Games to Play Around the Dinner Table

Suggestions for every type of dinner party

Dinner party
Dinner party Courtesy of Flickr user Amelia-Jane

Entertaining friends and family is a big part of the holiday season. In my family, after we have nibbled on appetizers and enjoyed a meal and the dessert plates have been cleared from the table, it’s game time. Literally.*

If you are a game lover (or are just looking for some excitement), consider playing these games—some bought, some improvised—at your next dinner party.

*Warning: Wait 30 minutes after eating before charading.

Conversation Starters

Whether the group you’re hosting consists of lifelong friends, new acquaintances or a combination of both, Table Topics is a game with, according to its tag line, “Questions to Start Great Conversations.” It is a simple concept. The game consists merely of a deck of cards with questions on each, and the maker has come out with decks of different themes—Dinner Party, Not Your Mom’s Dinner Party and Gourmet, among others. From the original deck: “If you could do something dangerous just once with no risk what would you do?” And from the gourmet deck: “Which celebrity chef would you most like to fix you a meal?” Find out things about your friends that you might never have known.

Another game, called the Game of Things, takes this idea to the next level. A card might say: “Things people do when no one is looking” or “Things dogs are actually saying when they bark.” Each player writes down an answer, and the object of the game is to guess who wrote what. The board game can be improvised if your group comes up with a pile of “Things” prompts. But, I have to say, the topics that come with the game generate hilarious answers.


There are so many trivia board games out there that you can pretty much play to a common interest of your group. If you are all fans of TV shows like The Office or Seinfeld, there are games that will challenge you to recall famous quotes and scenes. I recently saw a game called Name Chase, perfect for history buffs, that provides facts and clues about historical figures. The fewer clues you need in order to guess the person correctly, the higher your score. And if you are serious foodies, Foodie Fight, with over 1,000 food-related trivia questions, might be a good choice.

Taboo-Style Games

Catch Phrase has always been a party favorite among my friends. The hand-held electric game provides a word, and, in typical Taboo fashion, you have to describe the person, place or thing (without using the word in question) in a way that will enable your team to guess it. Then you quickly pass it around the room. Whichever team has it when the time runs out loses the round.

What’s great about the game “Celebrity” is that it requires only some paper and pens. Every player submits three or so names of famous people or fictional characters to a hat. The group is divided into two teams and the names into two cups. Each team has an allotted time, say two minutes, to pass their cup around and get through as many names as they can. In the first round, when you draw a name, you can give any clues to help your teammates guess. Then, the names are returned to the cup, and in the second round, you can only say one word and then you have to act out clues. The final round (and the hope is that you get through many names in the first round so that you are familiar with the celebrities in the cup) is purely charades.

In my opinion, this “Celebrity” is more entertaining than the version in which each person at the table writes a famous person’s name on a post-it note, sticks it to a neighbor’s forehead and then asks and answers yes-or-no questions until everyone discovers their post-it identities.

Easy Classics

For the game “Psychiatrist,” one member of the group volunteers to be the psychiatrist and leaves the room while the remaining revelers decide on an ailment. The ailment isn’t an illness in the traditional sense. For instance, you may decide that you will all act as if you are the person to your right. Then the psychiatrist returns and asks questions until he or she successfully diagnoses the group.

This last one risks creating some contrived conversation, but it can be fun. The host of the party pens some outlandish phrases (i.e. “I am loose as a goose” or “It tastes like pickled peppers”) on strips of paper and hides one (or perhaps three, ranging from easy to medium to hard) under each dinner plate. Guests read the phrases to themselves when they sit down to dinner, and then the object is to work them into the conversation as naturally as possible. Try to call out when you think others are using their assigned phrases, and the person able to slip in the most, unnoticed, wins.

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