Boredom-busting pen and paper games to play with your kids

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Everyone should know how to play a few pen and paper games and be ready to play them on a whim. They are great boredom busters while in a waiting room, on a road trip or traveling by plane and anywhere you need to keep kids occupied. Some people like to doodle or draw in order to listen more effectively, and these games are the perfect option for those times.

A young girl lying down on the floor and coloring in pictures in her coloring book at home.
Photo credit: Yayimages.

While family board games are a great way to spend some quality time making memories together, you sometimes need a game you can play on the go without worrying about small pieces that can get lost.

The best part is that you only need a piece of paper and a pencil or pen to play these games! 

Easy Games

These simple games are easy to play with younger kids. Little to no instructions are needed.

Tic Tac Toe

Tic tac toe paper on a clipboard.
Photo credit: Brooklyn Berry Designs.

The rules of tic tac toe are simple The game is played on a grid that’s three squares by three squares. You are X, your friend is O. Players take turns putting their marks in empty squares. The first player to get three of her marks in a row (up, down, across or diagonally) is the winner.

Dots and Boxes

Closeup of printable dots and boxes game on a clipboard.
Photo credit: Brooklyn Berry Designs.

This game needs two players but can include more. Start with graph paper or draw your own grid of dots on a piece of paper. Each player alternates drawing a straight line between two dots on the grid. These must be a horizontal or vertical line, but not diagonal. The next player draws a single straight line for their turn. When a person draws the fourth line to complete a box they write their initials inside the box and then draws another line. Play until all of the boxes are closed and no dots remain. The player with the most boxes initialed wins.

Hangman or Spaceman

The new less violent name variation of hangman is called spaceman. The rules and gameplay are about the same. 

Game process of hangman or spaceman game.
Photo credit: Brooklyn Berry Designs.

One player thinks of a word and draws a dashed line for each letter of that word on a sheet of paper. The other player guesses a letter of the alphabet that they are hoping is in the word. The correct letters are written above the dashes in the correct places. 

Incorrect guesses are written below the dashed lines. The number of wrong guesses allowed can be decided before the game begins, and each incorrect guess corresponds to a part of the stick man being drawn. Head, body, each arm, each leg would be 6 total guesses. For harder words, you could add eyes and a mouth.

Players continue taking turns suggesting letters until they either guess the word correctly or make too many incorrect guesses resulting in completing the hangman or spaceman drawing. The game ends when the word is guessed or the spaceman drawing is complete.

“When my kids were little, we always carried pen and paper with us anytime we knew we might have a wait, whether that be at a restaurant or a doctor’s office. Simple and traditional games were always their favorite. Hangman and tic tac toe were the ones we played most often because they’re quick and easy, so when it’s time to stop playing because the wait is over, we don’t have a meltdown because they want to keep playing.”

 — Michelle Price, Honest and Truly

Intermediate Games

Some pen and paper games require more logic, strategy or explanation of the rules. These intermediate level pen and paper games may take watching the game play a few times to catch on, the games themselves take longer to play.

Pictionary

Pictionary can be played with groups of all sizes. Divide the group into two teams. Each team will need a separate sheet of paper to create a list of words that can be easily drawn. These can be everyday objects, animals, movies, famous landmarks, or anything else you find interesting. Write down the chosen words on small pieces of paper and fold them up. Each team takes turns playing as the “drawer” while the other teams try to guess what is being drawn. The team that guesses correctly earns a point. Set a time limit and keep score. The team with the highest score at the end of the game wins.

Battleship

The game battleship was originally a paper and pen game known as broadsides played by sailors during their downtime at sea. It was later adapted into a board game in 1967 that became a classic game for children and adults alike.

Closeup of images of printable battleship game.
Photo credit: Brooklyn Berry Designs.

The basic gameplay has each person placing their ships on a grid and attempting to find and sink their opponent’s ships by guessing their location. A coordinate is called and the opponent calls if you have hit or miss the other player’s ships. The first person to sink the other player’s entire fleet of ships wins! The simple setup of this game makes it a timeless classic for families. 

Connect 4

This is a paper version of a popular board game where players are trying to make a sequence of four of their letters in a row.

Like tic tac toe, this two-player game will have one player using X’s, and the other O’s.

This is a game for two players. One player will use X’s, the other O’s. The gameboard is a grid of six rows and seven columns. Players alternate drawing their letters in one of the squares. The catch is that you need to play your letter in the lowest available space in a column. When four of the same letters are in a row horizontally, vertically or diagonally, the person who played those letters wins.

Jumbled Up

Player one thinks of a word and jumbles up the letters. Player two has to rearrange the letters to find the original word. Game tip: write the letters in a circle to see the letters in a random order to help you find the word. Add a time limit to make it more challenging.

Categories

Categories is a pen and paper game that the board game Scattergories is based on. This is a game where players need to name objects within certain categories starting with a particular letter of the alphabet. This game is best played with groups of six to eight people.

Closeup of images of printable category game.
Photo credit: Brooklyn Berry Designs.

The objective of the game is to score the most points by choosing unique and legitimate answers that other players did not use.​​​

Scramble

Players take turns calling out a letter until there are nine written down. Set a timer for two minutes and each player lists as many words as they can find using the chosen list of nine letters. When time is up, each player calls out the words they found. Each unique answer gets a point, and the player with the most points wins.

From basic tic tac toe to mind-puzzling word games, there are many games kids can play with just a pen and paper.  Whether you need to keep kids busy over the summer or entertain them while running errands, you never know when you will need to bring out a simple game to keep kids busy. 

If you are planning ahead for a trip, print out some road trip games for even more summer fun. For even more fun, pack a deck of cards and learn these classic card games for kids.

What are your favorite pen and paper games?

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