Catchphrase

What it is: A commercial game by Hasbro, but you can also play your own version without buying it at the store. It’s a talking guessing game, good for lots of people.

What you need: Words to guess (either written down on strips of paper, or perhaps generated by a handy online word generator someone made) and a timer.

How to play: The point of the game is to get your team members to guess the target word by explaining the word to them out loud. The trick is, you can’t say the word (or any variant of the word) or you lose the round.

So to start, prepare a bunch of words or phrases on slips of paper (see below for some pre-made printable word lists, or use my online word generator). You could divide these into categories (famous people, foods, sports, household items, animals) or just mix them all together.

Put your papers into a bowl or hat and then situate all your players. Divide everyone up into two teams and have everyone sit in a circle, alternating members from each team (if you can find a way to divide teams like boys versus girls, then it’s good because it’s very easy to remember who’s on your team).

Choose one player, like Marty, to start. Marty takes the bowl of words, draws one, and immediately starts to describe it while at the same time someone starts the timer (for as much time as you all choose). As soon as Marty starts describing, his team members can start shouting out guesses (while the opposing team stays silent/watches the timer). Marty can say anything as long as it’s not the word written on the paper or any variant of the word. (The opposing team members sitting next to Marty can look over his shoulder and make sure he doesn’t say any words he’s not allowed to.)

Say Marty’s first word is baseball bat.

He could say:

“A long wooden thing you use to play a sport!”

However, he could not say:

“A long wooden thing you use to play baseball!”

Or even:

“A long wooden thing you use to hit a ball!”

Because he can’t say any variant of anything written on the slip of paper. Marty could get creative, though, and say something like:

“The mammal that has wings and is black and flies around at night eating insects!”

And when his team members shout, “bat!” he could say:

“Okay, that same word, but used to describe something long and wooden you use in a sport!”

As Marty’s team members guess, he can provide feedback and keep talking, as long as he doesn’t say any word on the paper.

Speed is definitely the key, because Marty’s goal is to get through as many words as he can before the timer runs out. Each word his team guesses correctly gets them a point. When the timer runs out, pass the bowl to the next person in the circle, and they get a turn to draw words and describe them while their team guesses. Play moves like this around the circle, with lots of describing and shouting out answers involved. It’s a lot of fun. 🙂

The team with the most points in the end wins. You can have players just save their papers until the end to count points, or have someone write down the score after each round, for those players who like to know they’re winning (or not).

Strategies: Since speed is so important in this game, the faster you can give hints that will help your team members guess, the better. Well-known phrases or song lyrics are great, for instance. For example, if the word were snowman, instead of saying: “Something kids build in the winter that’s in the shape of a human…” you could just shout: “Frosty the…” and everyone would (hopefully) immediately shout “Snowman!”

Variations: You can choose to allow or prohibit skipping words (say if you draw one that’s just way too hard to describe or a word you don’t know the definition of). If you’re playing with younger players, maybe skipping passing is a good idea. But if you’re hardcore, maybe it’s not.

Also, you could play with a shorter time limit (maybe 10 seconds or so) and let each player describe only one word per turn. If they guess it, great; the turn ends, the team gets a point, and it’s the next players turn. If they don’t, too bad; no points for them that round. Just experiment to find out the best time limit for your group.

One fun rule to make it more challenging is to try to get people to guess the word by saying as few words as possible, like one or two. You could get more points the fewer words you used, if you really wanted to keep score.

Oh, and once I was playing catchphrase with my family and it was getting a little easy, so my sister suggested that each person had to use a random pre-selected word in each clue. The word we chose was “banana.” So, for example, if the word was baseball bat, we’d say something like, “This is kind of shaped like a banana in that it’s long and skinny…” Or if the word were tiptoe, we’d say something like “If you’re in a room with a lot of banana peels all over the floor, you might walk like this.” It was a kind of fun way to keep the game interesting, creative, challenging, and a little silly.

Printables: For your catchprase-playing pleasure, here are some ready-to-go word lists for you! Just click a list to open it, print it out, and then cut along the lines to create pre-made paper word slips. Or, for an even bigger list of words, check out my online game word generator, perfect if you’re playing with a laptop, iPod, or iPad handy.

Printable-markerCatchphrase Word List – Easy Words

Printable-markerCatchphrase Word List – Easy Words 2

Printable-markerCatchphrase Word List – Medium Words

Printable-markerCatchphrase Word List – Hard Words

Printable-markerCatchphrase Word List – Animals

Printable-markerCatchphrase Word List – Food

Printable-markerCatchphrase Word List – Household Items

Printable-markerCatchphrase Words – People

Printable-markerCatchphrase Words – Travel

Hopefully these word lists help you out, but if you like playing catchphrase, I’d recommend buying the electronic version of the real game. It’s a lot easier to play and keep score, and it has a ton of words. It makes the game a lot more fun.

15 Comments

  1. Thank you so much! I love the game catchphrase, and wanted to try it with my ESL class, but the official version would be too difficult for them. So I was looking for word lists, and found yours, very helpful!

  2. Thank you so much! I just used your words from the online generator to play with my ESL students. It was great fun! We just used it with an online timer to play “catch-phrase.” I think the words were really good actually. The only suggestion I have would be to add more words (if possible) to the ‘easy’ section. We ran into the same words semi-often. Anyway, I tried the medium words and they were too hard, so I went back to easy. The students were intermediate-beginner level. Needless to say, we really had a great time! Thanks!

    1. Dave, thanks so much for the feedback! Glad the word lists helped you and your students have a great time! That’s really good feedback about the word list length, too. In some ways the easy word lists are the hardest, but I’ll definitely work on bulking it up when I can. Can I ask, when you say you ran into the same words, do you mean they shuffled back through and repeated themselves before you had finished the list? The word generator is supposed to have a feature that gives you every word once, then gives you an alert that you’ve finished the list and gives you an option to start over again. If that’s not happening, I’d like to fix it. 🙂

  3. I think two things might have been happening. When I tried the medium word list and realized they were too hard, I switched back to the easy list. That reset the easy list so we were back at the beginning. Then the other thing that happened (haha, complicated!) was we went through the whole list (I think) of easy words but never got notified that we had reached the end, and we saw the same words. However, it is possible that we switched to medium a few times and so that kept us from seeing all the words on the easy list because it ‘resets’ us back to the beginning. Sorry! I will let you know if it is a problem in the near future… but if no one else says anything, I’d say don’t worry about it! But more words would still be nice! 🙂 Thanks so much!

    1. Dave, thanks so much for all of that information! That’s perfect. I’ll take a look at it, but I’m betting what happened was just that the list reset. I agree that the best way to fix it either way would be to add more words. 🙂 I’ll get working on that, too! Thanks again for all the great feedback!

  4. My family LOVES this game!!! I just wish Hasbro sold a chip or something to load in more questions. We’ve played it so much, and have been thru all of them so much, it’s beginning to not be as fun anymore!

  5. Hello, we are a class team and are playing this game based off of your word list. Unfortunately, our opposing team is receiving the easier words out of the hard list. Disappointment ensues. While they get words like cell phone charger and tip top while we get cog and hinge. While I like this game, it seems to have been rigged. Not only that but they have been receiving more time. One small tip would be to but a term of agreement to prohibit rigging and cheating of this amazing game that you have created.

    1. I’m so glad you’re using the game words, McPhabulouses! Unfortunately, I’m afraid I don’t have any control over what your opposing team does as far as cheating. I’m definitely against cheating and rigging, but even if I did put up a term of agreement, people who are going to cheat on games probably wouldn’t have a difficult time ignoring the non-cheating terms. As far as who gets what words, I’m afraid that’s just luck of the draw. Sorry it seems like you’re getting all the hard ones! Keep playing and it will balance out.

  6. My family and small groups also love this game, but I too would like to know when a programmable handheld version is coming out, something that allows me to input new categories and phrases on my laptop then download to the game. Seems so obvious. Everyone who owns a current game would buy the programmable one the minute it comes out. With all the tablets out there, I am sure someone is going to come out with a program that works on them.

    1. David, great point. I actually have a free downloadable app that works on iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. It’s not programmable, but maybe that’s a feature I can add in the future! For now, you can download it for free and play with all of the words on my site. There’s another app called Spoof I found that will let you enter your own game lists. I’m not affiliated with them and I think you have to pay, but if you’re interested in playing catchphrase with your own words, it might be just what you’re looking for!

Leave a Reply