11 Games You Can Play With a Pen and Paper

Some people think pen and paper games are a thing of the past. These people are wrong.

When you’re on the go and looking for an easy way to unwind or pass the time, don’t be afraid to kick it old school and put pen to paper for a little fun to pass the time.

Listed below are a collection of games that require nothing more than a pen and paper to enjoy. Some of these simple games can be played solo while others require multiple players. Some are best played with just a pen and others work best with different colored pencils.

All of these games are simple and easy to set up wherever you are, provided you have paper and something to write with.

Strategic games

Kid sitting at a table pretending to play a pen and paper game with a dog

When it comes to deciding on a type of pen and paper game, you have options. The three games listed below involve varying levels of strategical prowess but require nothing more than a pen and paper.

1. Tic tac toe

An undeniable classic, tic tac toe is accessible for all ages, takes just seconds to set up and explain and requires nothing more than a shred of paper and a pen or pencil.

This game is best played with two players, however, if you have a group, a tic tac toe tournament is always a good option to get the competitive juices flowing.

To play, simply draw two identical vertical lines about one inch apart from each other and two identical horizontal lines intersecting the vertical lines. The end result should be nine squares of similar size. One person draws an “X” in the box of their choice and the other draws an “O.”

Players take turns drawing their symbols until someone has three of their symbols lined up in a row, either horizontally, vertically or diagonally.

Pro tip: If you’re looking for a more challenging game, you can create an ultimate tic tac toe board by just adding more squares. Instead of a three-by-three board, go for a six-by-six or a nine-by-nine for a longer, more strategically taxing game.

2. Battleship

two friends looking at notebooks and laughing outside

This game requires a bit more leg work upfront than tic tac toe but the end result is a more complex game that is capable of eating up hours while stuck at home with nothing to do.

Battleship is a two-player game that comes in board game form but can also be played on a pen and paper with just a little setup.

To play battleship, you’ll need two pieces of paper and two writing utensils. Each player draws a seven by seven grid on their paper. On the x-axis, list out numbers 1 – 7. On the y-axis, list out the alphabet A – G.

Determine with your partner how many variations of ships you want to play with. Place your ships on the board by drawing rectangles on your grid. Note that not all the squares will have ships in them.

Take turns guessing the coordinates of the other player’s ships on their map. Guess coordinates where you think your opponent’s ships may be hiding. If you guess correctly, your opponent will let you know by saying “hit,” if you’re wrong they’ll say “miss.”

Once you hit every square the ship lies in, your opponent will say “sunk.” The last person with unsunk ships remaining on the board wins.

3. Nim

Nim is a simple mathematical strategy game that is traditionally played with matchsticks. That being said, it also works great in pen and paper form.

Nim requires two players, one piece of paper and a pen. To play, you will need to create a pyramid shape out of vertical lines. The base layer should have seven lines, then five lines, then three lines and one line at the top.

The objective of the game is to force your opponent to cross out the last remaining line. To do this, players take turns crossing out however many lines they want each turn. However, players can only cross out lines from one level of the pyramid per turn.

Word games

Woman in a waiting room writing with a pen in her paper notebook

We’ve all heard it since we were in first grade, “words can be fun!” The five games listed below are proof that this sentiment holds true. Break out a pen and paper and be sure you have a dictionary nearby for these fun games.

4. Appletree

This game (also known as hangman) is great for all ages and ideal for two or more players.

To play, one player picks a word or phrase and draws short horizontal lines on the paper so that each letter in the word or phrase has a corresponding horizontal line. Then, that player draws an apple tree. The number of apples drawn in the tree will determine the number of guesses the other players get to figure out the word or phrase. So, seven apples equal seven guesses.

Players then attempt to guess the word or phrase by saying one letter at a time. If the letter appears in the word or phrase, the person who determined the word or phrase will indicate so by placing those letters on their corresponding blank horizontal lines. However, should the letter that was guessed not appear in the word or phrase, an apple falls from the tree (you can cross it out or erase it if you’re using a pencil).

If the players guess the word or phrase before all of the apples fall out of the tree, they win. If they fail to do so, the person who determined the word or phrase wins.

5. Words within a word

woman on a yellow couch deep in thought while looking at her notebook

This game is one of the most simple ones on the list and is great for everyone from younger children to older children to your parents. This game can be played alone and in small or large groups.

To play, the group decides on a long word, writes it down and displays it for all players to see. Each player then creates a list of words from the letters that appear in the longer group-decided word.

After a predetermined amount of time, typically about three minutes, each player will read off their list of words. If you have a word that appears on another players’ list, that word does not count toward either players’ final score.

Whoever comes up with the most unduplicated words at the end of the round is the winner. Whether that’s two or twenty, the key here is to have the highest number of unique words.

Pro tip: The longer the original word, the larger your list of the words will be. For your records, the longest word in the English language is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.

6. Pangrams

Creating pangrams is a great past-time for one player or a large group of players. That’s because this game is entirely individual until you share your creation with the group.

To play, each player takes up to five minutes to write their own pangram. A pangram is a sentence that uses every letter in the English alphabet. The most popular example of this is, “the quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.”

While this game may seem easy at first, it can be surprisingly difficult to get all 26 letters into a sentence that makes sense.

If you are looking to up the challenge level, however, you can add in your own parameters and requirements. For instance, you could set up your game so that the person with the shortest sentence wins, or the person with the most logical or funniest sentence wins.

Regardless of how you choose to set it up, pangrams is a great game for almost any situation and toes that line between a brain game and word game to create a compelling and surprisingly challenging pen and paper activity.

7. Homemade mad lib

Couple sitting on the floor in their bedroom laughing at what they have written down in their notepad

Creating a homemade mad lib is a pen and paper game that only requires your creativity. While this game is best played with two players or more, you can play alone as well if you like.

To play, simply write out a short story. The story itself does not have to be overly goofy or interesting. Actually, oftentimes, the more mundane the original story, the funnier the resulting story becomes.

While you write your story, be sure to leave blank spots in the narrative where nouns, adjectives, places, body parts, characteristics and other descriptors like that should go. Hand your story over to your partner or present it to the group and let them fill in the blanks with goofy answers.

Once the story has been completed, read it aloud for all to hear and enjoy. This fun game may not be ideal for the library or anywhere you have to keep quiet because it’s almost guaranteed to get you and your friends laughing up a storm.

8. Finish the story

Similar to mad libs, finish the story is a collaborative game that involves multiple voices creating one cohesive (or not so cohesive) story. This game can be played with two or more players.

To play, the first person writes the beginning sentence of a story and hands it over to the next player. That player then writes the following sentence.

The game continues on like this, passing the paper around with each player adding a sentence until everyone has added five or so sentences to the narrative. Once this is done, pick one player to read the story to the whole group and enjoy the fruits of your creative labor.

You can tweak this game by letting each player write more or less depending on the story length you are looking for. You could go as long as letting each person write a full paragraph or as short as each person writing a single word before passing the paper along to the next player.

Drawing games

Three different colored pens on a white background

Not a words person? Fear not, these drawing games are perfect for professional artists and disappointing doodlers alike.

9. Finish the doodle

As you may have guessed, finish the doodle is just the drawing version of finish the story.

To play finish the doodle, all you need is two pens and two pieces of paper. That being said, you may find this game more fun with access to multiple different colored pens or pencils and a timer.

Each player begins by drawing whatever they want for a predetermined amount of time, about five minutes. After the five minutes are up, the players switch papers and take over each other’s drawings for the next five minutes.

Carry on like this for however many rounds you want, passing the progressing drawings back and forth between you. At the end of the timer, show the finished products to each other and enjoy or set fire to your combined creations.

Pro tip: It is important that you do not tell your fellow player what you plan to draw. The less your partner knows about your original intentions for the drawing, the better.

10. Tandem drawing

This two-player game may be geared a bit more toward talented artists than the average doodler, however, any two people, regardless of age or skill level can play this game and enjoy it.

To play, place a single sheet of paper on a solid surface between you and your partner. Starting at the exact center, each person should begin drawing at the same time.

You and your partner can try to coordinate to draw one thing, you can each draw lines randomly that lead nowhere or you can each work on your own thing entirely. That being said, at the end of the timer or once you run out of room on the paper the game is finished.

There are no winners or losers here. Simply take a look at your creation with your partner and pin it up on the fridge or place it in the trash, the choice is yours.

11. Blind drawing

Woman with closed eyes secluded in a corner writing in her notebook

Last but certainly not least on our list of pen and paper games is a one-player game that can be fully explained in three simple steps.

  1. Grab a pen and paper
  2. Look around and choose a nearby item to picture in your head
  3. Close your eyes and draw that item without opening your eyes or lifting your pen from the paper

After you complete the steps above, open your eyes and take a look at your surprisingly beautifully or expectedly disappointing drawing.

This game is easy to play, relaxing, fun and, over time, helpful in developing your drawing skills.

When to play pen and paper games

While cellphone games may be dynamic and undeniably entertaining, they come with a few downsides that can easily be avoided by breaking out a pen and a fresh sheet of paper.

For starters, pen and paper games are never going to run out of battery. Sure, your pen may run out of ink, but that’s a different story. Pen and paper games are not subject to the inconsistencies of cellular and wifi signals. Finally, pen and paper games don’t blast your already over-taxed eyes with harmful, headache-inducing blue light.

If you find yourself spending all of your downtime scrolling through your phone or spacing out at your laptop, try giving one of the games above a try. You just might like how it feels to spend a little bit of time away from the blue light.

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