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Timeless Games: And How to Recreate Them Without Their Boxes

Some games are meant to win; others are meant to establish those "inside jokes" you'll be referencing until you're 80.

Let's say you're stranded at a ski lodge somewhere—no Wii console, Kindle's dead, the only deck of cards is missing all the 8's and someone seems to have made off with all the vowels in the Scrabble set.

Of course, there are less extreme circumstances: last day of school vacation, a college reunion, or a dinner party in which conversation has come around to the Republican presidential candidates so many times that...

It's time to play a game!

Here are some ideas for fun, not-terribly competitive (i.e. not friendship-ending)—but stimulating—games that are guaranteed to create those "inside jokes" you'll be laughing about long after you remember any of the names of the unsuccessful 2012 presidential candidates.

We'll also offer ideas on how to recreate them if you do happen to be trapped in that ski lodge without the game boxes (though in some cases an internet connection will be imperative).

Long before Mattel commercialized this classic, it was dubbed "The dictionary game." The rules are simple: Using the boxed version, a group of players sits around a table with a box of cards that contain some of the language's most esoteric words. Each player is handed a few slips of paper, and one person has the box of words. That person, the "dasher," chooses one word from the card he/she picks and reads it aloud for the group.

The dasher writes the word's true definition (provided on the card) and everyone else writes a fake definition, and then hands the slips of paper to the "dasher." The "dasher" reads aloud each definition (including the real one) twice, and then players close their eyes and vote on which one they think is the real definition.

Players get 2 points for voting for the correct definition and 1 for each player who voted for his or her false one. The role of "dasher" rotates around the circle until you're back to the beginning. The player with the most points at the end wins—though many, many people don't necessarily play this game to win. (My personal goal is generally to get at least one person to snort hot chocolate through their nose.)

How to play without the box?

Easy. Grab a dictionary, and have the "dasher" choose a word from a random page. If any player definitely already knows the word, he or she must declare it and the "dasher" chooses a new word.

Scruples is one of those games that's not only fun, but can also help you narrow down your choices for god-parents, bridesmaids, which neighbors to give your spare key, and with whom you should never, ever drink copious amounts of alcohol. Players have a number of "question" cards and one "answer" card—which says "yes," "no" or "depends." Players read all their question cards—which contain hypotheticals like: "You accidentally damage a car in a parking lot. Do you leave a note with your name and phone number?" (question taken from website). When it's your turn, you have to choose one other player and read a question to which you think he or she will give your response. Read the full game rules here.

The original Hasbro game has been discontinued, but you can bid on it on ebay here.

How to play without the box:

Of course, you can always spend an hour writing your own questions (an amusing endeavor in itself) or you can now play the new online version.

This one came new to my family this year, and it's a lot of fun. Like in Balderdash, one person holds the box of cards and reads aloud a question: "What would totally overwhelm you?" "When is a strange time to celebrate?" "When would be the most inopportune moment to fart?" "What would be the strangest ending to a Disney movie?"—each person writes an answer and submits it to the reader.

That person then reads aloud each answer twice. Then one player is put on the spot each round to guess which other player wrote each answer. He or she receives a point for each correct guess. (You can take turns being the answer-reader or one person can keep the role for the duration of the game, either writing his/her own responses or not.)

Purchase the game (in its multifarious versions) online here.

Don't have the box?

Make up your own questions: "What's the weirdest response to a marriage proposal?" "What's the worst-sounding dish you ever saw on a menu?" "What animal would make the worst pet? why?" (I just made up those 3 in about 15 seconds; I'm sure you can do better.) Go around the table, with each person asking his/her own question and acting as reader.

  • Charades

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume everyone knows how to play Charades. (Two teams, one person from each team acts out a book, movie, TV show, or song. Teammates guess. Opponents time how long it takes them to guess it. Team with overall lower time wins.)

Don't have the box?

Here's a nifty website of "Charades ideas." (So, if you are stranded in a ski lodge somewhere, you better hope there's a wireless connection).

This is a game my family sort-of adopted to avoid having to make small talk at the dinner table. One person logs on to the website "This Day in History" (from The History Channel) and chooses an event that occurred on that day at some point in the history of the world. Everyone else has 20 questions in which to guess it—so players must discuss their questions as a team and choose wisely. (The only problem: We've been playing for so long, we've had to guess "Rasputin's death" twice. It took more questions the second time. How depressing!)

Also, here's a list of independent game/toy stores in the area:

  • , Irvington
  • Tarrytown
  • Zany Brainy, Scarsdale
  • , Bedford
  • , Chappaqua

What are your favorite games to play with friends and family? Tell us in the comments section, and offer links to how we can buy the boxes and/or recreate them ourselves.

Lisa Buchman January 03, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Lizzie - thanks for these great suggestions! I think Scruples might be a bit over my 7 and 9 year olds' heads but we may be ready for Balderdash. Our current favorite is Scribblish - we howled with the cousins over that one during our vacation. Anyone else have good game suggestions for grade-schoolers?
veena January 03, 2012 at 03:37 AM
Lizzie- Love the games. Next family gathering we shall give some of them a try. A great game for younger kids is called "Headbandz" you can buy it or make it up yourself. I do with my students, I also liked getting re-introduced to all the interesting stores in Dobbs Ferry, will be visiting some of them for sure. Veena
Lizzie Hedrick January 03, 2012 at 11:19 AM
There used to be a "Scruples Jr" (toned-down scenarios)—which our Middle School guidance counselor had in her office. My nerdy friends and I scheduled "Lunch Bunches" all the time and played for hours. (After playing that game, it's a wonder we're still friends...)
Carla Blaha January 03, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Great topic. Makes me think of all the old board games and all the ones I actually have now that are missing pieces and parts :)
Lizzie Hedrick January 03, 2012 at 12:47 PM
It's AMAZING what you can find on ebay. I once bought a new deck of updated Trivial Pursuit question cards—without having to buy a new board, pies etc...

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