You Don’t Need Anything to Play These Word Games

Games are fun (unless you’re dating). But what happens when you and your pals forget the deck of cards or don’t have access to your and your favorite board games? 

Fear not. We consulted with REI staff members and general subject-matter experts (aka fellow equipment-free game fanatics) to create a nowhere-near-exhaustive list of games that only require words. These 12 games are perfect for playing at home, around the campfire, or at your next family gathering, so draw up a scorecard and get playing.

One-Word Stories

You guessed it: Each person says one word to create a (usually) pretty kooky story, says Sandy Martin, a retired nurse who has been a camper for more than 50 years. Additional challenge? Make your story rhyme. Like: The-red-fuzzy-hat-sat-close-to-a-steaming-pile-of-scat. The one is blissfully unending.

Riff Off

It’s your turn. You think of an important word in a song you know and say it aloud. (Like “desert,” the verb, not the noun.) Your fellow players are tasked with figuring out what in the world that song could be. It’s team play, so everyone guesses together. If your partners can’t get it, give them another word (like “run”) and another (“never”) until they solve the lyrical puzzle or give up, in which case you must prove yourself by revealing your super-hard song. (Did you guess mine?)  Courtney Hans, an REI staff member and grammar aficionado, kicks it up a notch and asks her friends to sing, not say, the guessed song. 

Fortunately, Unfortunately

Craft a wacky, twisty-and-turny story with your companions by using “fortunately” to begin each sentence and then “unfortunately” to kick off the next person’s addition. Chloe Smith, an outdoors lover who is about to marry an REI member, offered a thought-starter: “Fortunately, the bear had a nice hat to keep him warm. Unfortunately, it was the middle of summer and 110°F.” Game play proceeds in a circle. (Fortunately, this game can last forever. Unfortunately, it’s not unlike The Song That Never Ends.)



Get ready to get goofy. For this game, you and your fellow players must all cover your teeth with your lips. One person will start, facing another player and saying “pterodactyl” without showing their teeth. If neither person shows their teeth, the next person then turns to their neighbor and says “pterodactyl.” The catch? You may laugh, make faces and use funny voices to try to get each other to break your lip coverage. If someone shows their teeth, that player is out and play continues until only one person is left. This silliness is courtesy of Laura Chapman, an REI staff member and consistent failure at the game (because she loves toothy laughing).

Would You Rather?

“Would you rather have a nose like Pinocchio or have to tell the absolute truth in every situation?” Carolyn Fletcher, a nonprofit operations manager who insists on playing this game on every road trip, asked me recently. Want to play? It’s easy. Just create two awful scenarios and ask your friends to pick. It’s even funnier when you ask for the rationale behind their choices.

Last Letter, First Letter

Pick a category, like fruit. Say a word, perhaps “strawberry.” Your opponent must use the last letter of the word to offer up a new word; in this case, might I suggest, “youngberry.” (A word I didn’t know until this very moment. Apparently, the youngberry is similar to the boysenberry but was developed—by BM Young, who else?—in 1926.) Rob Cranfill, an REI member, retired software engineer and outdoors dilettante, gave some sage advice: “Keep your answers in the singular form or you’ll run out of S’s.”

Question Tennis

Would you like to play this game? How, you ask? Wouldn’t you like to know? Yeah. It goes a little something like that. REI staff member Kira saw the game played in the movie Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and was enamored. Every player has to quickly continue the conversation, using only questions. Hesitations, statements or non sequiturs lose.


Steve Markowitz, an REI software development engineer and lifelong advocate for word games, plays Ghost with his family on long road trips. To play, each person takes turns saying a letter to begin spelling a longer word. (S-W-E-A . . .) The catch? You can’t create a full word in the process. Even if a player intends to spell “sweater,” they lose by the time they accidentally spell “sweat.” If you lose a round, you get a letter of the word “ghost” (like in the basketball game Horse). The first one to G-H-O-S-T loses the game. 

The [Insert Off-Color Word] Game

If you prefer laughing harder than you probably should for something so childish, we’ve got the game for you. Simply think of a movie or book title and trade one of the words for a bawdy word of your choice. Gone With the _____, Fried _____ Tomatoes and My Best Friend’s _____ are incredible, never-released versions of the classics. “Tasteless?” asks Hillary Grant, REI staff member and lighthearted word rascal. “Yes. Entertaining on long car rides with the right friends of a similar immature sense of humor? Also yes.”

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

Heather Young, REI staff member and camp counselor extraordinaire, has been collecting these types of games for years. And she’s been known to play this pick two ways. The everybody-wins version: Name a random actor and collectively try to figure out the shortest chain to link that person to Kevin Bacon via movies and co-stars. (Tip: We all know Bacon from Footloose, but don’t forget his cameo in Planes, Trains & Automobiles.) Competitive? One person names an actor or movie that is connected to Kevin Bacon in some way, trying to stump their opponents.

I Came Through Customs and I Had to Declare

I Came Through Customs and I Had to Declare

Not a movie buff? We hear you. Young has another idea: Name an object you’d buy abroad and the place you bought it, rhyming. Her examples: jelly from New Delhi and a tunic from Munich. It’s good, old-fashioned, never-ending family fun.

Name That Title Combo

Young’s last option is to come up with a movie plotline that’s the combo of two titles with a shared word. Her example goes something like this: Steve Martin becomes mildly hysterical at the wedding of his daughter, who is assembled from corpse body parts. Stumped? It’s Father of the Bride of Frankenstein.

All illustrations by Sarah Neuburger.

What are your favorite word games? Let us know in the comments below.