Games are great for energising a group, lightening the mood, promoting playfulness, and building morale. This list is an excerpt from the Nonviolent Community Safety and Peacebuilding Trainers’ Manual which is also available for download on the Commons.
The Golden Rule with most of these games is to stop long before the people playing are fed up with them – 15 minutes is an absolute maximum, usually reckon to change every 4 or 5 minutes.
Speed is the essence, don’t mess around with long descriptions or chat – go straight in and let them pick it up by a demonstration. Don’t be put off because some seem foolish or simple: some of the most silly are magic.
Play safely particularly with games of cooperation: this is a summary so there are no prescriptions about how to play safely. Always allow people to opt off if they feel like it and don’t pressure people to join in. Read the books or use lots of commonsense e.g. take off s hoes if necessary, be careful with furniture or things projecting from walls with energetic games etc. Above all, everyone should be able to join in – you have the right to have fun to.
Bomb and Shield (or Sun and Ozone Layer)
People start milling around, not touching each other, just walking hither and yon, or yon and hither, whichever comes first. The instruction is: “go to the biggest empty space you can find” – which, of course, changes as soon as someone “fills” it.
Next, people are asked to select someone to be their personal “bomb.” Don’t tell that person. Don’t even look at that person. But keep as far away as possible. This tends to increase speed and a general sense of humorous mayhem.
Then people are asked to select someone else to be their personal “shield” – moving about the area so as to keep the shield between them and their chosen bomb. This tends to make people move even faster.
Finally, people are told that the bombs will explode in ten seconds. We count backwards from ten, and mill madly in imaginary desperation.
Cat and Mouse (also called Elbow Tag)
This works best with a large group. You will need an even number of people (If you have an extra person, s/he can be the Leader/Referee who say “go” and keep track of the action). It can be played indoors if there is a little room to run.
Each player picks a partner and links arms (one person’s right arm through the other person’s left arm, the opposite arms free). These couples space themselves out in the playing area. Split one couple. One person is the Cat (who will chase the mouse), and the other is the mouse (who runs from the cat). The object of the game is for the Cat to catch the Mouse.
When the leader says “Go”, the Cat chases the Mouse. If the Mouse is about to be caught, she can link arms with the nearest couple (making a threesome). Since a group can only have 2 people, the person whose arm is not linked with the Mouse must let go and this person becomes the new Mouse. The new Mouse runs away from the Cat and can link arms with a couple when about to be caught; again, the person in the couple whose are is not linked with the mouse lets go and becomes the new mouse.
When the Cat finally tags the Mouse, they trade places (Mouse becomes Cat, Cat becomes Mouse) and immediately the Cat tries to catch the Mouse.
The game usually continues until everyone loses track of who’s who!! (Not hard to do!)
Suggestion: The first time you play, have the cat and mouse walk as you demonstrate how to play. Once everyone is sure of the rule s, speed things up. Game play can be very fast!!
Set up a rectangular area that provides room to run. Pick one player to be the octopus. The octopus stands in the middle of the area. The other players are fish. The fish form a line at one of the short ends of the rectangle. The Octopus says, “Little fish, little fish, swimming in the sea; who thinks they can swim past me?” When the octopus finishes the rhyme, the fish run to the opposite side of the playing area, trying not to be tagged by the octopus (they must stay within the boundaries, and they stop when they get to the end of the playing field). The octopus tries to tag the fish as they move past, but CANNOT move her feet (she CAN stretch and reach).
The fish that are tagged join hands with the octopus and become tentacles. Again, the octopus recites the rhyme. The fish run toward the opposite side. If the octopus has no tentacles, the octopus continues to try to tag the fish. When the octopus has one tentacle, both the octopus and the tentacle use their free hand to try to tag fish. When there are 2 or more tentacles, only the tentacles on the ends can tag. The octopus still keeps her feet in place, but the tentacles can move their feet. Fish cannot “swim” through or under the joined hands of the octopus and tentacles. Play until only 1 fish is left. This person becomes the octopus for the next round.
Variation: Instead of forming a line, the tagged fish freeze in the place where they were tagged. Octopus and all tentacles can use both hands to tag, but cannot move their feet.
Sheep and Hyena
Pick one person to be the sheep and another to be the hyena. The rest of the group joins hands to form a circle around the sheep, facing outward (the sheep is in the middle of the circle, and the players have their backs to the sheep so they can watch the hyena.)
The hyena attempts to break through or under the joined hands to get to the sheep. The members of the circle do their best to protect the sheep.
Pick four corners or spots in the room (if outdoors, pick for nearby spots). Give each spot a name (Apple, Orange, Banana, Grape; Squirrel, Frog, Bird, Snake; or just 1, 2, 3, 4). Hang a sign in each corner with a picture of the name you have chosen.
Gather everyone together and point out the four corners and their names. Choose a person to be “It”. “It” stands in the middle of the area or room, covers her eyes, and counts to 20 while the other players run to the corners. Keeping her eyes closed, “It” calls out the name of a corner. Everyone in that corner is out. “It” closes her eyes and counts again. Game continues until only one person is left. This person becomes “It” for the next round.
Strategy: “It” may have her eyes covered, but she can still hear! This becomes a cooperative game when the players realize that they need to work together and move to the corners QUIETLY so that “It” has fewer clues about what corner everyone is in!
Five Foot Banana Peel
EQUIPMENT: Garbage bags, Bananas, Towels.
OBJECTIVE: Peel a banana with you r group using one foot.
DESCRIPTION: On the command “GO” your team of five tries to peel a banana with their feet. First team to finish wins.
EQUIPMENT: Bench big enough for the whole group.
OBJECTIVE: To have the group work as a team.
DESCRIPTION: The whole group stands on the bench. (Make sure that there is no danger of the bench tipping) They must walk past each other to reverse their order. If someone touches the ground, they must share a personal detail with the group.
Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde
Lights are turned off. One person is selected to be Mr. Hyde who kills by squeezing someone’s hand and one person as Dr. Jeckyll who brings people back to life with a touch. Everyone wonders around the playing area. When you bump someone, you shake their hand.
Each player randomly finds a spot and lays down on their back like in a grave. One person is selected as the zombie. The zombie tries to make each person laugh without tickling them. Once the person in the grave laughs or begins to, they become a zombie as well and try to wake up others. You try to be the last laying down.
Define an area the size of a volleyball court and make two teams. Everyone must wear their socks below the heel so it just covers the balls of their feet. P layers are out if they lose both socks or move out of the boundary. With a smaller group, everyone can be against each other. Simply define an appropriate area.
Everybody is It
TYPE: Active, Icebreaker PARTICIPANTS: 3 or more
OBJECTIVE: This game is designed as an active icebreaker game. The goal is to get to know your team-mates to be active and to be the last person standing
DESCRIPTION: Like the title says, everybody is “it.” If you get touched you must sit down. If you touch someone, they must sit down. If both of you touch each other at the same time, you must introduce yourselves then continue with the game (instead of arguing who was touched first). The last person standing is the winner. Usually, the game is played till a few are left. The leader then calls “Everybody is it!” and the game starts over.
Balloon Train/ Chase the Dragon
Have the participants stand in a line like you would for the bunny hop. Each person has a balloon and the balloon is placed between your chest and the person in front of yours back. Object is to have the train move around the room without the balloons falling and without use of arms and hands. If a balloon falls they must get the ball back up trying not to let any more fall. As you can see this will take team work.
Can be played as a version of “Chase the Dragon” – with the head chasing the tail.
Hula Hoop Relay
Take a hula hoop (2 is better … you can have two teams who compete) Have the participants pass the hula hoop over their bodies while their hands remained linked. Pass two around a linked circle in opposite directions.
Each person has two bandaids (her 2 hands). When tagged by another player she covers the tagged spot with a bandaid. If she is tagged and has no more bandaids, she sits down. Set the game boundaries for the group. In this game all players with a free hand (available bandaid) are IT. When game starts, all players try to tag the others. The objective is to be he last standing player. You can introduce other variations (ways to administer ‘first aid’ to those sitting so they can re-enter the game, such as tapping on head, perhaps also saying the person’s name).
Giants, Wizards, Elves
This game is very similar to the ever -popular “Paper, Scissors, Rock”, but much more active! The game is best played in a gym or other similar room. Divide the participants into two teams. The teams gather at opposite ends of the space and decide which creature they want to be for the first round: either Giants, Wizards or Elves. The whole team must be the same creature. When both teams have decided, they line up, facing the other team, in the middle of the gym. Everyone together yells whatever creature their team has decided to be. For example, a team who is Giants would yell: ” GIANTS!”
Now here’s the catch: Giants step on Wizards (ie Giants beat wizards), Elves tickle Giants in their soft spot, and Wizards zap Elves. In each round, whichever team “beats” the other team must chase the losers back towards their side of the space. (For example: If one team yells “Giants!” and the other yells “Elves!”, the Elves have won (remember Elves beat Giants). So the Elves chase the Giants back to their side of the space.) Anyone on the losing team to be tagged before they can touch their wall of the s pace now belongs to the other team. In rounds where both teams end up being the same creature, consider it a tie and start over. Play the game until most of the players are on one team.
In addition, there are actions to do for each of the creatures during the yell that starts off each round. Giants: raise arms high overhead; Wizards: arms in front of body as if throwing a magic spell; Elves squat down and act like their squeezing the balls of the Giants.
The Prui (pronounced Proo-Ee) is a gentle, friendly creature that grows. All player mill about with their eyes closed. When you bump into someone, ask “Prui?” If the other player answers “Prui?” you have not found the Prui. The referee whispers Prui to one of the players. Since the Prui can see but cannot talk, the player opens her eyes. When someone bumps into her and asks “Prui?” There is no answer; you have found the Prui. That person opens her eyes and becomes part of the Prui. The line of players will become long and it may take some time for the last players to find the end and become part of the Prui.
Spot The Lion
Materials: A small piece of masking tape or post -it notes
How to play: Teams of five to eight player are formed. Each team is given its own corner or ‘cave’ where they can be safe from marauding lions. On the signal, the players scatter & stand with their eyes shut. The facilitator runs around tapping each player lightly on the back; at that time she puts the piece of tape (or yellow post -it note) on the back of one of the players who, unknown to herself, becomes the lion. When everyone has been tapped, the game leader shouts, “The lion is loose!” All players then run around trying to spot the lion. When a person does so, she hurries to her team ‘cave’ without arousing the lion’s suspicion. If a person suspects that she is the lion (no one is allowed to touch her own back to see if she is the lion), she goes to the center of the room
and roars loudly. When this happens, all players must freeze. To continue the game the ‘lion can then ask everybody to shut their eyes and goes around tapping everybody left on the back and chooses a new ‘lion’ and then shout – “the Lion is loose!” And the games continue.
Select one player to be the earthbound mortal who cannot fly into space. This person is considered IT. Other players, with their magic zero gravity shoes, are safe as long as they can balance on a stone, hug a tree, stand on a log, anything to stay off the ground. The earthbound IT may guard closely any player who is losing her grip or balance and is soon to fall back to earth. Anyone tagged while on the ground loses her magic shoes and becomes the new IT.
Chasing The Dragon
Variations of the game are played all over the world, but with different rules, scoring, and names. 1,2,3 Dragon originated in China and is played by small children, usually to celebrate the New Year. During the Chinese New Year they have dancing dragons, games and food. Dragons are important because they mean good luck.
Ten or more people form a line with each player holding the shoulders of the person in front of them. The person in the front is the “Head.” The person at the back of the line is the “Tail.” The tail shouts “1,2,3 dragon.” The head leads the line and tries to catch the tail. The line must stay together the whole time. If the dragon breaks, the dragon dies. The head moves to the end of the line and becomes the tail. If the head catches the tail play stops and the head goes to the end of the line. The second person in line now becomes the head. The object is to tag the tail as many times as you can while you are the head.
Kameshi Ne Mpuku (Alleys and Lanes)
Kameshi Ne Mpuku has been attributed to the Luba tribe in the Congo, but many tribes in Africa play different versions of it . Rows of people switching from being alleys to lanes.
We used to play it, with some rather bizarre variations, at the New Games Foundation. Everybody sits in a circle, and counts off, beginning, naturally, with me. I’m Number One. As Number One, I get to start the round. All I do is call another number. And the only thing the person who has that number does is call another number. And that’s how you play the game. Simple? Well, almost.
There’s an oddly similar game, called “Thumper.” Very much like Numbers, actually. Frequently employed as a drinking game, in fact.
Instead of numbers, each player has a unique gesture. Go around the circle and give every one the opportunity to create a gesture (a physical gesture, like batting the eyes, sticking out the tongue, shrugging the shoulders, pointing the finger). Have everybody repeat that player’s gesture in a genuine, but futile attempt to memorize each.
The game proceeds as in Numbers. Player Number One starts by making someone else’ s gesture. That player is then obliged, in the minimal reasonable time, to make some other player’s gesture. And on, and on.
Once people seem to understand this game, you can play both games, Numbers and Thumper at the same time.
Nonviolent Community Safety and Peacebuilding Trainers’ Manual, pages 59-64.