Pen-and-Paper Games

This is an ongoing project to collect rules for interesting games that can be explained in no more than 100 words, and which (mostly) require no more than a deck of cards, six dice and a pen and paper. Any ambiguities can be rehydrated through common sense (eg. if a game uses points but specifies no winner, the most points win).

Pick a ten letter word. Each player writes it vertically on a sheet of paper, then privately fills in ten words that can be assembled from the letters of the original word, one starting with each letter. For duplicate initials, different words must be chosen. When one player has finished, they call "stop" and the game ends: score 1 point per letter for each word.

Draw an 11x11 grid (or 13x13 for three players, 15x15 for four), and next to it a complete alphabet for each player. Take turns to add any word to the grid (connecting to at least one existing word, and forming no non-words) and cross out any letters in your alphabet which you added to the grid that turn. The first to use up their entire alphabet wins; if the game reaches a stalemate, the player who has used most letters wins. For scoring across games, the winner scores the number of letters the second-place player has not used.

Each draw a private 10x10 "fleet" grid and a 10x10 "strike" grid. On your fleet grid, draw an Aircraft Carrier (a line of 5 adjacent, non-diagonal squares), a Battleship (4), a Cruiser (3), a Submarine (3) and a Destroyer (2); ships cannot touch. Take turns to call as many grid-reference shots as you have unsunk ships: your opponent announces how many (but not which) shots were "hits", and marks them on their fleet grid. Make notes on your strike grid. If a ship is hit on every square, it is sunk and its identity announced. A sunk fleet loses.

Draw an 8x8 grid of squares. Take turns to claim a square by marking a personal symbol in it. When the grid is full, whoever has the largest orthogonally-connected group of squares is the winner.

Generate a 4x4 grid of random letters (by, say, picking a random sentence and writing the first eight letters in a checkerboard pattern, and the next eight in the gaps). Each player privately lists words that can be made from a path of sequentially adjacent letters (including diagonals). A single word cannot use the same grid square twice. The game ends after three minutes; players reveal their words, strike out any which more than one player found, then score by word length (3/4 letters=1 point, 5=2, 6=3, 7=5, 8+=11). For a sharper game, disallow 3-letter words and S-plurals.

Draw a 6x5 grid of black dots. At the centre of each grid square, draw a small empty circle (a "white dot") then draw five more white dots
above and below the top and bottom rows, to produce two interlocking 5x6 grids of black and white dots. One player takes black,
the other white; take turns to connect two horizontally or vertically adjacent dots of your colour, without crossing a
line drawn by your opponent. The first player to connect the two shortest sides of their grid wins.

Each player draws five different tetrominoes (the shapes that can be made out of four squares, as in Tetris) and simultaneously writes the numbers 1 to 4 in each tetromino's squares, in any order. Take turns to cross out one of your tetrominos and copy it into the playing area; after the first move, added tetrominos must join onto existing ones. You may rotate tetrominoes but not mirror them. For each number in the added tetromino which is adjacent to the same number in another, score 1 point. The first two tetronimoes played score nothing.

Draw a 21x21 grid. Take turns to draw a personal symbol (a "seed") in any square, and optionally draw a "crystal", scoring 1 point for every square in that crystal. A crystal is an outline of a number of orthogonally connected squares which must: contain four or more seeds of your symbol, and no other seeds; be symmetrical about all four horizontal, vertical and diagonal axes; have no jigsaw-style boundary sections (such that it could "interlock" with another crystal); not overlap with another crystal; and contain no holes. Play until no further crystals can be formed.

Each player takes a piece of paper and writes any single sentence at the top, and then writes every other player's sentence beneath it. Players then have three minutes to privately discover as many "rules" as possible that fit all sentences (eg. "must end with a vowel", "must contain exactly three Gs"). Rules cannot include "or" clauses, "at least/most" or refer to absences. Score 2 points for each rule which is unique, 1 point if another player found the same rule. If one rule defines a more specific subset of another rule, the less specific rule scores nothing.

On a 10x10 or 8x8 grid, players take turns to draw a personal symbol (a "stone") in a square. Each move must be adjacent to the previous player's move; if this is
not possible, the player has the "freedom" to place their stone in any square. When the board is full, score 1 point for each "live" stone you have; a stone is
live if it is part of a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line of exactly 4 stones of the same colour.

Both players draw a 5x5 grid with grid references, and secretly fill in a well-known phrase
along any path of orthogonally adjacent squares. Players take turns to take "shots"
by calling out grid references, Battleships-style; their opponent tells them what
letter (if any) the square contains. Instead of taking a shot you may
guess your opponent's phrase. A correct guess wins. (For scoring across
games: 1 point for hitting a blank, -1 point for a wrong guess, winner
gets 1 point per unshot letter in the opponent's grid.)

One player writes a letter, and players then take turns to add a single letter after it. The letters must always be building towards a proper word. If a player causes the letters to spell a complete word of three or more letters, they lose the game. If a player suspects that the letters cannot be built into a word, they may challenge the previous player; the loser of the challenge loses the game. (The Superghost variant allows letters to be played on either end of the fragment.)

On a 15x15 grid, players take turns to add their symbol (O or X) to an empty square. If a player forms a line of five or more in any direction, including diagonals, they win. (For a version of the more balanced "Renju", the player who moves first cannot add a symbol if it would make a line of six or more, or if it would simultaneously create two rows of three or two rows of four. The second player has no such restrictions.)

Draw a 5x5 grid. Take turns to add your own symbol to an empty square. If by placing your symbol you have surrounded an opponent's symbol on two opposite, sides (including diagonals), scribble out the opponent's symbol. Scribbled out symbols take no further part in the game. Play until one empty square remains; the player with the most surviving symbols wins.

Each player draws the same large 5x5 grid, each row labelled with a randomly chosen letter and each column titled with a category (eg. "cities", "colours", "mammals"). Players fill in the grid with answers that match the category and begin with the letter. When a player's grid is full, they call "done"; when only one player has yet to call, the game ends. Score 2 points for each unique answer, 1 point for each shared answer, 0 for an answer voted to be incorrect.

Draw a horizontal "ground" line, with any number of dots above it. Draw lines from one or more dots to the ground, and draw any pattern of lines between dots such that each dot has at least one route to the ground. Players take turns to "cut" a line by erasing or crossing it through; any line that now has no connecting route to the ground is also erased. If a player has no line to cut, they lose. Variant: draw lines in two or three colours, each player picks one colour and cannot cut lines of their opponent's colour.

Draw ten large circles, and join them with lines to make a symmetrical pattern, such that each circle has between two and seven connections. Players take turns to write a word or phrase into an empty circle: upon doing so, they score a point for each filled circle which is both connectedly adjacent to their move, and for which they can argue some logical connection between the circles' contents. The second turn of the game must be unadjacent to the first.

On a square grid of any size, players take turns to add a dot of their colour (or an identifying symbol) to an intersection. After placing a dot, you may connect a loop of your own adjacent dots (including diagonals) by drawing a line through them. This forms a "territory". If one territory encloses another, the enclosed one is no longer counted as a territory. At the end of the game, score one point for each dot of an opponent inside your territories. Alternate scoring: score the total size of your territories.

On a 9x9 grid, fill the middle 3x3 with random letters. Take turns to: add any letter adjacent to two or more existing letters; for each row, column and diagonal containing that letter, you may claim one word you can anagram from a line of adjacent letters (including the new letter), and must claim at least two words. Multiply the length of claimed words for that turn's score. Game ends when all four edges of the board contain a letter.

Draw a 6x6 grid of dots and draw a "barrier" border connecting all of the dots on the edges. Take turns to: mark your symbol in a square, then draw a barrier line between any two (non-diagonally) adjacent dots on the grid. If a region of eight or fewer squares becomes surrounded by barriers, it is crossed out and scores nothing. When the largest area bounded by barriers is less than 12 squares in size, the game ends and the player with the most uncrossed symbols wins.

Draw any grid of hexes or squares. One player invents any target pattern for Red ("must form a path between two sides", "when the board is full, the shortest path between two Reds must be longer
than the same for Blue") and a number of free moves, if any, that one specific colour will receive. The other player chooses which colour to play. Free moves are taken, then players take turns to
colour one space, starting with Red. Red wins if they create their pattern, Blue wins if the grid becomes full with no pattern.

Write out the alphabet (optionally starting from any letter and looping back to A, or in an entirely random order). Take turns to think of a word that starts with the leftmost uncrossed letter and contains a number of those immediately following it, in the same order (eg. "ABC: ABaCk", but not "ABCD: ABduCt" because the D precedes the C), and cross out the ordered letters used. Whoever writes the final word loses.

Draw a 10x10 grid. Players take turns to draw a stone of their colour into any square. After adding a stone, if any group of your opponent's stones is surrounded (ie. for the largest group that a stone belongs to, there are no empty squares adjacent to any stone in that group), you win the game.

On a 6x6 grid, players take turns to mark an "O" or "X" in any square - each player may add either mark. One player ("Order") wins if a line of five Xs or Os is formed in any direction; the other player ("Chaos") wins if the grid is filled without any such lines being formed.

Each player has their own sheet of paper, and thinks up and writes down three trivia questions that they know the answer to, with spaces to write three answers to each of the other players' questions. Going around the table, each player asks one of their questions and the other players write down an answer. When all questions have been asked, score the game: each question is worth 2^X points to its questioner and those who answered correctly, where X is the number of players who answered incorrectly (unless everyone answered incorrectly, in which case the questioner loses 2^X points).

Draw an 11x11 grid and mark dots ("quasars") in the four corner squares. Each player has a pool of six quasars, noted beside the board. On your turn, add any number of your quasars to the grid, plus a single personal symbol ("quad") in any empty square. If four of a player's quads form a square (of any size and orientation), that player wins. If each player has played 20 quads, the game ends and the player with most unplayed quasars wins. (Alternatively: score 1 point per square and play 20 quads each.)

Draw a 5x5 grid. Write any vowel in the middle square. Take turns to add a letter adjacent to an existing letter, then score for the longest words you can make in each of four directions (vertical, horizontal and two diagonals). Letters of a claimed word must lie consecutively, and must include the added letter, but need not be in order. Add the lengths of the words together for your score that turn. (Scoring variants: multiply instead of adding; or score 2 for 2 letters, 6 for 3, 10 for 4, 15 for 5.) Play until the grid is full.

Players start with 100 Energy. Each player designs two game-modifying Superpowers with any effects (eg. "Regeneration: Gain 3 Energy after each round", "Lasers: Spend 20 to do 5 unblockable damage") and these are secretly bid upon; highest bid pays that much Energy and gets the power. Each round, each player secretly divides their Energy between Defence, Attacks against other players and (if relevant) their Superpowers; this is then revealed, and if a player sustains Attacks greater than their Defence, they lose the difference in Energy. Players are eliminated at zero Energy. Repeat combat rounds until one player survives.

Prepare a 19x19 grid (or any odd-sized square). Take turns to add or mark a stone in any grid cell. You can't add a stone to a square where two or more
orthogonally adjacent cells contain your own stones, unless an orthogonally adjacent cell also contains an opponent's stone - in which case, you get another turn.
Play until the board is full, and the player with most stones on the board wins.

Draw a 12x12 grid. One player writes a letter in any square. Players
then take turns to add a letter adjacent to an existing one,
crossword-grid-style. If a player completes a word of three or more
letters, they lose. Instead of their turn, a player may challenge the
last move: if their opponent can show that every horizontal and vertical
sequence of two or more letters can be extended to form a word, forming
no illegal words in the process, the opponent wins. Otherwise the
challenger wins.

Each player draws their own 5x5 grid (6x6 for a game with five players,
7x7 for six). Players take turns to call out a letter; for each letter,
every player must privately add it to a single square in their own grid.
When only one square remains, each player fills it in with a letter
of their choice, and the game ends. Score points equal to the length of
each word in your grid which is not wholly inside another word; 3 for 3
letters, 4 for 4, 10 for 5 (12 for 6, 15 for 7).

Draw an arbitrary network of small circles connected by lines. Emphasise any two circles as targets. Players are known as "Short" and "Cut", and take turns, starting with Cut. On Short's turn, he or she colours (or otherwise emphasises) a line. On Cut's turn, he or she erases (or crosses out) a non-coloured line. If a coloured path exists between the two target circles, Short wins; if no path exists between them, Cut wins.

Draw any rectangular grid of squares, and mark two "goal" squares in opposite corners, each owned by one player. A player marks a Slime in any square, and the other player chooses who will play first. Players take turns to add a Slime to an empty square adjacent (orthogonally or diagonally) to the most recently added Slime. If a player's goal square contains a Slime (irrespective of who marked it), that player wins.

Draw any grid, at least 3x3 in size. Players take turns to add a letter to a square: either "S" or "O", as they choose. If doing so completes an "SOS" in any direction, draw a line through it and take another turn. When the grid is full, the player who completed the most SOSes wins. (Optionally have players mark completed SOSes in different ways, for ease of counting.)

Draw a few thick dots on paper. Take turns to: draw a curved line between two
dots (or from one dot back to itself) which crosses no other line, and add a
new dot somewhere along that line. No dot may have more than three lines
attached to it. Last person to draw a line wins.

Prepare an odd-sized square grid and pick an even penalty score (P) above 3. White starts. Take turns to either: grow all of your groups on the board by one stone, or add a stone which connects to none of your others. (If a growth connects multiple groups, it's considered to have grown all of them.) All connections are orthogonal. If neither player has yet grown, black may choose to grow and then add a non-touching stone. When the board is full: score one point for each of your stones, minus P for each of your groups.

Draw a 9x9 grid. On your turn, draw a "taijitu" in any pair of empty, orthogonally adjacent squares: a taijitu is a pair of symbols, your own symbol in one square and your opponent's in the other. Continue until no further moves can be made, then each player scores the total sizes of their two largest orthogonal groups of symbols. If tied, the player who went second wins.

Draw nine 3x3 grids, in a 3x3 formation. One player is "X", the other "O" - on your turn, add your symbol to any space in a small grid. Your opponent must play their
next move in the grid whose position corresponds to that space in the small grid (unless that grid is full or has been won, in which case they may choose any grid). If a small
grid contains three of a symbol in a row, the grid is marked as won by that player; if three grids in a row are won by a player, that player wins.

Prepare a 24x24 grid of dots but don't draw the dots in the four corners. Give each player a differently coloured pen, and mark the top and bottom edges of the grid in one colour, the two sides in the other. Take turns to: claim any unclaimed dot by marking it your colour, then draw any number of links between dots you have claimed which are exactly a knight's move apart. Your links may cross your own links, but not your opponent's. You may not claim dots on your opponent's board edges. First player to link their own two borders wins.

Draw a grid of 6x6 dots. Take turns to connect two adjacent dots (including diagonals), or a line of three adjacent dots (again, including diagonals). If you draw the final line that encloses an area, claim it by marking it with a symbol. Play until the grid is full; the player whose claimed areas have the largest total area is the winner.

Write a four-letter word across four circles connected by left-to-right arrows. Players take turns to: add a new circle anywhere on the paper containing a previously unused letter, draw any number of connecting arrows, then spell out any number of words from connecting paths of letters. Each word must use the new letter, and all added arrows must be used that turn. Score 1 point per letter for each word; if one is a substring of another, score only the longest. Maximum 4 arrows per circle, arrows may not overlap, and no double-arrows between a pair.

Show only: Pen-and-paper games, card games, dice games, miscellaneous-prop games, spoken word games, or two-player or more-than-two-player games.

Games with a gold border are personal favourites. Those marked as "adapted" have been crowbarred a little to be playable with a standard deck of cards, or to fit within a hundred words.

Thanks to those who suggested games: Raven Black, Jo Coleman, Martin
Griffiths, Guilherme Töws, Alex Fink, Parker Glynn-Adey,
Halceon, John and Jeevan.
Other invaluable sources
include David Parlett's *Penguin
Book of Word Games* and *Penguin
Book of Card Games*,
Reiner Knizia's *Dice
Games Properly Explained*,
Walter Joris's *100
Strategic Games for Pen and Paper*,
and Jim Gladstone's *Games
to Go*.

If you know of some good games I should include, or have any feedback about how well I've described the ones I've got, let me know.

The Freeze-Dried Games Pack was started in November 2012 by Kevan Davis,
and last updated on the 14th of September 2022. The most
recently added
game is *Speed*.