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Modern Parlor Games! 6 of our favorite free games to play with groups

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A happy holiday season to everyone!! Whether or not you celebrate Christmas it’s very likely that you’re going to have time off and that you’re going to have to spend that time off with some people in a group. You may be indoors.. with museums, businesses and fun places closed and it being too cold and miserable to go outside. You probably really like that group of people but there’s only so much TV you can watch and even the best conversationalists may run out of things to say around 2:00. What to do??!! Fear not, adventurers! We have some ideas.

Here are 6 lab-tested, green-door approved modern parlor games you can play right now for free in a car, dinner table or couch with 2 or more people. These are super low-barrier games, things you can usually get even the most reticent holiday visitors to play with a little bit of prodding.

#1 MYSTERIES: story-based, up to 10 people

lmystery 1

This is one of my favorite car/dinner/campfire games. Here’s what you do. You say…  “A man dies in the middle of 52 bicycles. Go.”gorey_mystery

…And let the questions begin. You can only answer yes or no to people’s questions and players  suss out what you’re talking about, getting closer and closer to the actual story. They say things like “Did he die a natural death? Was he murdered? Was he alone? Was he riding the bicycle” etc… until they finally figure out what happened in the story.

If someone has heard the story before, they can’t tell anyone! You can either play through the mystery in one sitting or put the story down and pick it up any time. Ask a question… have dinner… ask a bunch more questions… dessert.

#2 SPACETEAM: iphone/Android (free) up to 5 people

If you haven’t played Spaceteam… play Spaceteam! It’s free an app for iPhone or android. You are on a spaceship. Don’t worry, the ship practically flies itself… but you’ll have to work together. As a spaceteam.

You will have knobs and levers on your phone. Your teammates also have knobs and levers on their phones. Someone will shout: “Gigaflux Capacitor to 4!!” And everyone has to frantically search for who has the Gigaflux Capacitor. The next person shouts “Turn on Gamma Fish!” “Compress retrofitter nozzle!” “Blame Canada!” and on it goes until you have passed the level. There are asteroids, wormholes, cats, translator malfunctions, electrical storms… this is a great game.


Synching your team’s phones via wifi or bluetoth can sometimes be troublesome. You start the game and have to wait “in the waiting room” for your phones to find each player but trust me, it’s worth figuring out.

#3 TELEPHONE PICTIONARY: paper and pen, up to 7 people (ish)

pictionarySometimes I have to give credit to a game that I don’t particularly like but is fun for others. My friends clamor to play telephone pictionary and dissolve in shrieks of laughter at the results.  I usually don’t get the joke but I can vouch that people LOVE this game.

Everybody needs a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and you each write down a sentence on your paper. pictionary-telephonePass it to the next player, who draws out the sentence in images, folds the paper over so the next player can see the drawings but not the sentences and passes it along. The next player looks at the drawing and writes down the sentence that they think the picture is trying to communicate- and on it goes until you get to the original sentence-writer.

Once you’ve gone around the circle, you get to reveal the final sentence… along with the original sentence and all of the permutations along the way. So “The quick brown dog jumped over the lazy fox” becomes something like “the drunken wolf tripped over the bear”. Ideally the starter sentences are visual but not completely nonsensical: Both “The Spanish elephant shrieked and texted buttered popcorn” “Inventing allows one to own a memory permanently.” break the game because they’re impossible to draw.

You may recognize this game as a variation on the typical “exquisite corpse” game but I find that this version gets a better response. Less reading and more guffawing about silly pictures. I’m telling you, families love this game and even if you don’t love it, you’ll love to watch your family loving it.

#4 Logos Quiz Game: Iphone/Android (free) up to 5 people crowded around a phone

This is not the most educational game you’ll ever play but I bet your family will get into it. You see a bunch of name-less logos and you have to remember what the logo is to clear the level.

I think the reason that people love to play this together is that brands are something that everybody has some basic knowledge about- playing it doesn’t label you as smart or not smart, good at video games or not good at video games, talented or not talented: we’ve all grown up seeing these ubiquitous logos and its fun to try and remember them.


There are very old logos and very new logos so people of all ages are needed. In fact, it tends to lead to some really great cross-generational conversations about memories of NECCO wafers or  kids explaining to their grandparents what Instagram is. It’s a great “remember when” game. You start trying to guess a logo and end up singing 1980’s commercial jingles and reminiscing about Yoohoo. You may want to play this on an ipad/tablet because you’ll probably get everyone gathered around you trying to guess what the brands are to clear the level.

#5 YOUR MAJESTY!! Card game, up to 10 people

I’m not a huge fan of card games but this game, introduced to us by a few friends from Israel, had enough rabblerousing to keep me interested.


The objective is to be the first to have an empty hand of cards. You divide your deck according to how many players you have so everyone begins with the same number of cards. The starting player puts down a card you all go around the circle putting down any card and counting up to to 10. After ten you go back to 1. Note: It doesn’t matter what the cards are. When you say “1” you can put down any card… BUT

If you happen to put down a Jack, everybody salutes

If you put down a Queen you tip your hat and say “Your majesty!”

If you put down a King, you bow

If you happen to line things up and say “4” at the same time that you put down a “4” card of any suit, everyone playing has to slap the deck. The last person to slap has to take the deck.

Two more rules:

  1. if you have more than one rule to enact at the same time, it doesn’t matter which one you do first, as long as you do it. Give the players 30 seconds to respond, if someone fails to do all tasks they take the packet.
  2. When your hand is empty, you win!! And you get to make up a new rule.

That last rule is the best, when you get to start making crazy rules like changing direction with every “8” or saying “HUZZAAH” for double red cards.

#6 Win, Lose, Banana, cards (or paper) up to 5 people

In this game there’s a win, a lose and a banana. You deal out cards (or tokens or whatever you’d like to use) that have ONE winner, ONE banana and a bunch of losers.

win lose banana

The winner says “I WON!” but now… they have to find the banana. They haven’t really won until they find the banana. And everybody is trying to convince them that yes, they have the banana. If the winner chooses the correct banana, they both win. YAY!

If the winner chooses a loser pretending to have a banana, only the loser wins… and the winner losewin lose banana2s. And so does the banana. Booo. This can get pretty wild, as you could imagine. Lots of people yelling “I HAVE THE BANANA!!” but as you might have guessed, I go for games that involve a lot of nonsensical yelling.

There’s a board game version of this game as well but you can just as easily play with a “joker” as the banana, a Queen as win and number cards as lose. You can also have any resident kids draw up some good win, lose, banana cards for you to play with.

I excluded some great games that would need a purchase or more ramp-up time so these are great games that you can play right away. Please share any others that you might know and let me know if any of these worked with your family or friend get-togethers. Here’s to a wonderful few days off and cheerful times spent with family and friends!! Happy Holidays!


Author: Green Door Labs

Building games for education and culture at This blog will keep an eye on what cool playful design, gameful projects and games for change are out there, who’s talking about them, what’s new, what we at Green Door Labs have learned about building games, what we’re building and finally, what should be played and what’s just fun to look at. Check back weekly for more adventures with games for education, arts and culture!

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