MafiaWhat it is: A group game best played late at night, often at sleepovers. Players try to discover the identity of a secret “mafia” amongst the group before they’re all eliminated.

Best for: Teens or older in a group of at least 8.

What you need: Traditionally you play with a deck of cards, though you could accomplish the same thing with some slips of paper and a pen. And that’s it!

How to play: This game is a little involved (though probably not the most complex game I’ve posted), so I’ll do my best to explain it.

First of all, choose one player to be the narrator. This player will volunteer to sit the game out and be the moderator, running the game so everyone else can play.

After you pick a narrator, you start by handing out parts. In this game, each player is given a role to play. Let’s run over the roles real quick.

  • Mafia member: A player who tries to kill all other players and eliminate them from the game before his or her identity is discovered.
  • Detective: A player who has a special skill in guessing who the mafia is and tries to protect the citizens.
  • Citizen: Anyone else; players who just play the game, hope not to die, and try to help discover who the mafia is.

Games with large groups will often have two detectives and two mafia members.

So at the beginning of the game, you’ll have players draw cards to determine who are mafia, who are the detectives, and who are the citizens. You can accomplish this by pulling out cards from your card deck. Assign the different roles to cards: so Kings could be detectives, Jacks would be mafia, and anything else would mark a citizen. If you have a smaller group, put one detective card and one mafia card in your deck. If you have a larger group, try two of each.

Once players have picked their roles, it’s important they keep them a secret. No one should know who had what role. But tell players to hang onto their cards and keep them hidden; eventually during the game, everyone will end up revealing his or her card.

So now that you have your players and you have your roles, the game can start. The narrator starts the game, usually by telling a story, if you’re really into the game like that. The story is about the players and a scenario they’re in and might start out something like this:

“It was a dark and stormy night, and the members of the Jones family were gathered together on a camping trip. That night as everyone gathered around to roast hot dogs and tell ghost stories, the clouds gathered and lighting flashed ahead. Spirits were high around the campfire, though, but no one knew that someone in the party had evil intentions…”

Each round the story is different and it doesn’t really matter; it’s just part of setting the mood for this kind of creepy game. (That’s why it’s good to pick a narrator who can pull off this mood-setting story-telling role.)

So let’s set up a sample game. Say James is the narrator and is starting the game. He starts telling his story, setting the scene, and ends the first segment with the end of a day, saying something like

“…so everyone finished eating their hot dogs and returned to their tents to sleep.”

At that point, all of the players close their eyes and keep them closed until otherwise instructed by James, the narrator.

Then James will say something like:

“But late that night, two members of the mafia woke up with a dark and evil plan. Mafia members only, open your eyes and look at me.”

Then the two players who drew Mafia cards open their eyes and silently nod to James to show who they are. Let’s call the mafia Steve and Marco.

So Steve and Marco open their eyes. James will go on:

“Now the two mafia members will silently agree on one person to kill tonight.”

Then Steve and Marco point, shake their heads, and nod until they agree on one person to “kill.” Let’s call her Lara. After they have, James resumes narrating:

“Now mafia, close your eyes. Detectives only, open your eyes.”

The detectives open their eyes — we’ll call them Katie and Chloe. The detectives then silently point, shake their heads, and nod until they agree on one person to accuse as a member of the mafia. Say they point to Joe. Once they do, the narrator silently shakes his head, indicating that Joe is not a member of the mafia. Katie and Chloe close their eyes and James resumes narrating.

“The next day dawns cool and misty, and everyone wakes up and opens their eyes…”

(everyone opens their eyes)

“…to find that last night, there was a MURDER.” Duh-duh-duh.

Then James can explain that as everyone wakes up, they find that Lara has been murdered in the night. He can go into as much gruesome detail as he wants in describing the murder; it just depends on the narrator and how into the game he or she is. At the least, he needs to announce that Lara died. Lara can also dramatically act out the death if she so chooses.

At this point, all the players get a chance to discuss out loud who they think the mafia members might be. Then they can accuse one player of being a mafia member. If they’re right, that mafia member is eliminated and the citizens and detectives are one step closer to winning the game. If they’re wrong (say if they think Joe is a member of the mafia), Joe is eliminated and the mafia is one step closer.

The discussion period is where the bulk of the game takes place, and where things can get pretty heated. (Also, this often argumentative phase of the game is why I think many people either love or hate this game.)

So how does the discussion phase look? Anyone can talk, anyone can voice an opinion, and everyone must come to an agreement (or at least a majority vote) about who to accuse. The one rule is, no one is allowed to say what their role is. James, the narrator, plays the role of mediator, keeping people focused and reigning in any too-heated discussions.

As for the two mafia members, they’ll want to protect themselves, of course. The trick is, they don’t know who the detectives are, and if the detectives are onto them or not.

After everyone agrees on who to accuse, that person must reveal their card and their role and then exit the game. Then the narrator starts another nighttime phase of the game, where everyone closes his or her eyes, the Mafia gets another chance to kill someone, and the detectives get another guess at who the mafia are.

Say during the next round, the detectives guess that Steve is a member of the mafia. The narrator nods his head yes. Now the detectives are at an advantage: they know a member of the mafia. But during the next discussion round, they have to carefully use this knowledge. They can’t outright say they’re detectives, you see. They can’t state that they know Steve is a mafia member. But they can persuade and lead the discussion, hoping to sway the citizens their way.

If anyone speaks out too vocally against a member of the mafia during one round, the mafia always has the option of killing them during the next night phase of the game, so the detectives will want to be careful. But the mafia members can’t make the murder too obvious or everyone else will be onto them… See how it’s a game of mind tricks, deceptions, and secrets? It often evolves into backstabbing and throwing people under the bus, which is all part of the fun.

One last thing: what happens to the players who die? They become “ghosts” and can stay in the room, watch the game, and even keep their eyes open during the nighttime phase, but they’re not allowed to make a sound. If they don’t have that much will power, kick them out of the room. 😉

The game ends when either the mafia are both killed, or when they’ve killed both the detectives (or is it when they’ve killed everyone? Maybe you could play either way). What a creepy game for your Halloween party this year!

Variations: Along with the murder theme, there’s a murder: winks version game and a hand-squeezing version that are both a lot of fun.

Murder: Winks Version

What it is: A group game where you try to eliminate other players by winking at them. So, despite its spooky title, really it’s just a game that’s all about your eyes.


Best for: Anywhere from a small to a large group. Ten or more would probably be ideal.

What you need: Just players and a way to randomly select one player to be the Murderer. This can be slips of blank paper, a deck of cards, anything as long as the identity of the Murderer can be a secret.

How to play: First, set up your playing area by sitting everyone in a circle. This can be cross-legged on the ground or in chairs/on couches. Everyone just needs to be able to see every other player.

Then, choose one player to be the Murderer. If you have a deck of cards, pull out one card for each player. Make them all non-face cards, except for one. Shuffle and have each player pick a card, face down. Whichever player draws the face card will be the Murderer. You can do the same thing with slips of paper. Just draw an X on one and fold them all up.

When you pick the Murderer, only the Murderer should know their identity. It should be a secret to everyone else.

So once the Murderer is established, have everyone sit in a circle and announce the start of the game.

For the Murderer, the objective is to murder (i.e. wink at) as many people as possible before being caught. The Murderer can wink at whoever they want whenever they want as often as they want.

For everyone else, the objective is to not die and to catch the Murderer as quickly as possible, thus saving as many lives as possible. You catch the Murderer by calling him or her out.

So let’s set up a sample game. Bobby is the Murderer, and only he knows that. Close after the start of the game, Bobby winks at Monica, who lets out a scream and falls on the floor.

That reminds me: optional dramatic deaths. The game gets extra fun if, whenever you “die,” you die a dramatic death: fall on the floor, gasp, shout out your famous last words, etc. Adds in an element of humor and drama. 🙂 At the minimum, just announce you’re dead somehow and leave the circle.

After Monica dies, another player, Alex, was watching and thinks he saw a fourth player named Lindsay wink at Monica. So Alex says, “Lindsay, are you the Murderer?” To which Lindsay has to say, no, she’s not. At that point, Alex dies from his false accusation, so now two players are out. Bobby goes on winking at players when he can catch their eye contact, killing as quickly or as slowly as he wants. Both lead to a different game dynamic.

The game ends when someone says, “Bobby, are you the Murderer?” Or, in rare cases, when Bobby kills absolutely everyone else. Then Bobby wins.

It’s a kind of balancing game: for Bobby, he doesn’t want to necessarily kill too fast or too obviously. But if he doesn’t go fast enough, it gives players more time to discover him. For everyone else, they don’t want to spend too much time making eye contact with anyone just in case it’s the Murderer. But the game involves looking in eyes to try and figure out who is winking at whom. I like this game a lot; it’s suspenseful and fun.

To start another round, draw cards again to pick a new Murderer and go!

Variations: There’s another version of this game that’s a lot of fun. And along the murder theme, you can always try mafia!

Pictionades (pictionary meets charades): Star Wars version

What it is: A game I kind of made up that involves drawing (like pictionary) and acting (like charades). And in this version, Star Wars, in honor of my family’s Halloween costumes this year.

Best for: A big group, probably around 10.

What you need: A wipe-off board, the small-ish kinds you can hold in your hands. You’ll also need a dry erase marker and eraser and a specialized list of Star Wars actions to act out. I provide one below. 🙂

How to play: First divide your players into two teams. Like in a regular game of pictionary or charades, each team takes turns drawing/acting for their team members only to guess.

So let’s say team 1 is up: the Rebels (who are of course playing against the Empire). Unlike regular pictionary, the Rebels will send up two players, Han and Chewie (I’m sorry, I can’t resist). One player will hold the wipe-off board and marker (Han, since Chewie’s hands are too furry). Chewie will stand next to Han and be prepared to act.

A pretty intimidating duo to face, pictionary or no.
A pretty intimidating duo to face, even in pictionary.

Like pictionary and charades, no talking is allowed during the turn. At  the start of a timer, Han and Chewie pull a slip of paper with their first action to act out. It might be using the Force to lift an X-wing.

At “Go!” Han and Chewie start. They work together as a team, with Han drawing and Chewie (and also Han) acting to get their team members to guess the word.

So Han might draw an X-wing on the wipe-off board, then hold the board down low to the ground. Meanwhile, Chewie would hold out his hands, pretending to use the Force, and Han would slowly raise the drawing of the X-wing up off the ground. Get it? It’s a combination of acting and drawing that does it.

When your team members guess, try to be pretty literal with the answer matching the phrase on the card (for example, just saying “X-wing!” for the above example wouldn’t cut it). You want your team members to say the whole phrase.

When Han and Chewie finish their first phrase, they draw and act another, and keep going until the timer runs out. Oh, another rule: Han and Chewie also can’t talk with each other. So they can’t prepare or plan in advance. It’s about thinking fast and acting together as a team.

The Rebels get a point for every phrase they successfully guess during Han and Chewie’s turn. Then it would be the Empire’s turn. At the end of the game, whichever team has the most points wins.

It’s up to each team which combination of players they want to send up in groups of two. You can change the pairs of two each round, or keep them the same. Just make sure to give everyone an equal opportunity to go up.

Are there any rules I’m forgetting? Oh, I would suggest a longer time limit for the rounds for this game: maybe 2 to 3 minutes. Since the phrases are more complex, it’s nice to allow time to draw something good or act out multiple parts to a complex phrase.

Printables: And finally, the phrases! These were fun to compile. I did lots of research (involving a Star Wars marathon and a lot of spell-checking on Wookieepedia). I hope you enjoy them!

Printable-markerStar Wars Actions

Boo! Halloween Treat Ding Dong Ditch

booWhat it is: It’s more of an activity or tradition than a game, but it’s a great Halloween tradition that I remember from throughout my childhood.

Best for: A whole neighborhood or community of some sort! The only requirement is everyone needs a front door. You can play with a neighborhood, a city, a church community…you could even play with dorm rooms in a college dorm.

What you need: You’ll need several copies of a Boo! printable, like the one I made below. You’ll also need two plates of treats or bags of candy to get the tradition started.

How to play: To start, print out two copies of the Boo! printable below. Then prepare two plates of Halloween goodies, like cookies or cupcakes that look like spiders or something cute like that. (Bags of candy work, too). Then choose two neighbors or friends to Boo first.

This is a ding dong ditch activity, or a knock and run. If you don’t know how those works, you might want to read this post to get an idea.

At night, drive to your chosen friends’ houses one at a time. Carefully sneak out to the doorstep, leave the cookies and a copy of the Boo! printable, ring the doorbell, and RUN! Hurry back to the car and drive away before they see you! When they answer their door, they’ll find a plate of treats and the papers. One page is a sign with a ghost that says “WE’VE BEEN BOO’D!” The other is a paper with some instructions that starts out with this:

Halloween is drawing near,

But don’t let this spook bring you fear.

We’ve left these treats just for you.

Enjoy them please; we hope you do!

Then before two days have come and passed

Spread the fun to make it last.

Choose two friends to give treats to,

Then they’ll be BOO’D just like you!

So when your friends get the paper, they hang the “WE’VE BEEN BOO’D” sign on their door or in their front window, choose two of their friends, and leave treats on their doors within two days. That way, the Boo sign spreads throughout the neighborhood or community exponentially until Halloween arrives! Then it’s fun to trick or treat or drive through the neighborhood and see how many people you spread the Boo to.

It’s not too late in the year if you want to start this! To give it a jump start, you might want to start out with five families or so, just to help get the ball rolling.

Printables: Here’s the printable. It has two pages: one with the instructions, and one with a ghost that says “WE’VE BEEN BOO’D!” This is the sign that people will hang in their front windows or on their doors after they’ve been Boo’d.

Boo Halloween Doorbel Ditch

Enjoy, and happy Halloween!


skittlesWhat it is: A game about cramming as many skittles candies into your mouth as possible. Kind of silly and maybe, depending on your point of view, a little gross, too.

Best for: A big group, like at least 8. And probably best played late at night at a party or sleepover.

What you need: All you need is a bag of skittles candy, the big kind, one you can reach your whole hand into.

How to play: First, have everyone sit in a circle (in chairs or on the ground, it doesn’t matter). Pull out your bag of skittles, open the top, and hand it to your first player (we’ll call her Ashley). Ashley reaches her hand into the bag and pulls out two skittles without looking, no peeking allowed.

If Ashley’s skittles are two different colors, like red and orange, she pops them in her mouth and leaves them there. No chewing, swallowing, or spitting out allowed. Then she passes the bag to the next player, Anthony.

Anthony draws two skittles and the same rule applies. He draws two different colors, so he puts them in his mouth and leaves them there, no chewing or swallowing.

Let’s say the whole first round, all around the circle, proceeds like this. Each player pulls out two skittles of different colors and must hold them in his or her mouth without chewing.

Now it’s Ashley’s turn again, and her skittles are all soggy and she’s really wishing she could chew them up. She reaches her hand into the bag and pulls out…two reds! Two skittles of the same color! It’s Ashley’s lucky day because two skittles of the same color means she’s allowed to chew up and swallow everything in her mouth: the two red skittles and the ones from the last round (and any other rounds).

The catch is, Ashley doesn’t have forever to chew and swallow. She has to stop chewing when it’s her turn again, or when someone else draws two skittles of the same color, whichever comes first. That may not seem like a big deal, but when you’ve been playing for a few rounds and you’ve got eight skittles in your mouth, trying to speed-chew them isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Then if your chew-and-swallow time is over because someone else drew two of the same color, you’re stuck with a wad of half-chewed-up skittles in your mouth to hang onto until you’re lucky enough to draw two of the same color again.

The player who lasts the longest without gagging or spitting out their skittles wins! (Or, this is one of those games that’s kind of played without a winner.)

OK, I admit it, typing this up is kind of making me gag. But it’s one of those gross silly games that can be fun under the right circumstances. Just don’t play around my grandma, who doesn’t approve of candy and who once claimed she could hear our teeth rotting as the game progressed.

Which brings me to, brush your teeth after.

[whispered creepily] Taste the rainbow.

Happy playing!