Ready to cure boredom and have fun without spending money? Pen and paper games to the rescue!
Pen and paper games are great ice breakers, time fillers (I’m looking at you, waiting room), and crowd pleasers. The best part? You only need a pen and paper to play.
Fun pen and paper games come in several types. There are drawing games for one or more players strategy games designed for two players, and party games that can be played with two or more players. There are familiar favorites, but there are plenty of options beyond just Tic-Tac-Toe.
Whether you’re looking for a game to play in class when bored, or whether you need free entertainment for family game night, there’s a pen and paper game for your situation!
Ready to get started? Keep reading to learn more games.
- 1 What Is a Pen and Paper Game?
- 2 Games to Play on Paper By Yourself
- 3 Two-Player Games to Play on Paper
- 4 Games for Two or More Players
- 5 The Best Pen and Paper Games for Kids
- 6 Paper Games: Wrap-Up
What Is a Pen and Paper Game?
A paper-based game is any game that requires just a pen or pencil and paper. Pen and paper games can be guessing games, drawing games, word games, or a combination of the three. They’re easy to play but can be surprisingly complex. That’s why paper and pencil games are perfect for the classroom, for families, and for parties.
Games to Play on Paper By Yourself
Playing solo? No problem. The following pen and paper games can be played solitary.
Blind drawing is a one-player game that’s extremely easy but will have you laughing at yourself! Grab a pencil and paper, take a look around you, and pick one object. Close your eyes and try to draw it without picking up your pencil. Let the laughter begin.
You know the game Mad Libs, where players contribute words to complete a template story? When the reader reads the completed story out loud, it results in a nonsensical but grammatically correct story… and lots of laughter, of course!
Word Flip is sort of like that, but with pen and paper. Here’s what you do:
Grab a piece of paper and fold it into thirds, so you’ll have three rows and three columns. Open the paper and tear (or cut, if you have scissors) it into thirds, stopping at the crease. See the picture below.
Decide on a sentence formation, such as noun-verb-adverb. Write a different noun on each side of the paper in the upper third. Write a different verb in the middle and a different adverb on each side of the bottom third. Now you’re ready to take those word scrambles and make some hilarious sentences.
You can stretch it to four categories and add adjectives to the mix. This is a great game to build grammar skills and test your vocabulary creativity.
Two-Player Games to Play on Paper
Looking for a two-player game? Below are several games you can play with a pen pal, friend, or just to keep your kids occupied.
We all know the classic two-player game Tic-Tac-Toe (a.k.a. Noughts and Crosses), but if you’re up for a new challenge, you can play four-in-a-row. This is basically the paper game version of Connect 4.
Here’s what you do: Grab a pen and paper and make a 7×6 grid for the game board. Seven columns of six squares each. Instead of dropping different colored counters, however, players mark the grid with Xs and Os, like in Tic-Tac-Toe.
The first player places an X in the bottom square of any column. Players take turns making their mark in any column, in the lowest square possible. The first player to get four-in-a-row wins. They can get four in a diagonal, horizontal, or vertical line.
Sim is a two-player pen and paper game invented by cryptographer Gustavus Simmons. It’s a battle of the minds in this abstract strategy game, and it only requires paper and two differently colored pens or pencils.
The goal in Sim is to force your opponent to complete a triangle in his or her color. To begin, players draw six dots on the paper in a hexagonal arrangement. The dots are the vertices, where the lines will meet. Players decide who goes first.
The first player draws one line between any two dots (vertices). The second player draws a straight line between any two vertices in a different color pen.
Take turns drawing lines until one player completes a triangle in their color. The first player to complete a triangle loses the game.
What’s neat about this game is that it’s simple enough for younger children to play, but there are mathematical principles behind the mechanics. It requires sophisticated strategy to consistently win.
It’s actually been shown that no game of Sim can end in a tie, thanks to the Ramsey theory. And some people think pencil and paper games are too easy! They clearly haven’t played Sim.
When it comes to quick boredom busters, Hangman is one of the most well-known games. Teachers have used this simple game to cure glassy-eyed stares for years. One player thinks of a mystery word and draws dashes along the paper to represent each letter in the word. Then they draw a platform and stand.
The other person guesses one letter at a time. If the letter is in the word, the first person writes it in the blank(s). If not, the incorrect letter is written below and the first person draws one body part at a time. If the guessers gets the word before the body is completed, they win.
For a slightly less morbid take on Hangman, you could play Apple Tree instead. It works very much the same. One person thinks of a word and draws dashes along a paper to represent each letter in the word. Above the dashes, the player draws a tree with seven apples.
The other person guesses one letter at a time. If the letter is in the word, the first person fills in the blank(s). If not, the incorrect letter is written inside one of the apples. If the word is guessed correctly before the apples are filled, the guessing player wins. If not, the clue giver wins.
Dots and Boxes
Dots and Boxes is a classic pencil and paper game for two players that only requires a piece of paper and two different-colored pencils. The object of the game is to complete as many boxes (or squares) as possible.
To begin, lay out a grid of dots. You can choose how large you want your grid to be. I like to do 10×10 for plenty of space, but it’s up to you.
Each player chooses a different color pencil or pen. The first person draws a line between two adjacent dots. The next person draws a line between two dots.
Play continues until someone can close a box. After closing the box, that player puts their initials inside the square to claim it. You’re allowed to close as many boxes as you can in one turn. Then it goes back to the other player.
When all the boxes are closed, count up how many squares you claimed. The person with the most squares wins.
Also referred to as a Cootie Catcher, Fortune Teller will take you back to your childhood! My daughter still plays this game. Fold the paper and read the fortune to friends. For easy instructions, follow the steps in the video below:
Be sure to include a variety of fortunes, not just good ones. It makes for a more exciting game!
Nim is another mathematical strategy game for two players. Variations of this game go back to ancient times, when it was played with stones or tokens. However, you can easily play Nim with pen and paper.
To play, draw one, three, five, and seven marks in the shape of a pyramid. Your goal is to force your opponent to cross out the last remaining mark. If you’ve ever played the Pop-It game with your kids, it’s the same concept.
Players take turns crossing out as many marks as they wish on each turn. But you can only cross out marks on one line per turn. The person to cross out the last mark loses the game.
Believe it or not, you can play Battleship with pen and paper. If you take away the watery blue coordinate map and battleship figurines (which are pretty cool, to be honest), Battleship is a guessing game at its core.
If you don’t have the box game nearby, grab a pen and graph paper (or regular paper) and follow these easy instructions.
Each player sets up their own 10×10 grid with letters and numbers. Now it’s time to place your ships. You can either draw a box around the squares to represent your ships, or you can assign a letter to each ship type and label the boxes with that letter.
For instance, the aircraft carrier covers five squares, so you could label five consecutive squares “A.” The battleship would be “B,” the carrier would be “C,” and the destroyers would be “D.”
After placing your ships, now it’s time to go to war! Take turns calling out positions (A1, C4, etc.) to strike the player’s ships. The first person to take out their opponent’s ships is the winner.
If you’d rather not draw your own grid, you can always use a free printable version, complete with instructions on how to label your ships. Easy!
Finish the Doodle
Finish the Doodle is as simple as it sounds, but it’s a fun pen and paper game for two players. One player begins by drawing a random doodle (stick figure, curvy lines, etc.) on a piece of paper. The other person has to use the doodle to create a picture.
You could also pick an object to draw, and each person draws a part of the object on each turn.
Another way to do this is tandem drawing, where both people are drawing at the same time. Tandem drawing can result in more chaotic drawings, but it’s a great to keep both people engaged in the activity.
Games for Two or More Players
The following are game to play on paper for two or more players. They’re also great party games and require nothing more than pen and paper.
If you’ve ever played Scattegories, Categories is the pen and paper game version. Categories can be played with multiple players, so it’s suited to play at parties or for family gatherings.
The game starts with players deciding on four (or more) categories. Then the players pick a letter. Set a timer for three minutes. When the timer starts, players try to think of as many words as possible in each of the categories that start with the chosen letter.
When the time limit runs out, players take turns reading the words they wrote. If your word matches another player’s, cross it off your list. Players are awarded one point for each unique word. The player with the most words that no one else had wins.
Categories is a fun paper game that’s quick, easy, and suited for a wide range of ages.
You might have played the popular board game Pictionary, but you can do a homemade pen and paper version that’s just as fun. Challenge kids to use their creativity and drawing skills in this classic game.
In Pictionary, players take turns drawing a word or phrase while their teammates try to guess the clue within the time limit. No numbers or letters are allowed, but the drawings can be simple or elaborate.
For the paper version of this guessing game, you can set a predetermined time limit or use someone’s phone as a timer.
Instead of having a game board with squares, teams can play until they reach a certain number of points for correct guesses. Instead of cards with words, write down clues on paper and draw from the pile, like in charades.
Pictionary is a great pen and paper game. It’s loads of fun and fosters creativity and imagination. Plus, it works for larger groups or as a party game.
Balderdash is a popular board game from the 1980s that was originally an adaptation of the parlor game “Fictionary.” One persons draws a card with an obscure word or phrase on it. The other players make up a definition for the word and write it on a piece of paper, while the first player writes the correct definition on their paper. All the answers are scrambled and read to the group. Players vote for which definition they think is the correct one.
If a player submits the correct definition, they get three points. Players receive two points if they guess the correct definition, and players are awarded one point for every other player that votes for their answer. The person who drew the card gets three points if no one guesses the correct definition.
The board game version included squares for players to track points to see who wins, but you could easily tally scores with just pen and paper.
Obviously, you need some obscure words to play this game. You can find lists online, or you can find words in the dictionary, if you have one nearby.
This is a fun game for older kids, teens, and adults. I wouldn’t recommend playing this with younger children, unless they have a partner to dictate their answers. Even so, it might be obvious which definition belongs to them.
Draw and Fold Over
Draw and Fold Over is a classic drawing game for two or more players. Each player has their own piece of paper. They must draw a small portion of a picture at the top.
Then they fold over the paper, hiding the drawing. All players pass their drawings to the next player, who continues the drawing. Then they fold over the paper and pass it along. Play continues until the paper is filled.
Finally, unfold the paper to see what hilarious masterpiece awaits.
An easy framework for this game is to draw a body, much like Exquisite Corpse. The first person draws a head, the next person a torso, the next person legs, and so on.
It’s a game that fosters collaboration and imagination, while cranking up the laugh factor to ten!
Also called Word Chains, Word Ladder is one of the best paper games for kids building their vocabulary and literacy skills. Here’s how it works:
Choose a word and write it on the paper. Each player takes a turn saying a word that starts with the last letter of the previous word. The game ends when a player can’t think of a word within the predetermined time.
What’s great about this paper game is that it’s so flexible. You can lengthen the allotted time to give children extra seconds to think of a word, or you can shorten the time to make it more challenging for older players.
You can also adapt the game to different themes or categories. For instance, players could be require to change just one letter of the previous word to make a new word. Or you could have each player write the name of an animal, country, color, etc.
Word Ladders is great for multiple players, and it’s one you have to try.
Word Within a Word
Before Wordle, there was Word Within a Word. This pen and paper game is a favorite for our family during the holidays. Write out a long word or phrase on a piece of paper. Set a timer for three to five minutes, and players attempt to find as many smaller words as they can using only the letters in the designated word.
After the time expires, everyone shares their words. If you have the same word as someone else, you cross it off your list. The person with the most points (unique words) wins.
Remember the game Telephone, where one person whispered something to the next person in a line, until you had a hilarious sentence that was nothing like the original?
Paper Telephone is kind of like that, but with drawing. It’s basically a combination of Telephone and Pictionary.
The game begins with each player having a piece of paper and writing down a sentence or phrase. The paper are then passed to the next player, who reads the phrase, folds it, and draws a visual representation of the sentence.
The papers are passed again, with the next player trying to guess the phrase based on the drawing. The game continues until the paper is passed through all the players. At the end, the author reveals the original phrase.
Paper Telephone is one of those simple games that gets people laughing, but it’s also great for practicing clear communication skills!
The Best Pen and Paper Games for Kids
Most of the pen and paper games listed are suitable for kids as young as seven or eight years old. However, if you have younger children, you might be wondering which games are the best to play with them.
If your child isn’t reading or writing yet, I would recommend Dots and Boxes, Four in a Row, Tandem Drawing, or Nim. None of those games require literacy, but they’re still fun and challenging.
If your child is learning to read and write, you might look for games that help them build their vocabulary and writing skills. Word ladders, Word Flip, and Apple Tree will foster literacy while not leaving them frustrated.
Paper Games: Wrap-Up
Grab your notebook, your favorite pens, some snacks, and some friends to play pen and paper games!