A good party game goes a long way to breathing life into any get-together.
Anybody who has ever broken out their copy of Taboo to bust through the awkward tension of people who only kind of know each other trying to socialize knows what I’m talking about.
Taboo is a great game, no doubt, and remains a classic go-to choice at parties for a reason.
We crave variety in our lives, though, so it’s good to know what other options are out there for fun social games when you want to mix it up.
That’s where I come in.
I’m here to walk you through some of the best party games like Taboo out there to round out your collection and spice up your game nights.
Let’s get to it.
Players: 3-8, plays best with at least 4 players
Playing Time: 15-45 minutes
Recommended for Ages 12+
If you like the word-game component of Taboo, you’re going to love Decrypto.
In this game, you’ll split into two teams of spies trying to communicate coded messages to each other without them getting intercepted by the opposition.
Each team gets a set of four words that serve as their code words. The whole team knows and can see these words, but wants to keep them secret from the enemy spies.
This is where it gets interesting.
One player each turn acts as the “encryptor”, drawing a code card with a sequence of numbers on it (1-3-2, for example).
These numbers each correspond to one of your four code words. The encryptor must find a way to communicate these numbers without giving away the code words to the enemy spies listening in to their transmission.
Let’s say your team is assigned the words “Weekend, Ocean, Tie, Machine”.
With the sequence 1-3-2, you want your team to understand that this turn’s code is “Weekend, Tie, Ocean” and guess “1-3-2”.
To get your team to guess the correct sequence, you give one word for each number that will be obvious enough for them to guess but not so obvious that the opponents catch on to your code words.
For this example, you might say: “Rest, Shoe, Vast”. Ideally, the clues are obvious if you know the code words and baffling if you don’t.
The opposing team always gets to guess the sequence first, and if you aren’t careful they can steal the points from under you if they guess correctly.
This is a great game to break out for groups that will enjoy the espionage element. Who doesn’t want to pretend to be a spy for an evening?
- Both sides are engaged in every turn, no sitting around waiting for your turn
- Very straightforward rules, easy to teach
- You get to be a spy (kind of)
- Requires a bit more attention than a typical party game – if you’re going to guess the opponent’s codes, you’re probably going to need to take notes each turn on the words they use.
Players: 4-12, plays best with an even number of players to split into teams
Playing Time: 60 minutes
Recommend for Ages 7+
This is going to be the most overtly Taboo-like game on the list. The premise of Alias is very similar, with a few key differences.
In Alias, players divide into teams (usually teams of 2, but odd numbers happen of course). Each team then takes turns picking cards that have 6 words written on them.
This is where it’s going to sound a little familiar if you’re a fan of Taboo.
One of the players on the team must try to get their teammate to guess the words on the card – as many as they can before time runs out.
You can say whatever you like to get them to guess a word, but if you slip up and say the word or a word with the same root you lose that turn.
The pressure on guessing the right words is turned up by the hourglass timer used, which lets you see exactly how well or poorly your turn is going.
The result is often frantic fun as teams scramble to guess as many words as possible before their time runs out.
- Very easy to learn and teach. You can explain the game to a new player in less than five minutes.
- Fast paced; the hourglass timer doesn’t allow for stalling
- Nothing to do when it isn’t your turn. This means you’re probably better off with as few teams as possible, or you could have long waits between turns.
Players: 2-6, plays best with at least 4 players
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Recommended for Ages 12+
Let’s depart, for a moment, from the word-guessing mechanic of Taboo and take a look at another type of word-based party game.
Scattergories is a game of word association with a twist.
Each round, a category is drawn and a die is rolled. Unlike a typical numbered die, this one has a letter on each side.
The players have to come up with something that fits the category and starts with the letter shown on the die that round.
It’s not quite that simple, though.
If you write down a word that someone else at the table also chooses, neither of you score points. You don’t want to pick something too obvious!
Also, if you can manage to think of something with multiple words that fits the bill, you score an extra point for each word.
For example: if the category is cartoon characters and the letter is D, you could write down “Donald Duck” (since both words start with D) and score double points!
- Quick and easy set-up, flexible playing time – by the rules the game lasts 3 rounds, but you can cut it short or just keep playing if you like and each round takes 10 minutes at most.
- Easy to teach, which is always a good quality for a party game
- Seeing what people come up with for the categories is wacky fun
- It’s easy for disagreements to arise over the validity of chosen words for categories, and the system for resolving those problems is not ideal. The players vote on whether the word choice should count, which opens the door to dog-piling the current points leader even if their word is perfectly valid. It can get ugly if you aren’t careful.
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Recommends for Ages 8+
Maybe this is my personal bias, but on a list of great party games I just have to include Dixit. I don’t make the rules.
The focus of this game is a little different than Taboo in that it involves storytelling rather than word guessing. In Dixit, players take turns making up a story about a card in their hand and placing that card face down on the table. All the cards have different whimsical images on them to spark the imagination.
The other players each choose a card from their own hands that they believe could fit the story, and these are all shuffled up with the storyteller’s card.
Once they’re good and shuffled, the cards are all flipped up so their images can be seen and the players must try to guess which card belonged to the storyteller.
Getting any player to guess your card right as the storyteller nets both you and any players that guess correctly 3 points.
If nobody gets it right, the storyteller scores nothing and every other player scores two. To make things more interesting, the other players also score one point for each vote cast incorrectly for their card choice when they are not the storyteller.
Like Taboo, you benefit greatly from knowing how the other players at the table think when playing this game.
You’re also sure to learn a thing or two about the people you’re playing with!
- Very high fun factor with a creative group
- The artwork on the cards is fantastic
- As with other games on this list, the rules are quick and easy to teach
- Might be intimidating for more reserved players, so not ideal as an “ice breaker” for some groups
Players: 4-12, best with 6 or more players
Playing Time: 45 minutes
Recommended for Ages 10+
For a refreshing twist on the word-guessing game, our next entry on this list is Concept.
Much like Taboo, the action of this game involves guessing words from clues.
The twist? In Concept, you can’t talk as the clue-giver except to say “yes” as confirmation someone is on the right track with their guessing.
Instead, you have a board with rows of icons that you can place tokens on to give your clues.
Clues are created by linking icons to create “concepts” that will help players guess your word. Everything from the order you put tokens down to the way you move tokens on the board can communicate your clues.
Teams of two players at a time are in charge of giving the clues while the rest of the players individually try to guess what they are hinting at. You win or lose as an individual, but work as a temporary team with a neighbor when it’s your turn to give clues.
It requires some creative thinking to piece together clues by just placing tokens on icons on a board, and can lead to some pretty funny misunderstandings along the way.
- A unique take on the word-guessing game format
- Building concepts is every bit as fun as guessing them
- A little on the cerebral side for a party game; I wouldn’t say it’s hard to teach, but definitely less straightforward than other games on this list
Players: 4 or more
Playing Time: 10 minutes
Recommended for Ages 8+
If you’re a fan of charades, this word guessing game should catch your attention.
In Guesstures, players are split into two teams.
Each turn, one player on the team will be the “actor”. This player draws 4 cards with options of different words on them and places them in an action timer. There are 4 words on each card, 2 easy and 2 hard, from which the actor picks a word to try to act out.
As with charades, you can only make gestures or use props – no words.
You score more if your team can guess a hard word, but choosing one can be risky.
Why? Well, if your team can’t guess fast enough, the cards get eaten by the timer one at a time and you are forced to move on to the next.
The ideal goal of each round is to have your team guess all 4 of your cards, but the action timer is a ruthless overlord and time is of the essence.
Guesstures is a fantastic option if you enjoy charades but hate how long it can drag on sometimes.
Instead of watching Uncle Rick flail around trying to act like a fish for 10 minutes while everyone stares on in confusion, the timer makes sure that everybody moves on when a clue just won’t land.
- A fun alternative to charades
- Fast pace, quick play time, easy rules – perfect for a party game!
- It’s really just charades with extra dressing
Playing Time: 90 minutes
Recommended for Ages 12+
Here’s another word guessing party game classic! Much like Taboo, Pictionary has been a party game mainstay since its release over 30 years ago. When something sticks around that long, it’s for a good reason!
In Pictionary, teams take turns drawing cards with a word or phrase on them. One player on the team whose turn it is has to try to get their team to guess the word or phrase on the card.
So far, so familiar.
The difference for Pictionary is that you don’t have access to words or gestures to give clues. Instead, you have to rely on your drawing skills to get the message across.
Drawing skill is actually much less important than it seems in this game.
A poorly drawn stick figure can convey an idea every bit as effectively as a realistic drawing. In fact, with the limited time you have to communicate your word or phrase, you’re almost always better off keeping drawings simple and trying to go for symbols over realism.
There’s also an “All Play” mechanic for some cards, where both teams simultaneously are trying to guess a drawing and the first one to do so wins the round.
- A good way to shake up the format of the word-guessing game
- The drawings are often hilarious, especially if nobody can draw well
- When it isn’t your team’s turn, there isn’t anything to do but watch
- Some people are very self-conscious about drawing in front of others
Players: 4-8, plays best with the full 8 players
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Recommended for Ages 12+
Along a similar vein as Pictionary, Telestrations also involves making drawings and trying to guess what those drawings represent.
This game, however, takes it a step further – to hilarious results.
Each player begins with a word they have to try to draw. Every player has their own word they are trying to draw in a round.
When the round ends, the players all pass their drawings to the left.
The players must then try to guess what word the person that gave them the drawing was trying to capture.
When everyone has their word guesses, they pass those guesses to the left. Now, the next person in line has to try to draw the word that the last person guessed.
This continues around the circle until the sketchbooks reach their original owner again.
I believe there is a scoring system, but I’ve never seen it used. The fun of this game is seeing just how far away from the original word you end up when the sketchbook makes it back to its original owner, and what kind of wildly off-base guesses were made along the way.
- Extremely high fun factor – every game I’ve seen played has involved plenty of laughter
- The components are completely re-usable from game to game, no wasting paper
- I wish there were more sketchbooks to allow for more players. Luckily, there is a 12 player party pack out there to help with that issue.
- The game isn’t nearly as fun if you don’t have enough people – I recommend trying to get the full 8.
9. The Resistance
Playing Time: 30 minutes
We’re returning to spy-world and finishing strong with the last two entries on our list, which are both excellent espionage-themed party games.
This party game draws inspiration from games like Mafia and Werewolf. It puts players in the shoes of a group of resistance fighters trying to bring down an imperial government.
There’s a problem, though: there are imperial spies in your midst trying to sabotage your plans!
Each round you send a group of players out on a mission, and secret votes are cast by everyone on the mission to make it pass or fail.
If even one player throws a fail token into the pool, the mission is sabotaged – but now the other players know that one of those people must be working against them!
The Resistance is a great update for a classic party game, adding mechanics to the format that encourage player interaction more and remove the element of elimination from the game.
If you think somebody is an imperial spy, there’s no elimination-style vote like in Mafia or Werewolf – you just don’t send that person on missions.
- Fantastic update for a classic party game
- Fun, tense game sessions with plenty of discussion between rounds
- Might not be so fun if you don’t enjoy playful conflict; it can get heated
Players: 2-8, best with 4 or more players
Playing Time: 15 minutes
Recommended for Ages 14+
Honestly, it was hard not to want to open with this one. They always say you should save the best for last, though.
Codenames may be one of the best party games on the market right now. It follows a similar theme as Taboo in that word-guessing is part of the game, but this game is a little more complex.
In Codenames, players divide into two teams of spies who are trying to make contact with their agents in the field. The problem? You only know your agents by their Codenames.
Each team designates a spymaster, who knows the Codenames of all the agents they want their team to guess. You then take turns having each team’s spymaster provide a one-word clue to help their team guess the Codenames of their team’s agents.
That clue could refer to multiple words on the board, but you have to be careful about this – if the spymaster accidentally steers their team into an enemy spy they inadvertently help their opponents.
Even worse, one of the cards on the board hides an assassin that, if picked, will instantly lose the game for the team that picked it.
Codenames is a simple-to-explain game with an incredible amount of depth and strategy in play.
Playing the spymaster is a real puzzle, trying to figure out how to best steer your team to the right cards without accidentally guiding them in the wrong direction.
It’s, truly, a rare breed of party game.
- Simple rules hide surprisingly deep, intense gameplay
- The tension of picking cards due to the possible negative consequences of a bad pick is excellent
- The spymaster is difficult to play; not everybody will be good at it and a bad spymaster is very bad news for their team