2020 is a weird year. A lot of people are relying on video calls for holiday gatherings.
This is fine, but it does limit the type of holiday games that can be played. For some participants, setting up a video call might push their technical skills to the limit. Asking them to also download an application, share a screen, learn a video game, or install something would lead to disaster.
I've come up with (or, more accurately, adapted, stolen, or lightly improved) 10 stupid robust games for video calls. They've all been tested.
- Will work over video chat.
- Cannot require special items, applications, or elaborate preparation.
- Cannot rely on the physical fitness of any participants.
- Are not intellectually challenging.
- Are sufficiently ridiculous that anyone who gets overly competitive will feel a bit silly, yet still retain a degree of competition.
Each Participant Will Need: Several sheets of paper, a marker, and a pen.
Each Household Will Need: A ruler or tape measure, and an umbrella, rolling pin, or walking stick.
A marker is easier to see when held up to a camera. Pencils will not work; they're too hard to see. The ruler/tape measure and umbrella/rolling pin/walking stick keeps people guessing and promotes interest in the game. Ooh, what have they got planned?
The games work with up to 20 people, though anything past 10 results in moderate chaos from time to time.
The person organizing the games should commit to them knowing full well they'll look like a damn fool. The organizer can participate in most of the games.
If you've got one uncle who flipped a card table when they lost a particularly close card game, or an aunt who hasn't had fun since 1952 and has no intention of starting now, these games simply won't work. Arguments should be fun, self-aware and performative, not actual fights. As with any game, you need a certain type of relaxed group.
1. The Category Challenge
Using your pen, on one sheet of paper, write down:
5 Animals larger than a golf ball.
5 Musical Instruments
Do not let anyone else see your sheet of paper.
If the thing you write down is unique, you get 1 point.
If exactly one other person writes down the same thing as you, you get 2 points.
If two or more people write down the same thing as you, you get 0 points.
So you want to be clever, but not too clever. Animals should be general: "Spider" not "Black Widow Spider".
You have 2 minutes starting now.
You can adjust the number of items required. Use 3 if you actually intend to cross-reference and mark the results. 5 is a decent middle-of-the-road value. 10 keeps everyone very busy.
The scoring system for this task is a bluff; it's a bit painful to actually mark it. The idea is to promote some animals that aren't just "dog, cat" etc, and get categories for other games without having to email out a secret list of animals. It's very cunning.
If you do want to assign points, after you have played all the other games here and no longer need the secret list, have one person list their animals, then see if anyone has the same one, then have them write down the points next to it.
2. The Noise Game
Holding the umbrella/rolling pin/walking stick in both hands, one person will make the noise of the first animal listed on their sheet of paper. They may only make noises. They cannot use actions or gestures, or make any noise that sounds like a word.
They will make the noise for 10 seconds, then everyone will get a chance to guess.
If your animal doesn't make a noise, make the noise of a person seeing your animal, or a noise associated with your animal.
The person who correctly guesses the animal gets 1 point. If no one guesses your noise, you get -2 points.
[You can repeat this game, immediately or later, with machines, foods, and musical instruments. In a large group, it might be a good idea to have the first few people do one category, then switch it up.]
Taskmaster task for reference (UK S10E07). Any attempt at controlled sequential guessing usually (OK, immediately) devolves into everyone shouting guesses as the poor person valiantly struggles to make noises, so there's no point in trying to structure it.
3. The Third Largest Duck Game
Using a marker and a piece of paper, draw the third largest duck. There must be 2 ducks larger than your duck. You have 30 seconds to draw your duck. Then, hand your duck to someone else to measure.
Winner gets 5 points.
Taskmaster task for reference (UK S04E08). Duck measurements are controversial. Some people measure beak to tail, some people scalp to foot, some people insisted the duck they were asked to measure wasn't a duck but a sort of mutant potato and therefore should be disqualified, etc. It's all great fun. Though yes, it is a blatant duck measuring contest, and you may need to keep a straight face when discussing it.
You can't use "the average duck" because that requires math and you can't use "the median duck" because you might have an even number of participants.
4. The Portrait Game
Using a marker and a piece of paper, draw a portrait of one person you can see on this video call. You cannot use your dominant hand. You cannot write letters.
You get 1 point for each person who correctly identifies the subject of your drawing.
You have 30 seconds starting now.
[Ask people to write down their guesses as each drawing is held up to the camera... or just let everyone shout answers and award maximum points all 'round.]
In theory, very competitive people will deliberately fail to recognize the subject of any drawing. In practice, everyone gets caught up in the hilarity (or tragedy) of the results.
5. The Ten Word Fact Game
Using a pen and a piece of paper, write down a ten word fact. There is a bonus point for the best fact. You have 1 minute starting now.
Silently mouth your ten word fact to the judge. You get 1 point for each word the judge gets correct. The judge gets the average of all points assigned.
Taskmaster task for reference (UK S07E03). Ideally, you'll want to select a fairly competitive and confident person to be the judge. Averaging points does require math, but there's no easy way around it. In testing, it's much easier to mouth facts when the judge is physically in the same room, so you may need to rotate or swap judges. You can also rotate judges for each fact (the judge and the fact-mouther getting the same points).
6. The Straight Line Game
Using a marker and a piece of paper, one person will draw the second animal listed on their sheet
of paper. They can only three straight lines at a time.
After drawing three lines, everyone will get a chance to guess.
The person who correctly guesses the animal gets 1 point. If someone correctly identifies your animal after 3 lines, you get 5 points. After 6 lines, 4 points. 9 lines, 3 points, etc.
[You can repeat this game, immediately or later, with machines, foods, and musical instruments, though they're much harder than animals.]
Taskmaster task for reference (UK S10E06). All the notes from the Noise Game apply here.
7. The National Pride Game
Using a marker and a piece of paper, draw a map of this country/region/continent/etc.
The most accurate drawing, by popular vote, will get 5 points. You cannot vote for yourself.
You have 30 seconds starting now.
You could also have a judge (the person with the worst drawing) pick a first, second, and third place drawing. 30 seconds isn't a lot of time, particularly if you're looking for complex internal borders or geographical features.
8. The Hand Drawing Game
Using a marker and a piece of paper, draw the outline of your dominant hand. You cannot use your dominant hand to draw, and you cannot trace your hand or touch the paper with anything other than the marker.
You get 1 point for each finger that has an outline all the way around it, but where the outline is not more than 1cm away at any point from the finger. Someone else will judge your drawing.
You have 30 seconds starting now.
People tried using the shadows of their hands, or drawing a huge circle and arguing that the fingers were all inside it, etc. It was very fun.
9. The 45 Second Game
Close your eyes. Put your hand on your head closest to 45 seconds from when I start the timer. The person who puts their hand on their head closest to 30 seconds, but without going over 45 seconds, will get 5 points. Do not open your eyes or make any noise until the game is over.
I am starting the timer now.
Taskmaster task reference (NZ S01E06). The organizer can't participate in this game and should be fairly vigilant, but it's a fun one. You can use a toaster instead of a timer, but that requires effort. The longer the time, the greater the spread of results, but the more bored everyone will be.
10. The Monster Drawing Game
Using a marker and a piece of paper, draw the monster I am going to describe. You have 2 minutes to draw your monster, starting from when I start describing the monster. I will not stop or repeat myself.
The happy monster has two arms and three legs. Two of its legs are spiky.Hand your monster to someone else to mark. You get 1 point for each criteria your monster meets. Arguing is permitted. Maximum of 20 points.
It has two wings on the top of its head. The wings are like bat wings.
It has three eyes and two more eyes. And sharp fangs. And two more eyes.
It has scales on its arms and it has claws on one hand. Its tongue is very long and it has a tooth on the end of it. It is holding a curvy sword in one hand.
It has big round dots all over its body, but none on its face. And it has two more legs. And it is riding a bicycle. And it has one more withered arm. And it has chains around two of its ankles.
And it has a scarf made of fur. And one more very big eye. And it has a ring shaped like a skull. And it is drunk and cross-eyed and very sleepy.
Criteria (1 point each):
[Read out loud and get people to put a checkmark for each criteria met, then collate the totals.]
- Arms: 3
- Legs: 5
- Eyes: 8
- Two spiky legs?
- Bat wings on head?
- Scales on arms?
- Claw on one hand?
- Very long tongue?
- Tooth on tongue?
- Holding a curvy sword?
- Dots on body but not on face?
- Riding bicycle?
- One withered arm?
- Scarf made of fur?
- One very big eye?
- Ring shaped like a skull?
- Very sleepy?
Taskmaster task reference (UK S10E09). Feel free to write your own monsters (and/or post them in the comments). The description should be convoluted, but each individual element should be clear, brief, and distinct. Most of them should be easy to draw (the bicycle is just pure evil). Pause while describing the monster to let people catch up. Really relish each word.
This game leads to some truly hilarious mock-arguments over the number of legs, what constitutes a fang, etc. It's good fun.
A lot of old game books have truly terrible party games in them. Classics like charades, impressions, Who Am I?, Pictionary, etc. can work over video calls, but it's good to try new games or introduce arbitrary twists. Programmed party games, like Jackbox Games,
are great but feel really sterile and soulless to me. It's like
enforced, optimized, normalized fun. Everyone is looking at a screen instead of at
If you try these games, let me know how they go. I will not accept responsibility for any disasters that might result.
Goodbye 2020. You won't be missed.