Party Games for Book Dorks
  Lists    March 16, 2017     Eric Larkin


The word “party” can be defined variously as anything from “a gathering for purposes of fun and relaxation” to “THAT TIME STEVE PUKED ON THE ROTATING FAN OH MAN EPIC!!” Let’s use a definition closer to the first. Two groups easily overlap: people who like games and people who like books. So, if you are one or the other (or both), then there’s a good chance these book games could come in handy – just keep Steve away from the fan.


Trivia – This is the rawest, most in-your-face way to dominate your book buddies, being a straight-up contest of knowledge. Using this prodigious collection of book trivia games from our pals over at mighty Book Riot, you can take turns running thru each list (a few have a bit of a riddle-y feel), and see who knows the most. It covers everything from award winning hoity-toity literature to the classics to fantasy/scifi. You can adjust according to the bent of your group. Great for book clerks and librarians — although it’s prob the last thing you want to do on your day off (trust me).


“We’re totally gonna win this thing, guys.”

Book Charades – This doesn’t have to be traditional charades — a game folks seem to either love or loathe. BUT IT TOTALLY CAN! (I’M ON THE LOVE SIDE!) If you wanna go that route, just do books, and maybe use genres as a way to narrow things down. Don’t worry if you don’t know all the books, of course – it’s charades, so you might just be sounding things out, one syllable at a time. The other way – both more difficult and more fun –  is to give clues only by acting out the plot. It’s tougher, because you kinda gotta know the books. (Answer: use bigger groups, so there is a bigger pool of knowledge.) It’s more fun, because you get to pantomime things like Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” or Anaïs Nin’s Delta of Venus.


Balderdash – You’ve played this, come on! Get a dictionary, and hand out little slips of paper. One person finds a really weird word, and reads the word out loud. They write down the correct definition, and everyone else writes down… balderdash (fake definitions). The dictionary person collects them and reads them off. Folks get points based on whether or not anyone picked their balderdash or if they picked the correct definition. The dictionary person gets points based on how many folks got it wrong. Then move the dictionary to the next person and repeat. Easy, fun. Of course, there’s an actual board game version of this, but who needs it?


Renga (or linked poetry) – This might be the hardest of all book games. There are several versions of this traditional Japanese collaborative poetry game. The idea is to go in a circle, creating stanzas – alternating between haiku (5,7,5 syllables) and… whatever the other one is called (7,7 syllables). The art of it is in using some element of imagery from the verse preceding yours. It should both work with the previous verse and do something new in yours.  


Bill’s verse

Pirates of good taste

Eschew gilded button clasps –

Fresh daisies look best


Loreena’s verse

Seas of green and bright-lit days

White orbs arc across Spring skies


Melinda’s verse

Are they tortoises –

Following and gathering

By the keeper? Lunch!


WOW – that’s some great poetry there. Ok, but it’s thick with connections (however clumsy).

Pirates –> sea (and also maybe “white orbs”… baseballs –> Pittsburgh Pirates)

Daisies –> Spring

“White orbs” – could be clouds, which then look like tortoises.

So there are little connections between each verse, but overall we move from a pirate’s dressing table to a Spring day to the zoo at feeding time.

And so on. In traditional Japanese poetry, there are sets of imagery that go together, had specific emotional resonances, and were known by everyone. For example, Spring included things like cherry blossoms. Fall included things like the moon. You can see how we could use our own cultural details to do something similar. Anyway, not an easy game, but an interesting one, if you have the right set of friends (ie, heady and pretentious and maybe drunk).


I think there were five of us on this one. I, uh… I just don’t remember.

Exquisite Corpse – This is a surrealist game, that you can play with words or drawings. You can do a story or a poem. The first person writes a sentence starting a story, then folds the paper down, covering what they wrote – or most of it, maybe leaving the last couple words. The next person writes the second sentence knowing nothing (or little) of what came before, folds the paper over what they wrote, and so on. At the end, you unfold it and read the surreal “story”. Could be dumb; could be amazing. Here’s a great explanation of how to do it as poetry. Here’s an excellent one for the drawing version.  Again, more fun if you’ve been drinking.



Bring Your Own Book – I have not actually played this, but holy smokes it looks fun.  The basic idea is to page thru a book, finding a phrase that fits a prompt. For example, if the prompt is “Title of a long lost Hitchcock movie”, you page thru your copy of Heart of Darkness you brought for the game. You find the phrase “Unsound method” – and bingo – that’s your answer. Your friend brought Murakami’s Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and they find the phrase “Elephant factory”, and so on; the prompter picks the winner. Hmm – might be fun to play this in a library, not just with a single book per person. This is a Kickstarter’d game you have to buy, but it’s only $20, and they offer free sample packs, so you can try it out. A few have genre specializations.


The Paperback Game – I hadn’t heard of this one before, but found it on this short list from Picador. With a stack of preferably genre books (they don’t actually have to be paperback), read the back-cover description/blurb of one, then write down the first sentence of the book. Everyone else imagines and writes down a first sentence, based on the description, and then read them all out loud, scoring more or less like Balderdash. Could be hilarious, especially if you have a stack of pulp fiction or romance novels.


The thing about book games is you need the right crowd. Only you know if you’ve got it. But if you can’t fill a room with well-read friends that are up for a little bookish fun — who the heck are you hanging out with, anyway? Steve?!



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