Castles and beavers

What it is: A fun, lighthearted outdoor group game (and one of my personal favorites). This game was taught to me by a friend from Mexico, and there you say “castles and beavers” castillos y castores (which is a bit more catchy, huh?).

Best for: Big group of at least 13 players.

What you need: A group of people, probably at least 10, and either a big open room or some space outdoors.

How to play: First, make sure you have the right number of players. You need enough to divide all players into groups of three and have one left over. So, you could have 10 players (3 groups of 3 plus 1), or 16 players (5 groups of 3 plus 1), or…well, you get the idea. Next, divide everyone up into groups of three and choose one person to be It.

Now the groups of three have to get into position. Let’s say Jane, Maria, and Sam are in a group. Two of the three (Jane and Maria) will form a “castle” by holding hands like this:

Then Sam will be the “beaver” inside the castle, like this:

So once all your groups of three have formed castles and beavers, the game can start. The point of the game is for the person who’s It (say, Michael) to be part of a castle/beaver group and not be left out anymore. So Michael can call out one of three things:

  • Castles!
  • Beavers!
  • Castles and beavers! (or, if you want to keep in touch with the Mexican roots of the game, ¡castillos y castores!)

If Michael calls out “castles,” all of the players forming castles must lift their arms up (without breaking hand holds) and find a new beaver. All the beavers stay where they are. So if Michael said “castles,” Jane and Maria, still holding hands, would together run to find a new beaver. (Michael would hope that one of the castles would find him so that he’s no longer left out.)

If Michael calls out “beavers,” all of the players who are beavers must duck out of their castles and go find a new one. All the castles stay where they are. Michael would run with the beavers find a castle to call home, leaving another player left out.

If Michael calls out “castles and beavers,” all the castles let go of the hands they’re holding, and everyone runs to form totally new groups of three. Then castles can become beavers and beavers can become castles, and the result is usually pandemonium – and hilarious.

No matter what Michael calls or how players rearrange themselves, in the end one player should be left out again – say it’s Sam. Then it would be Sam’s turn to call something out and try to join a group of three.

So there’s no real winner or loser, and the game just kind of goes on until you don’t feel like playing, or until everyone collapses on the floor with laughter, because every time I’ve played it it’s been hilariously fun.

Tell a story

What it is: A creative (and usually silly) talking activity for anywhere from two to many players.

Best for: Group of 2 to 9 players.

What you need: Just people to play. :)

How to play: First, have everyone sit in a circle, or establish a clear playing order so everyone knows when it’s their turn. Then you can start. The point of the activity is just to tell a story, one word at a time. Each player gets to say one word. So this is how a sample start to a game might go:

I’ve played where ending punctuation marks count as words, too; otherwise, sentences tend to drag on without any clear end. You can tell your story on paper or out loud or both, and it usually ends up pretty silly or ridiculous. But that’s the fun part. :-)

Variations: To avoid the story breaking down into a totally unrelated mess of words that lacks any continuity whatsoever (which is often what happens when I play with my siblings), you could choose a topic or narrow the scope before hand. Or, just say anything goes. You could also play by having each player say a whole sentence at a time, rather than a single word. Also, the game fortunately, unfortunately is very similar, just with a little more direction.

Ultimate frisbee

What it is: An active, outdoor game that’s intense enough for the very athletic and fun enough for everyone

Best for: Big group of at least 10 players.

What you need: A good frisbee and a large field outdoors, preferably with a way to mark end zones (like trees, fences, shoes, or some other sort of boundary)

How to play: First, set up the field by designating the playing area with two end zones for scoring (like in football). It’s best if there are clear boundaries on the end zones and playing area, to avoid disputes later. Next, divide the players into two even teams.

Then you’re ready to play. The game is fundamentally like football: each team starts at opposite ends of the field, and each team tries to get the frisbee into the other team’s end zone to score. So, pretend you’re on one team, standing on the field, facing the middle. Behind you is the end zone the opposition is trying to get to in order to score – the end zone you’re trying to protect. In front of you, across the field, the other team is standing in front of the end zone your team is trying to get to.

One of the teams (the other one) starts off with the frisbee and throws it off to your team. Your team spreads out to catch the frisbee as the opposing team rushes towards you. You so happen to catch the frisbee – woo hoo! Now you have to advance it up the field by passing to your teammates. But while you have the frisbee, you are not allowed to move your feet more than three steps; you can only pass. So you quickly pass the frisbee to a team member and your team starts advancing up the field. You can pass to team members in front of you or behind you, it doesn’t matter.

But someone gets clumsy and misses a catch, and the frisbee lands on the ground. Then it’s the other team’s turn, and they get to pick up the frisbee where it fell and move it down the field the other way. Your team switches to defense, trying to block the opposition from catching or throwing the frisbee, even trying to knock it out of the air. For example, as an opposing team member passes the frisbee, in a leap of glory you knock the frisbee onto the ground. Then it’s your team’s turn again, good for you. Or, if your team member actually catches the frisbee while playing defense, its also switches to your team’s possession.

Play continues like this, moving up and down the field. It’s usually pretty fast-paced, with a lot of running involved. The first team to get a player to catch the frisbee with both feet on the other side of their end zone scores. Then the other team takes a walk of shame to the other side of the field, and the teams switch sides until the next point.

Variations: I’ve played ultimate football before, which is the same thing, but with a football. Also, I’m sure there are variations on rules (for example, the three-step rule that allows the person holding the frisbee to take three steps between catching it and throwing it again could be the two-step rule), or more specific rules I didn’t mention. Anyone have any rules to share?

3-D triple-decker tic-tac-toe

What it is: A more challenging and fun variation of regular tic-tac-toe.

Best for: 2 players.

What you need: Paper, something to write with, and two players.

How to play: The game is basically the same as regular tic-tac-toe: you try to win by getting three X’s or O’s in a row. The trick is, instead of one grid of nine squares, you have three grids of nine squares, all stacked on top of each other. A diagonal, horizontal, or vertical set of three lets you win, but since the game is 3-D, there are many more winning possibilities, some of which are shown here:

And it’s more fun. And challenging. And harder to end in a tie.

Variations: I suppose, since the playing space is so much larger, you could try with more than two players. I never have, but just use another letter or shape or color and see how it goes. Or I guess you could try with four grids stacked on top of each other instead of three…woah, woah, that’s a lot of squares…but who knows? 😉

Printables: Want a printout with grids all drawn up and ready to go? Click here and enjoy!


What it is: Probably the most basic and well-known two-player game on paper. But you probably already knew that, didn’t you?

Best for: 2 players.

What you need: Paper and a pen (or two). Or, really, anything to write with and on (a stick in the stand, a marker and wipe-off board, a sharp stone on a cave wall…you know). And two people.

How to play: We all know how to play, right? Make a grid of nine squares on the paper by drawing two vertical lines and two horizontal lines. One player chooses to be X and one chooses to be O. Players take turns drawing their markers (X or O) in one of the nine squares. The first player to have three of their markers in a row (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal) wins.

Easy, right? In fact, so easy it usually ends in a tie game and is really boring after a while. Except I did have one younger cousin who always managed to beat me…he’s smart, I tell you.

Variations: Okay, so maybe an old-fashioned game of tic-tac-toe just isn’t as exciting as it used to be. But 3-D triple-decker tic-tac-toe? Now that can be pretty fun. Go check it out!