Need new ideas for family game night? You’ll love “The Bowl Game”…a family favorite that’s quick to learn, easy to adapt for all ages, and quite possibly ridiculous!
I love games. Growing up, we spent many hours playing games of Clue, Guesstures, Trivial Pursuit, and Life. In fact, as the youngest child, whenever I couldn’t find one of my older siblings to play a game with me, I would “practice” the games by playing with myself.
One of my favorite games, however, is one that didn’t come from a store. It was a simple game that required only some pencils, paper, a bowl, and a slightly dramatic and quirky family to make it work.
We called it…ingeniously…The Bowl Game.
The game is as simple as it’s name, but don’t discount it for all its simplicity.
It’s quick to learn, easy to adapt for all ages, and really fun!
In college, I learned a more “extreme” version of the bowl game that involved multiple rounds and a whole new level of laughter. In that group, we called the game “Poor Man’s Cranium,” but the concept was the same.
I can’t count how many calories I’ve burned laughing during this game over the years.
Why it’s such a great game:
- It’s FREE and no-prep. This isn’t a game you have to buy at a store. Hooray for being frugal. But, unlike many popular party games (like all those minute-to-win-it games), you don’t have to spend any time ahead of game night preparing materials. Just grab pencils, paper, and a bowl, and you’re ready.
- It can be adapted for all ages. This game is equally fun for kids and adults, and it still works well even if you have a large spread of ages. Because it’s played on teams, younger kids can always get help from a teammate. You can also adjust the rules and categories of play to work for your group, no matter who is playing!
- It has great replay-ability. Have you ever played a game that was fun the first time, but as soon as the novelty wore off it lost its appeal? This is NOT that game. Because the players create the game clues each time you play, it’s never the same twice. Increase the novelty factor by switching up the “theme” of the game (discussed more below in “setup”).
How to play
Ready to learn how to play? The bowl game is super simple, so you’ll be ready to start playing in just a few minutes. Here we go!
- 4+ players (to be made into 2 teams)
Give each player two slips of paper. It works best if everyone uses the same type of paper and if all the pieces of paper are generally of similar size and shape.
Each player should write a word or phrase on each piece of paper.
Players can write a single word (like “banana” or “paleontologist”) or an entire phrase (like “The Star-spangled Banner” or “What about Bob?”). Remind players that everyone will be trying to guess these words/phrases later on, so it’s helpful to choose things that you think the other players will recognize.
You can make the clues totally miscellaneous, or your can give your game a theme, like “Disney” or “famous people.” If you’re playing with younger kids, I recommend having a category to narrow the options for them. For all-adult games, it can be fun to see the crazy grab-bag that surfaces from a totally random game.
Playing the game:
Divide players into two teams. Ideally, have everyone sit in a circle so that every other person is on the same team (like in Catch Phrase, if you’ve played that). If you have an odd number of players, one team will have an extra player (we like to put the youngest player on the larger team).
The game is played in three rounds. The goal of each round is the same: get your team to guess as many words/phrases as possible in one minute.
Nominate a player from “Team 1” to start. When time begins, this player will take a piece of paper out of the bowl and try to get his/her team to guess whatever is written on it. Once the team guesses the word/phrase, the player earns a point! Yay! The player then grabs another paper from the bowl and continues to give clues and earn points until the minute is up.
At the end of the minute, count up the points earned, and then pass the bowl to the next player, who should be from “Team 2.” Now, team two has one minute to guess as many words/phrases as possible and earn point. Play continues this way, with each team taking one minute turns, until the bowl is empty.
At this point, dump ALL the papers back in the bowl, and you’re ready for round two!
Note: While it may seem strange to reuse the same words and phrases, it’s actually what makes the game so fun! Because players are already familiar with the words and phrases, it becomes a challenge to see how creatively the clue-giving teammates can be at jogging their teammates’ memories to remember the previously used papers. It also becomes like a wacky game of memory for the guessers.
Here are the rules for each round:
Round One: Describe it!
Players are allowed to use any words that are not on the strip of paper to get their team to guess the word/phrase. (similar to the game Catch Phrase)
Round 2: Only TWO words!
Players are allowed to say two, and ONLY two, words for each clue. You can decide if you want to be brutal and count “umm” as a word. Once the two words are spoken, the clue-giver cannot say anything else until the word is guessed correctly. (similar to the game Password)
Tip: It can be helpful to say just one word, and then add a second word to help clarify once you see what your teammates are guessing from the first word.
Round 3: Act it out!
For the final round, players cannot use ANY words, only actions. How good are your acting skills? (similar to Charades).
Important note: If a player is REALLY struggling to get his or her team to guess a phrase, he or she can choose to PASS one time during a turn. Set the paper aside, do NOT gain the point, and put it back in the bowl (without telling what it was) before passing the bowl for the next team’s turn.
Once you’ve played all three rounds, count up the points and congratulate the winners. Then, go get a snack and rest your cheeks from all the laughing!
Have you ever played a game similar to this? What are your favorite games to play together?
Want more family game night ideas? Here are some of our favorite board games!