GAME ideas

By Ron Tucci and Ksenia Babich

Play is a crucial element of any youth ministry effort whether it is a camp, retreat, or church school activity. In fact, it is a fundamental factor in the lives of all humans, young and old. It keeps us fit physically and mentally. It helps us to learn new ideas and skills and promotes creativity. Play fosters belonging and cooperation among players, allows us to develop alternatives to violence and despair, and through it we learn perseverance and gain optimism.

The following list of games was gathered from some of the favorite games of camp directors and youth workers throughout the Church. This list is presented to the planners of youth activities not as a series of ideas to keep the kids happy and busy for an hour or so, but as a tool to help youth workers include this essential element in youth and young adult ministry.

Ages 4-8

1) Up

Age group: 4-8

How to play: Divide the group into two equal teams and seat the teams on opposite sides of a table. One side should have possession of a quarter. The team with the quarter passes it back and forth among players, while the other team counts slowly to ten. When it gets to ten, the team shouts "Up!" and all the players on the starting side raise their hands in closed fists above the table. Then the leader of the team will call "Down!" and all the players on the team with the quarter must slap their hands down on the table, trying not to reveal who has the quarter. The other team should be listening for the sound of a quarter on the table, trying to figure out who has it.

The team without the quarter discusses who it thinks has the quarter and makes a guess. If it is correct by the third try, that team gets to hide the quarter. Otherwise, the first team will hide it again.

2) Contrary Children

Age group: 4-8

Simon Says takes an interesting twist in Contrary Children. Children must listen carefully and do the opposite of what the leader commands. For example, if the leader says, "take three hops toward me," all of the children should hop three steps away from the leader. The leader should not demonstrate the commands. With younger campers, the directions should be simple, but may be more difficult for older campers.

3) Lemonade

Age group: 4-8

How to play: Divide into two teams. Mark off the boundaries of a rectangular field, enough room for a good game of tag; and divide it down the middle. At each end of the field is home base for one team. Choose which team will go first and send each team to its home base. The team going first must decide on two things: its job and where it is from. For example, team members can be firefighters from Boston or lawyers from Los Angeles, whatever they decide. The profession must be one with which all players are familiar. Then both teams begin walking toward the centerline.

The first team shouts, "Here we come!"

The second team shouts, "From where?"

The first team replies, "New Orleans!" (Or whatever they chose.)

The second team shouts, "What's your trade?"

The first team replies, "Lemonade!"

The second team challenges, "Show us some, if you're not afraid!"

Meanwhile, both teams should be walking so that once the last word is spoken, they are facing each other, a few feet apart, separated by the centerline. Now the members of the first team must act out their secret profession. The second team shouts out guesses. When they get it right, the first team acts terrified and tries to run back to its home base without being tagged. Any tagged players join the other team, who retreats back to its home base and decides on a profession for the second round.

Ages 4-12 (top)

4) Huckle Buckle Beanstalk

Age group: 4-12

How to play: The counselor will hide an object away from the group and in a minute send the group looking for it. Each camper will try to find the object without letting the rest of the group know where it is. When someone finds the object, he or she may walk away from it, sit down, and say, "Huckle Buckle Beanstalk." The other players are not told where it is hidden. Instead, they must find it. When each does, each should say, "Huckle Buckle Beanstalk."

5) Zip, Zap, Zop

Age group: 4-12

All players stand in a circle. One person starts the game by clapping his/her hands together and pushing them towards another person while saying "Zip." Then, the player who was zipped repeats the motion while saying "Zap." Then, the player who was zapped repeats the motion while saying "Zop." The pattern repeats over and over until someone messes up. The person who makes the mistake can be out for only one round or can be out for the entire game.

6) Smaug's Jewels

Age group: 4-12

One player is Smaug who stands in the center of the circle, protecting but not touching the “jewels” (these could be a scarf or any suitable object). The other players kneel in the circle around Smaug. The object of this game is for the others to grab the jewels without being tagged by Smaug; if a camper is tagged, he or she becomes frozen. The strategy varies; it is up to the group to work out a way to capture the jewels. The player who is successful in capturing the hoard becomes the next Smaug. In a variation, there are two circles, with two Smaugs and two caches of jewels. When someone is frozen, he or she simply joins the other circle.

7) Around the Ball

Age group: 4-12

How to play: Divide the group into two teams and pick one camper in each circle to start with the ball. When the signal is given, the ball is passed around the circle as fast as possible. The distance between the players should be determined according to the throwing and catching skills of the players- the better they are, the further apart they sit.

The team must count aloud how many times the ball has gone around the circle. The first team to pass it around five times wins.

This is a good game to play over many weeks. It can be an ongoing competition.

8) Sardines

Age group: 4-12

How to play: Divide the group among the counselors; you should have at least three groups of children. This game is similar to hide and seek, but an entire group of kids hides together, while the other groups search for the first. As each group finds the first group, it should hide quietly with that group, until all the groups have found them. The first group to find those who hid first wins and will get to hide in the next round. Pick a large enough area to hide so that all the kids can fit easily.

9) Clapping Clues

Age group: 4-12

Before the campers begin to play this game, a counselor can demonstrate in a dramatically funny way, pretending to have great difficulty.

One camper is selected to go away from the group. The rest of the campers pick an object for the first camper to find. That camper returns to try to find the object. The group claps softly as the camper moves around looking for the object. As the camper gets closer to the object, the clapping becomes louder. If the camper moves away from the object, the clapping becomes quiet and soft. When the object is finally found, the camper gets a standing ovation. Another camper is selected to be next.


Have a small object to hide which the camper sees before it is hidden.

Several campers may go together and look as a group.

Ages 8-12 (top)

10) Octopus Tag

Age group: 8-12

How to play: This game is played just like tag, except that the playing field is an ocean and the person who is "it" is the octopus. The octopus gives the signal and the campers can run around, trying not to get tagged. But when someone is tagged, that person must freeze and become a tentacle, now on the octopus's side. He or she must not move from where he/she is standing, but can wave arms around, trying to help the octopus tag the other players.

By the end of the game, the room should be full of tentacles waving their arms, with only one person still free. That person is the winner.

* * A variation on this is blob tag. In this game, the counselor is the blob, rather than the octopus. When he or she tags a camper, the 2 people hold hands and try to catch other people, expanding the blob. When the chain of people starts to get very long, the counselor may break them into groups of 2 or 3.

11) Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees or Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics (Wizards, Giants, Trolls)

Age group: 8-12

The motion for the Giants is for the players to stand on tiptoe and raise their hands up high. The motion for the Wizards is for the players to step one foot forward while stretching out their hands to cast a spell. The Trolls crouch down allowing the spell to go over them. In other variations of the game, motions need to be worked out. For example, Scribes can mimic writing, etc.

The order is as follows: Wizard beats Giant, Giant beats Troll, Troll beats Wizard

The game is played with two teams. The playing area is divided into two areas with a center meeting place. The teams huddle behind the centerline and decide which motion to use. Then each team approaches the centerline, and at a count of "one, two, three," everyone calls out, “Wizards, Giants and Trolls” and uses the motion that was decided upon. Whichever team wins chases the other team back to its safety area. Any player tagged before he or she reaches the safe line changes sides.

They regroup and start over. If everyone uses the same motion, everyone must go back and choose another motion again.

The Counselor could decide at some point to change the game with the goal of having both teams come up with the same motion to end the game.

12) Buzz

Age group: 8-12

Players count off to 100 in sequential fashion, replacing 7 and its multiples with buzz.

For example, the players would count out 1 to 14 as follows: “1,2,3,4,5,6,buzz,

8, 9,10,11,12,13,buzz.” Players may also eliminate any number containing a 7, such as 37 or 71.

The game may or may not be competitive.

Ages 8-18 (top)

13) Introduction Shuffle

Age group: 8-18

People typically sit with people they know. This activity allows people to know something about everyone. Announce to all those present that they are going to tell the person in the seat next to them something about themselves that the other person may not already know. They will have a total of five minutes to talk before the people closest to the aisle are going to move to another seat. All the people closest to the aisle will rotate clockwise and immediately introduce themselves and tell something about themselves. As the facilitator, feel free to participate. Also note that the time span for the conversations can be variable.

14) Pushpin Soccer

Age group: 8-18

Set up the room with rows of chairs (like on a bus). The group is divided into two teams which are seated in every other row. Each team has one goalie armed with a pin: one at the front of the room, the other at the back of the room. A number of balloons (two colors) are tossed into the playing area with each team trying to get as many balloons of its designated color as possible to its goalie to pop. At the same time, each team attempts to the keep the other team's balloons from that team's goalie. A team wins when all of its colored balloons are popped by a goalie.

15) Crazy Number Game

Age group: 8-18

All of the players are assigned a number and stand in a line shoulder to shoulder. The players then start the following rhythm pattern: slap knees, clap hands, snap fingers on left hand, snap fingers on right hand. Player number one says his/her number on the first snap and then says another number on the second snap. The person whose number was called by player number one then calls out his/her number on the first snap and then another number on the second snap.

The game keeps going until someone messes up. Then, he/she can stay out one round or stay for the whole game. Each time, the leader needs to renumber, but with more advanced groups, the players must avoid saying the missing numbers.

16) Ultimate Frisbee (Frisbee Football)

Age group: 8-18

Divide into two teams, each trying to get to the opposite end zone. One team throws off and the other team receives. When a player catches the frisbee, he/she can only take three steps and then must throw it. Teams work their way down the field, passing to each other until a team scores. If the team hits the ground, it's the other team's frisbee. If a defensive player knocks the frisbee to the ground, possession switches as well. Defensive players must give any person already holding a frisbee at least three feet clearance.

17) Body Parts Musical Chairs

Age group: 8-18

Have everyone form a big circle of chairs with the chairs facing outward. Remove one chair. Have music ready. When the music starts, everyone must walk around the chairs (it's fun if you make them jog). When the music stops, a caller yells out a body part. Then everyone races to touch that body part to a chair, one person per chair only. If they touch a chair before the body part is called, they are out. The one person who doesn't get a chair is also out. To speed it up, you can remove more chairs. We usually start out simple - nose, hair, left elbow, etc. but towards the end we get more complicated - your bare feet, someone else's left hand (they must grab one of the people who are already out). The object is to be the last one left.

18) Narrow Road

Age group: 8-18

Lay out with masking tape, or some other method of clear marking, a narrow trail around the room. The campers then must walk the trail, keeping at least one foot on the tape all the time. Emphasize that it is VERY important that they complete the course and stay on course at all times.

  • Put obstacles on the course to make it difficult to keep one foot on the tape. Also put chocolate or other goodies just out of reach beside the trail in different places, to put them off or tempt them off of the trail.
  • The course should take 3 minutes to complete.
  • Set them off at 30-second intervals.
  • Explain that, although it is not a race, their best times will be logged (encouraging competitive spirits, great fun).
  • Near the finish line, have someone the kids really respect, yourself if you aren't at the start line, tell the kids that the exercise is over and, because you are running out of time they must go back to the start WITHOUT COMPLETING THE COURSE!

Afterwards, invite comments and reaction about what was the most difficult temptation / difficulty to overcome.

19) Conversations

Age group: 8-18

This simple game, like charades, requires no props, no special area, no preparation and no skills outside the ability for theatrics. First, select two players to have the first conversation. These two players should leave the area momentarily to decide which famous characters they will play. They should choose a pair of characters with whom everyone else is familiar; the characters can be real or fictional. You could choose Batman and Robin, Simon and Garfunkel, Bert and Ernie. The pair should have something in common so that there is something to talk about.

The two campers return to the group and proceed to have a conversation. They try their best to sound and act like the characters they have chosen.

The other players listen carefully and are not allowed to ask for clues. Once someone figures out who the characters are, they should not tell, but should join the conversation.

The counselors should demonstrate first. Later they need to move the game along so that it is fun and that everyone gets a turn. They may help campers come up with ideas.

Ages 12-18 (top)

20) Create a Game Game

Age group: 12-18

This is for one of those nights when you had a really long week and no time to prepare an icebreaker. If you pitch this with a lot of enthusiasm, your kids just might buy it. Break up into teams of 5-8 and give them some random materials you found lying around that nobody was using. Tell them the game is for each team to create a game out of the materials given them. Have them write it out, then get back together and have each group present their game. Vote on which one is worthy to be played that night and give it a whirl. You can save the others for another night or just spend the whole night playing games.

21) 60, 30, 10, 5

Age group: 12-18

Have two volunteers to begin this game. Have the others decide on a scene that the two volunteers will act out, such as "a marriage proposal" or "receiving a Grammy award." The first time the volunteers have 60 seconds to act out the scene, then 30 seconds, then 10 seconds, then 5 seconds. It can get really hilarious!

22) Quirks

Age group: 12-18

Intent: To discover we all do some things differently.

Action: Small groups share unusual things they do or need.

Highlights: People are sometimes anxious about sharing quirks or they do not recognize some of the things they do are quirky. After this exercise, most people find that they share more than they differ.

Preparation: Think of your own real quirks to share as examples. Remember that this is an exercise to discover interesting facts and commonalities about each other, not ammunition to tease or ridicule

Script: We all have them. We've all seen them in others. They are those strange beliefs or behaviors that a person has that sets them apart. Some people call them quirks! For example, my college roommate could not sleep at night unless the room was completely dark. He put covers on the window, a towel under the door to the hall and made me turn my digital clock on its face to block the light.

Divide into groups of 3 or 4 people and discuss these behaviors and beliefs. What you should have at the end of ten minutes is a short list of quirks that your group has. We are not necessarily looking for unique quirks, so it's okay to duplicate and share the same quirks as others. After ten minutes, ask each group to share one interesting example.

Variations: Narrow the playing field to quirks related to work or camp. Allow people to pass and/or talk about their "friend's" quirks.

All Ages (top)

23) Sculptures

Age group: All Ages

This game is played in total silence. All of the players stand in line shoulder to shoulder.

The leader then points to one player and puts him/herself into a position. The player then mimics that position. This keeps going until all of the players are in position. Campers should eventually become the leader of the game. Older players can then create a story in which to involve the sculptures.

24) Baby, I Love You

Age group: All Ages

All the players sit in a circle. One player sits in the middle of the circle. One player on the outside goes to the player on the inside and says, "Baby, I love you. Won't you please, please smile." The player on the outside must say back without laughing, "Baby, I love you, but I just can't smile." If the person laughs, the two players switch places. You can do anything to get the players to laugh (sing, make funny faces, etc.). However, you are not allowed to touch the players.