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Fun Free Games to Bring Generations Together

As families gather for the holidays, here are 5 games that don’t require a purchase

spinner image a family during the holidays playing charades
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Want to get your family off the phone and laughing this holiday season? Try a creative game! And there are many you can play without spending a dime; so you can focus on building bonds, not breaking the bank.

Sharing a love of games can be a natural pathway for building family connections, building a shared past, present and future. “You’re together in the present, but repeated rituals like games can also hark back to generations in the past,” says Dawn O. Braithwaite, a communication studies professor at the University of Nebraska who studies family relationships.

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It’s also about storytelling, says Nicolas Ricketts, a curator at the the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. When grandparents and grandchildren explore museum exhibits, you can often hear them say something like, “ ‘We had that when we were young,’ ” he says. 

Here are tips from Braithwaite and Ricketts on how to use games to build bonds, along with 5 games that won’t cost you a penny.

First get your family to buy in to the idea of a game

To encourage your family members to play games when they come together, it helps to do a little advance planning, says Braithwaite.

Solicit buy-in on which games to play. Before the holiday, tell your family what you’d like to do. Mention a few of the games you’re thinking of and ask what they think and what they’d suggest. If you have new family members, it’s also a good way to make them feel included, says Braithwaite.

Round up a fan club. “Line up a few people in advance who agree to give this a whirl,” says Braithwaite. That way you know you have a group ready to play. Their willingness may encourage others to consider getting involved.

Be flexible. What makes a game fun probably differs from family to family. “It’s hard to pin down,” says Ricketts. “Games that are successful tend to have a spark of creativity and are easy to set up. They also may be innovative.” Ultimately, “if it’s a fun game, [the family is] going remember it and keep it alive.”

It’s also important to let people choose whether to participate. People tend to be more willing to do things they don’t love doing if they’ve had agency over that decision, says Braithwaite.

Simply start playing. “Just go for it,” Braithwaite urges. “When they see you’re having fun, invite them to join you.” And keep in mind that being a spectator is still a way of joining in. Sometimes it takes time to build new family traditions.

Games that use items from around the house

Ricketts has suggestions for games that you can play with items you likely have around the house.

“There’s an amazingly long history of games that don’t require a purchase,” he says. “People used to make their own; magazines such as Harper’s used to publish articles with game directions.”

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Everybody in the family has probably played this game. Invented in France and popularized in the parlors of Victorian England it’s maintained its appeal ever since.

Equipment: Paper, pencil, a timer and a hat or a bowl to draw from

Rules: You are probably familiar with the basic rules; if you’re including young children you can simplify by using animals or scenarios such as “playing baseball.”


Similar to charades, this game will be enjoyed by devotees of news, TV shows and gossip magazines alike.

Equipment: Paper, pencil, timer and two bowls to draw from

Rules: Each team writes down the names of 10 celebrities of any type — writers, athletes, presidents — on slips of paper. Candidates should be likely to be peoplel known by all players.

There are three timed rounds and, like charades, one player gives hints while the rest of the team tries to guess the answer. In the first round, the player who is “it” may use as many words (except proper names) as he likes to give hints; in the second round, the player may only use three words; in the third round, the player may only act, no words allowed. At the end of the three rounds, the team with the most correct answers wins.

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A fast-moving card game where players try to be the first to get four of a kind and grab a spoon

Equipment: Two decks of cards and spoons, starting with one less spoon than there are players (for example, with 10 players, you’ll need nine spoons)

Rules: Starting with seven cards each, place the stack of cards to the left of the dealer. The dealer picks up the top card, signaling the start of the game, and everyone simultaneously discards a card to their right and picks up the discarded card on their left. The first player to get four of a kind grabs a spoon. The player can do this stealthily, so that players focused on picking up and discarding cards don’t notice, or noisily to create a mad grab for spoons.

Left, Right, Center

Exaggerating good fortune or bad luck is part of the fun. This can be a good game to include those with hearing difficulties since it’s all about the roll of the die.

Equipment: Dollars, dimes, candy or whatever you have around the house. Whatever you choose, you’ll need enough so that each player has three items to start the game.

You may find special dice marked “L,” “R” and “C” or you can use ordinary dice and designate two numbers per action. For example, roll a 1 or a 2, and you pass to the left; 3 or 4, is center and you keep the items; and a 5 or 6, you pass to the right.

Rules: Going clockwise around the table, each player rolls the die and either passes one item or, if they roll “center,” keeps all the items. As each person loses all three of their items, they drop out of the game until one player with all the loot wins.


A good game for families that enjoy wordplay and games of deception. Players try to guess the correct definition of a word.

Equipment: A dictionary, a pen and paper for each player

Rules: One player picks an obscure word from the dictionary. Other players write down a definition of the word, each trying to make their own seem like the correct one. Those answers are then mixed up with the real definition. The player who is “it” reads all the definitions — including the correct definition — aloud. Each player then votes for what they believe is the real definition. The player who collects the most votes for his or her definition wins.

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