Albert Finney’s musical “Scrooge” delivers a scene that captures the essence of the Victorian parlour game as a gathered group enter into the frivolity of the season. Ebenezer’s niece-in-law announces: “There’s a charming new game called The Minister’s Cat. It’s very funny. You’ll end up getting very angry when you lose.”  Here are some parlour games you might want to consider for your Christmas gatherings – as an alternative to computer games. Tap in to your inner child, get in a circle and start partying. Split into pairs or teams and play a few of the suggested games in one night to add a competitive edge. Promise one thing: you won’t get very angry when you lose.

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The Humming Game

This is best played in teams, failing that in pairs. Write names of well-known songs on small pieces of paper, fold them up and put them in a bowl. One person then has to pick out a piece of paper, read the song title and hum the tune to his/her teammates. Absolutely no singing aloud. You have one minute to hum and guess as many tunes as you can. The team members with the most points at the end of the competition are the humming champions.

Chinese Whispers with Actions

Select a simple act to perform. It can be something as basic as pretending to wash a car or sweeping the floor. This has to be kept secret from everyone else. You go into a separate room and perform the action for one of your friends (Friend A), while the others wait in a room next door. One more person (Friend B) is invited to join you and they see the action performed by Friend A. Friend B then performs the action for the next person in the room – and so on. The last person invited into the room has to guess what the original action was. Trust us when we predict the performance of the last action will look almost nothing like the first – and that the hilarious change from person to person is worth its weight in parlour game gold.

The Minister’s Cat

This is best played sitting in a circle or around a dinner table. Each player must recite a line describing the minister’s cat, starting with the letter A. For example, Player One might say: “The minister’s cat is an awkward cat.” The next player in line might say: “The minister’s cat is an angry cat.” And so it continues. You are out of the game if you a) can’t come up with an adjective with the required initial letter b) repeat a previous answer or c) pause before giving your answer. At that point, the next person in line moves on to adjectives starting with the letter B – and so it carries on through the alphabet. You can clap or pat the tops of your thighs in unison, setting a pace for each player to deliver their line. If you fall off that pace, you are in trouble. When Scrooge’s nephew struggles for an adjective starting with the letter M in the afore-mentioned musical film, he falls off their clapping pace and is out of the game. Amid much laughter, Scrooge says: “I told you to say ‘merry’ – why are you so stupid? He’s always been stupid.”


The Laughing Game

This was a Victorian favourite – and seems so incredibly simple and innocent by today’s standards. All the players sit in a circle or around the dinner table. Each player takes it in turn to say “Ha”, “Ho” or “Hee”. The first player to start laughing is out of the game. The person who manages not to laugh for the longest is the winner. This was a favourite parlour game: honestly…it was!

Pin the Tail on the Donkey

This will take you straight back to your childhood. You can play it as a family – or after a few drinks at an adult dinner party when nothing else will do but a bout of festive silliness. Start with a large picture of an animal without a tail and Blu-tack it to a wall or door. It doesn’t have to be a donkey. In fact at Christmas you can flip the whole thing and try a game of Pin the Red Nose on Rudolph. Make a tail out of some felt or string and attach Blu-tack to one end for the donkey version. Rudolph’s nose can be made from a blob of red Play-Doh or a ball of red tissue paper with Blu-tack attached. Take turns with your party guests to wear a blindfold and try to attach the tail/nose as close to the animal’s bum/snout as possible. Whoever gets closest is the winner. Perhaps you can introduce a forfeit for the player who is farthest away with their positioning.

The Sculptor

One person is designated sculptor while all the other players stand still. The sculptor then moves the players into curious poses – preferably ones that are difficult to hold. The sculptor can distract the players and try to make them laugh, but must not touch them. The players must do their best not to laugh, move or break pose. The first person to move takes over as the sculptor. You can build in forfeits for those that laugh or move too easily.

How? Why? Where? When?

This is a Victorian parlour game that can still work today. It could even become a little risqué. One player has to think of an object. The other players try to discover the word by asking four questions: How do you like it? Why do you like it? Where do you like it? When do you like it? Each player gets to ask the four questions only once before the guessing begins. The player being asked the questions must answer truthfully. He or she can make things more difficult by choosing a word with different meanings (eg post can concern mail or a stake in the ground; bowl could refer to something you eat from, a big American sports fixture or a venue for a concert) and can alternate between the meanings as it pertains to each question. The person who guesses correctly takes on the role of the player being asked the questions.

The Doughnut Game

Ever tried eating a sugared doughnut without licking your lips? It is verging on the impossible unless you do three things: concentrate, concentrate and then concentrate some more. Even then you might struggle. In this game, a row of sugared ring doughnuts can be hung with string from a washing line or length of twine. You have to try to eat the dangling doughnut without using your hands or licking your lips. Anyone who licks his or her lips is out. The last one standing is the winner – although you all get to eat doughnuts so there can be no real losers here surely.

Charades & Quick Draw

Charades is one of the oldest and most-played parlour games of all. We all know the routine: to act out the title given to you of a film, song, book, theatre show or television programme. There are the shortcuts: one index finger resting horizontally on the other index finger for the word ‘the’; your two little fingers linked to indicate a letter ‘s’ on the end of the word and so on. The trick for a fun game is to have enough obscure titles as to make the person doing the mimes work for their team point. How risqué you make some of the titles very much depends on your audience.

Invest in a couple of large sketchpads, marker pens and an easel – maybe even a large whiteboard – and you can take charades to the next level and play Quick Draw. Put a selection of film and song titles, along with some everyday phrases and festive words, in a bowl. Divide guests into teams. Each team member takes it in turns to pick a title from the bowl and draw a picture of it on the sketchpad or whiteboard for other team members to guess. Each ‘artist’ will have 90 seconds to draw as many titles/phrases/words as possible. Letters and numbers are not to be used – stick drawings are very much allowed. Only once the team has correctly guessed each drawing can the ‘artist’ move on to the next sketch. The team with the most points wins the game. Consider providing party favours as prizes.

Elf Helper: There are child-friendly descriptions of some of these games – and a few other ideas for kids – in Ed’s Grotto. Check out the Fun & Games page.