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9 Pen and Paper Games That Hit the Mark for Instant Fun

playing word games on paper with pencil

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We play so many games on our computers and phones that classic, physical games are sometimes regarded as novelties. But, that’s not actually true. Games without the internet or screens will always have their place. Reliable pen and paper games can keep you entertained at the low cost of some basic stationery. Read on to learn about some terrific examples of “old school” paper and pencil games to play.

1. Play Categories to Spell Victory

Categories is the pencil and paper game based on Scattergories. It’s incredibly basic compared to the branded version, but that is also half the point.

  1. Players pick five topic categories and write them at the top of a piece of paper. Each player needs their own sheet of paper to play. 

  2. Create columns on the sheets of paper to separate the categories.

  3. Once the paper is ready, one of the players picks a letter. Every word that each player uses for the next round must start with that letter.

  4. Set a timer for two minutes and start the round. When time runs out, check everyone’s answers and give points for each unique answer.

2. Write a Crazy Story With Mad Libs

If you want to have some goofy and possibly downright weird fun, try Mad Libs. It’s one of the most creative (and hilarious) paper and pencil games you can play. The goal is to create a short story and turn it into something ridiculous by changing a few words.

  1. Write a very short story, about 100 to 200 words long at most. It can be about anything, so pick a short story topic you feel comfortable writing about. Don’t worry about making the story funny or clever. That comes later.

  2. When you’re done writing, go back and select words to remove. Adjectives are typically some of the best words to cut, but choose some nouns and verbs too. If you wrote the story with a pencil, erase them. If you used a pen, cross them out.

  3. Now that all the selected words are gone, ask players for replacement words based on the part of speech or word type. Get an adjective to replace an adjective, a noun to replace a noun, and so on. 

  4. With all the new words in place, re-read the story to see what hilarity you and your friends created.

3. Make Connections With Dots and Boxes 

Dots and Boxes has a simple setup. Start by creating a grid of evenly spaced dots on a piece of paper. Make enough dots so the game will last more than a couple turns.

dots and boxes word game on paperdots and boxes word game on paper
  1. Give each player a pen with a unique color. 

  2. The first player draws a line from one dot to an adjacent one to create a line. 

  3. The next player goes and does the same thing. 

  4. Repeat the process of creating lines until someone draws a line that forms a complete square. That player adds their initials inside that square.

  5. The game ends when every square is filled. Count the squares. Give each player one point for every square with their initials in it. The player with the most points wins.

4. Play Hangman for High-Stakes Fun

Hangman has been and always will be a reliable time waster. It’s also one of the simplest paper and pen games to play. Hangman is typically best enjoyed with two players.

hangman word game on paperhangman word game on paper
  1. One player chooses a word or phrase and draws blank lines on a piece of paper to represent each letter. 

  2. The other player says the name of a letter, hoping it’s part of the puzzle’s answer.

  3. If the letter is part of the answer, the first player adds it to the corresponding blank line(s). 

  4. If it is not part of the answer, the first player writes the letter on the side and then draws a portion of the hangman. 

  5. The other player needs to solve the hangman puzzle before the first player draws each part of the hangman.

5. Jotto Is the Perfect Game for Logic Lovers

Jotto is a game with a simple premise that tests your and your opponent’s analytical skills. Challenging pen and paper games like Jotto can be very engaging! 

  1. One player chooses a secret word and the other player tries to find out what it is.

  2. The second player writes down a word that they think might be the answer. 

  3. The first player tells the second player how many letters from their guess are in the actual answer. 

  4. The second player uses this information to continue making guesses, narrowing down what the answer is.

  5. The player who correctly guesses their opponent’s word first wins the game.

6. Tell Odd Tales by Playing Paper Telephone

Looking for pen and paper games that take both writing skill and a bit of artistic talent? Try your hand at playing paper telephone.

  1. Every player writes a phrase on their own sheet of paper and passes the paper to their right. 

  2. The next player draws an image of the phrase, folds the sheet over the phrase, and passes the paper to their right. 

  3. The next player writes down what they think the drawing is about. Then, they fold the sheet again, passing it to the next player for them to draw. 

  4. This process is repeated until the paper returns to the original player. 

  5. Players unfold their papers to see how different the drawings and phrases are from the original phrase.

7. Picture the Fun You’ll Have With Pictionary

Like Categories, Pictionary is a simplified version of a classic word game. The gameplay and rules of the game are mostly the same as the party game of the same name.

  1. Each player takes a piece of paper and writes down a phrase or topic that everyone should know. 

  2. Everyone folds up their sheets of paper to hide the phrases, putting them in a bowl or some other container. 

  3. One player pulls one of the pieces of paper from the container, reads the phrase and draws it on another piece of paper. 

  4. The other players then guess what phrase the drawing is supposed to represent.

8. Sprouts Creates Sprawling Fun

If you like paper and pencil games like Dots and Boxes above, then Sprouts could be for you. It’s another competitive line-drawing game. 

sprouts game on papersprouts game on paper
  1. Start the game by drawing two or more dots on a piece of paper. Players take turns drawing lines to connect the dots. 

  2. The trick is that the lines cannot cross other lines or pass through other dots to get to another dot. They must move through a clear path. 

  3. Once a player draws their line, they then add a new dot somewhere on it. This creates new possible paths (and obstacles) to use and overcome. 

  4. When a player gets stuck and runs out of possibilities, the other player wins the game.

9. Play Balderdash to Test Everyone’s Honesty

Balderdash is the game to play if you’re good at making or calling bluffs. In fact, being successful in the game relies on their ability to spot when people aren’t telling the truth. 

This is a game best played in a larger group, preferably five or more.

  1. Find a list of obscure or weird-sounding words to play from. Add a new word from the list at the top of a piece of paper each turn.

  2. Select two or three players and have them write definitions for that word below it on the sheet. If you don’t know the real one, write down a convincing fake one.

  3. The remaining players must then pick one of the definitions that they believe is the real answer.

  4. Once everyone picks their answer, the players who gave definitions get one point for each player who chose their answer.

  5. Look up or reveal the actual definition after the points are counted.

Find More Tabletop Fun

As great as they are, it’s a good idea to put your devices away sometimes and enjoy non-digital entertainment. Pencil and paper games are quick and easy ways to have some analog fun. Looking for other fun games to play with friends? Beyond pen and paper games, board games are also good choices. Read our list of seven family-friendly board games. You’ll be sure to find a worthwhile option your friends or family will love.


Zac Pricener has been a content creator for the past eight years. He’s a bit of an all-around nerd, and he has a bad habit of working movie and TV show references into conversations whenever possible.

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