The List Game

Old-fashioned, indoor, free, secretly educational, and hopefully hilarious family fun for this unusual December

This year, with so many holiday traditions on hold, I figure we need some other kinds of family fun. Therefore, this winter break I will rain the bounty of my pencil-and-paper game repertoire upon you. So put some chestnuts on an open fire, or put that fire app thing on your flat screen, get some pencils and some paper and all the semi-willing writers/players you can find: it’s time to make some new holiday traditions (or at least survive the pandemic winter)!

The List Game:

A list is an attempt at order, but this game subverts that. The fun here is all about thinking in categories, while also being as wacky as possible. It’s structure is like Exquisite Corpse, but instead of making a story, you make a (hopefully hilarious) list. If you aren’t creative, it can get repetitive and dull, so free-thinking encouraged. This is a great one for beginner writers, as you only need to write a word or two at a time. And it’s also a satisfying intellectual exercise in the pleasures of categorization. And yes, for some of us, those pleasures are real.

The rules:

  • Everyone gets a piece of paper. At the top, write the title of a list: Groceries, The Upsides of 2020, Things I Found in my Shoe – it can be basic or specific.

  • If there are only a few players, get more papers than people circulating. You want enough that nobody is tracking which list is which. It’s fine if some papers skip over slower writers as they pass around the circle.

  • Everyone passes their papers with titles on them to the person on their left.

  • The person to the left now reads that list title, and below it writes an item that could be on that list:


    ~ Milk

  • Then they fold the paper to hide anything they didn’t write, and pass to the left.

  • The next person sees “Milk,” decides what kind of list could have an item like “Milk” on it, and adds another item that could be on that list. Again, being plausible without being boring is the art of this game.  So perhaps the category might be “Characteristics of Mammals” and “Live Birth” would be an item.

  • Fold it over, pass it on, next person adds to the list, and so on.

At the end you should have a list on each paper that at its best reads something as weird as:


~ Milk

~ Live Birth

~ Sounders Games

~ Roller derby

~ Skating Parties

~ Clowns

~ Tarantulas

(The categories being Groceries, Characteristics of Mammals, Loud Events, Sports, Things that Happen at Roller Rinks, Kids Parties, Scary Things.)

And at its worst:


~ Milk


~ Milk

~ Bread

~ Peanut butter

~ Milk

~ Eggs

~ Milk

(The category being Groceries, only groceries, and really boring ones at that.)

The moral of the story:

My mom used to say only boring people get bored. Don’t be boring.

More games next week….