say Oliver Olives, starts us off by saying ‘I like…’ and then someone’s grocery store name. So for example, Oliver might say, ‘I like Bill Berries.’

“At this point, I will try to tap Bill Berries with the pillow before he can name someone else.” Which causes Bill Berries to say hurriedly, “Ari Asparagus,” who in turn says, “Heather Hair Spray,” who doesn’t respond before I tap her with the pillow, so she goes into the center of the circle to start the next round.


Ocean Wave (age 8-adult)

Set up a circle of chairs, with one less chair than there are players. One player is in the center of the circle. The player in the center calls out: “Shift right!” or “Shift left!” All the other players have to shift to the right or left without allowing the player in the center to take their seats. Whoever allows their seat to be taken goes in the center next.


Friends and Neighbors (age 10-adult) –Fave Game

Players sit in a circle of chairs; there is one less chair than players. “It,” who doesn’t have a chair, goes to the center and thinks of something about themselves she might have in common with other members of the group. She says something like, “I want to see all my friends and neighbors who…” and then she adds a statement that is true of her, e.g., “…who are wearing blue!” — “…who have ever eaten sushi!” — etc.

All the people for whom this statement is true then get up out of their chairs and find another chair (but, if you have more than 10 people playing, not the chairs on either side of them). The person remaining after all the chairs are taken starts the next round by saying, “I want to see all my friends and neighbors who…”

Optional additional rule — the Eye-contact Rule: Seated members can make eye-contact with each other across the circle and switch seats before “It” has made their statement. If “It” perceives this happening, s/he can quickly try to steal a vacant seat, leaving a new “It” in the center.

Optional additional rule — the Story Rule: In groups that are well-bonded and have achieved a high level of intimacy and trust, the statements will move beyond surface-level statements such as “…who are wearing blue!” and move into more personal statements such as “…who have ever participated in a political rally.” With the Story Rule, after “It” makes his/her statement, and everyone has exchanged seats, anyone in the circle can shout out, “Story!” upon which play stops while the former “It” tells a little bit about the personal statement s/he just made, e.g., “It was a rally in opposition to Prop 8 in Sacramento, and I went with [etc. etc.].” People always have the option of saying “I pass” instead of telling the story.

Optional additional rule — the Jello Rule: Pretend you are stuck in a giant vat of Jello (vegan Jello, of course). All players must play as if they are moving through Jello, and when moving all players when moving are required to make suitable noises that you would make if playing in actual Jello, e.g. “splurp, slllck, fllrbbb.” The Jello rule can make this game more accessible to persons who are differently abled, or who have other mobility issues.

Classic games:

Red Light, Green Light (age 3-adult) — Fave Game

Choose one person to be the caller. S/he stands at one end of the room/space, next to the goal. The goal might be anything convenient: a carpet square, a chair, etc. The rest of the players stand at the other end of the room/space, at a defined starting line (a sidewalk, the wall, and piece of rope on the floor, etc.).

When the caller calls out “Green light!” s/her must turn away from the rest of the players, and the players can then move safely towards the goal. At some point, the caller calls out, “Red light!” and turns around to look at the other players, who must all freeze. If the caller sees anyone moving, s/he calls out that person’s name, and that person has to go back to the starting line. Game is over when someone touches the goal without being sent back by the caller.

When playing with younger children, you will want to begin playing this game with an adult as the caller.

Optional additional rules — Red Light, Green Light with Cheating: So far, these are the rules of traditional Red Light, Green Light. Now comes the cheating part. The players can cheat by not staying frozen, and stealthily trying to move towards the goal without being spotted by the caller. The caller can cheat by moving away from the goal, and standing anywhere s/he wants to more closely observe the players (which of course also leaves the goal unguarded, and offers other players a chance to sneak closer to it).


Duck, Duck, Goose (age 3-adult) — Fave Game

There are many variations on this game. Here’s one:

Everyone sits in a circle except one person. That one person is the Ducker. The Ducker goes around the circle tapping each person GENTLY on the head (with preschoolers, you may have to emphasize the GENTLY), each time saying “Duck.” But eventually the Ducker taps someone on the head and says “Goose,” at which point that person (call them “Goose”) stands up, and chases the Ducker around the circle. If the Ducker manages to sit down in Goose’s place in the circle, then Goose becomes the new Ducker. If Goose manages to tag the Ducker before the Ducker sits down in Goose’s place, then the Ducker sits in the middle of the circle (which is sometimes called “The Soup Pot”); if there was already someone in the Soup Pot, that person goes back to sit in the circle; and the Goose then becomes the new Ducker.

Of course, everyone wants to be the Ducker at some point in the game. When playing with little kids, sometimes you have to say, “raise your hand if you haven’t been tagged yet,” and then tell the Ducker that they have to tag someone who has their hand up.

Fantasy games:

Lemonade (age 7-adult)

Two teams. A play area split by a clearly defined line (rope, sidewalk, etc.).

The two teams huddle at separate ends of the room. One team, Team One, decides on a job or profession they will act out. Then they decide on a place that job or profession is associated with, e.g.: lawyers and Washington, D.C.; corn farmers and Iowa; garment workers and New York City; etc.

When both teams are ready, they line up at opposite ends of the play area.

While taking a step towards the center line, team one calls out, “Here we come!”

Team two takes their own step towards the center line, and responds, “Where ya from?”

Team one takes step, says, “Washington! [or wherever the place is that they’ve chosen]”

Team two takes step, says, “What’s yer trade?” [in the Boston area, say “what’s ya trade?”]

Team one takes step, says, “Lemonade!”

Team two takes step, says, “Well show us some if you’re not afraid!” At this point, both teams should be lined up face-to-face on either side of the center line (so take big steps in a big space, smaller steps in a smaller space). Members of team one begin acting out their trade; members of team two try shout out their guesses as to what that trade might be. When a member of team two guesses correctly, team one runs madly back to their starting line, while team two tries to tag them.

All those who get tagged before getting back across the starting line are now part of team two. And now team two huddles to decide on what profession or job they will act out….

Variation for quieter game, or small space: Instead of running back to starting line, members of the team being chased have to squat down and touch both palms to the floor before being tagged.


Evolution (age 10-adult) — Fave Game

You’ll need: 8-24 people (give or take); a pillow, chair, or other seat for each person; 10 to 60 minutes.

Sit in a circle, on chairs or pillows or something to mark seats. The circle roughly constitutes an evolutionary ladder, rising from primitive organisms to more sophisticated organisms. Divide the circle into four roughly equal segments. The first section will contain primitive organisms; the second section, plants; the third section, herbivores; the fourth section, carnivores.

Within each section, each person chooses an appropriate organism, and then comes up with a simple motion to represent that organism (for example, the lowest organism, by tradition, is always Pond Scum; and the motion for Pond Scum is to hold your left hand out in front of you as if you were holding a cup with your fingers curled to touch your thumb, while above that hand and not quite touching you hold your right hand flat and palm down, moving it in a small circle over the left hand). Once you’ve gone all around the circle, go around again so everyone can try to remember all the organisms and their associated motions.

The highest organism always begins each round. Let’s say the highest organism is Human Being, motion: waving. So the person sitting in that seat would say something like, “Human Being [waving] loves Pond Scum [left hand circling over cupped right hand].” That means play goes to the person sitting in the Pond Scum seat. She might then say, “Pond Scum [left hand circling over cupped right hand] loves Redwood Tree [stands and raises hands over head].” Of course that means play goes to the person sitting in the Redwood Tree seat (which is in that second section of plants), and he might say, “Redwood Tree [stands and raises hands over head] loves Grizzly Bear [makes growly face and holds hands up like claws].” The play should proceed relatively quickly from person to person.

Now if anyone hesitates, or uses the wrong motion with the name of the organism, or says an organism that isn’t part of that particular game, or otherwise stumbles in the estimation of the other participants, then he or she must go to the bottom of the evolutionary ladder, taking the seat of Pond Scum. Which means that whoever is sitting in the Pond Scum seat then moves up one place on the evolutionary ladder, adopting the name and motion of the organism for that particular seat. And other people also move up until everyone below the person who made the mistake has taken a new seat. That concludes one round.

Whoever is sitting in the seat at the top of the evolutionary ladder commences the next round. Continue playing until bored.

Strategy: Usually, you will want to send the play to people above you in the evolutionary ladder, because the only way you get to move is by getting one of them to make a mistake. However, it can also be effective to look at someone as if you’re going to send the play to them, but then name another organism — with the hope of faking them out so that they start to respond, which could be reason for the other players to send them to the bottom of the evolutionary ladder.

Background: This game has no basis in actual biology at all. I mean, that should be obvious, but with all the misunderstanding the creationists have created over evolution, it seemed wisest to state it explicitly.

Active games:

Dragon tag: (age 5-adult)

Players form a dragon by lining up, and holding on to one another’s waists. The person at the front is the dragon’s head, the person at the back is the dragon’s tail. When you say, “Go!” the dragon’s head tries to catch the dragon’s tail.

Younger children will need to be carefully instructed that they can’t let go of waists. All children should be reminded to “Play hard, play fair, nobody hurt!”


Double dragon tag: (age 5-adult)

Divide the group into two teams. Each team forms a “dragon” by lining up and holding onto one another’s waists. Each dragon’s “head” must try to catch the other dragon’s “tail” without letting the body break apart. Before starting, each team should decide on the gait, voice and personality of their dragons.


Chaos tag: (age 8-adult) — Fave Game

Anyone can tag anyone else. When you are tagged, you have to squat down, and are out of the game. When the person who tagged you gets tagged, then you are free again. If two people tag each other simultaneously, you both have to squat down (N.B.: there are other variations on this rule).

Simulation and teaching games:

Foxes, Rabbits, and Leaves (age 9-adult) — Fave Game

Divide the group into Foxes, Rabbits, and Leaves. (With a group of ten, have 4 rabbits, 3 leaves, and 3 foxes.)
— Leaves put hands up at shoulder level (as if about to give a high-five).
— Rabbits have tails (pieces of white cloth to stick into back pocket).
— Foxes have no distinguishing characteristic.

The play area is a big circle. Rabbits have a Warren (a square of felt on the ground). They are safe from predation by the Foxes as long as they touch the felt.

To begin each round:
— The Rabbits are touching the Rabbit Warren.
— The Leaves form a broad circle around the Rabbit Warren.
— The Foxes stand among the Leaves.

When the signal is given to begin a round:
— Rabbits must try to “eat” (high-five) Leaves;
— Foxes try to catch and “eat” Rabbits by pulling tails;
— Leaves are immobile.

During each round:
— Rabbits are safe and cannot be tagged when they are frozen in a crouched position, or when they are touching the Rabbit Warren. Rabbits may not move or get Leaves unless they are standing up.
— Rabbits must eat in each round, or they will die from hunger.
— Foxes must eat in each round, or they will die of hunger.
— A round lasts 3-5 minutes. At the end of the round, Leader calls out “End of Round!” and all action stops.

At the end of each round:
— If a Fox has not eaten one or more Rabbits in a round, s/he dies, rots away, turns into compost, and becomes a Leaf in the next round.
— If a Rabbit has not eaten a Leaf in a round, s/he dies, rots away, turns into compost, and becomes a Leaf in the next round.
— If a Rabbit is eaten by a Fox (whether or not s/he has eaten a Leaf him/herself), that Rabbit becomes a Fox next round.
— If a Leaf is eaten by a Rabbit, s/he becomes a Rabbit in the next round.

Play three to five rounds (or more, if it’s going well).

The educational goal of this game is to model how a surplus of predators in an ecosystem leads to starvation of predators; a surplus of herbivores can lead to a shortage of plants; etc. The more people you have playing, the more sophisticated you can make this model — great way to investigate the concept of the interdependent web of all existence. Or it can just be a fun game!


Moksha Patamu

Classic board game from India upon which “Chutes and Ladders” is based. Symbolizes the journey through life, and presents ideas of reincarnation, various virtues, etc. It used to be available online, but I can no longer find it — look for it in the old “Holidays and Holy Days” curriculum.


Quaker Checkers

Click on the image below for a full-size printable PDF:

Theatre games:

Tug of War (age 7-adult)

Create a rope made out of space substance. Have the players help you do this.

Tell the players that we are going to play Tug of War with this imaginary rope. Ask the players to pair off with a partner who is of equal strength, or equal size. Pairs try this separately, in front of an audience composed of the other players. Each person in turn in the pair slowly pulls the other member of the pair towards the imaginary center line, exactly as in playing tug of war with a real rope. (You, as the director of the game, can call on them to switch if need be.)

When a pair has just gone, ask the audience: Were the players using the same rope? Did the rope connect the players? Was the rope merely in the players’ heads, or could you really sense the rope between them? Now ask the players the same questions.


Freezeframe (age 10-adult)

This popular game has many variants. It works best with older kids, or younger kids who have done many theatre games together.

Two to three players begin in the stage area (which might be one end of a room, or the center of a circle). They are to enact a scenario determined by you, the director, or a scenario everyone agrees on at the beginning (this can be a wordless scenario, or a scenario with words). Sample scenarios: riding on the bus with a gorilla; sitting in a sinking rowboat; eating lunch in zero gravity; playing soccer in quicksand; etc. (I like to start with scenarios that force people to use their whole bodies.) Remind all players to both SHOW and TELL — that is, communicate with your body and your actions as much or more than you rely on words.

At any point during the scenario, any of the audience players can shout out “Freezeframe!” All the stage players freeze. The audience player then taps one of the stage players on the shoulder, and takes that player’s place on stage, taking exactly the same body posture, etc. (When you start playing this game, you can invite the audience players to let the incoming player know when s/he has taken the correct position.) Once the incoming player is in place, s/he begins the action again by taking the scenario in a completely different direction, or by creating a whole new scenario based on the body positions; e.g., going from a scenario where a person on the bus is down on bended knees begging the gorilla to give back the banana, to a completely different scenario where the princess is down on bended knee asking the prince to marry her.

As the director, you may participate in this game. You should also coach audience players to call “Freezeframe!” at frequent intervals. You can also coach stage players to use their bodies, to show rather than merely tell, etc. If things begin to drag, you can stop action and start with a new scenario.

The goal of this theatre game is to get players to express themselves with their bodies, to be very aware of what other players are doing, and to trust in other players. A desirable outcome is to build enough trust where a player can call out “Freezeframe!” with absolutely no idea of where s/he is going to take the scenario, getting in to the scene, and trusting the other player(s) enough to make something happen.

Opening-Up games and activities:
To learn more about each other.

Two Truths and A Lie (middle school and up)

Have each person in the group come up with two facts and one falsehood about themselves. Go around the circle and have each person present the three statements as if they are all true. Then have each member of the group guess which of the three statements is false.

Check In

Have the group sit in a circle. Go around the circle, giving each member a chance to one good thing and one bad thing that has happened in the past week. This format can be altered to fit the group’s size and mood.

Variation: You can pass around clay or play-dough, and let people express themselves by adding onto or changing the form it takes.

Variation: With preschoolers, you can have them point to a happy face or a sad face.

Energy breaks (used to regulate the energy level of a group):


Form a standing circle, then have everyone hold hands and squat down. As they slowly come up to standing, have them say “zzzzzzzzzzoooooooooooooom!” (or any other joyful noise or word) and end with a jump in the air.

Acorn, Tree

Form a standing circle. Have everyone gradually crouch down, making themselves as small as possible. As they do this, have them say, “Acorn, acorn, acorn…” getting softer and softer. Then, simultaneously jump up into the air and say “TREE!!” with enthusiasm. Do this one several times to energize a tired group.

Tone Singing

Have each person close their eyes release sound on a different tone. (Sing the different tones as “Aahh” or “Ooo”). Hold the tones as long as possible, taking staggered breaths so that the sound is constant. Listen as the voices come into harmony with each other, and go out of harmony again.

See Bananas

Do this chant with the indicated motions.

— Do 1), then pause and say: “Mmmm!” while rubbing tummy and smiling.
— Then do 1) and 2), then pause and say: “Mmmm!” while rubbing tummy and smiling.
— Do 1) and 2) and 3), etc., until done.

1) See bananas. See, see bananas. (x2)
Motion: Hand over eyes, seeking

2) Pick bananas. Pick, pick bananas. (x2)
Motion: Hands out, pulling bananas off tree

3) Peel bananas. Peel, peel bananas. (x2)
Motion: Peeling a banana

4) Eat bananas. Eat, eat Bananas. (x2)
Motion: Shove ’em in your mouth!

5) Squish bananas. Squish, squish bananas. (x2)
Motion: Throw banana peel down and stomp on it.

6) Go bananas! Go, go bananas! (x2)
Motion: Flailing arms in the air, jumping up and down.

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