Games you can play with a notebook and pen

In addition to fun in the sun, summer holidays can often mean long queues, endless traffic, waiting and boredom. But there’s hope – as long as you’ve got a notebook and pen.

Because who needs more screen time? Getting away from the screen is partly what holidays are for. With downtime on your hands, you could of course take a power nap, scribble in your travel journal (though the practice may be harder than you think), recharge your attention reserves with a walk, indulge your reading habit, make a list of all the things you want to do tomorrow, or try to focus your mind and energies on actually controlling time (yes, it is possible).

But if you’re the social – or the competitive – sort, or are struggling desperately to answer your kids’ “Are we there yet?” for the millionth time, here are 9 fun, interactive, and screen-free games you can play.

Tic-Tac-Toe (with variations)
The classic: create a 3×3 grid and take turns with your opponent placing Xs and Os, aiming to get three in a row. For three players: create a 4×4 grid, placing Xs, Os and Check Marks until there are no more spaces left. The aim is still to get three in a row , but you play for points – there may be more than one three in a row possible per game. Four in a row is an automatic win. You can also try with 5×5 or even 10×10 grids, increasing the number needed to win.

Exquisite Corpse (drawing)
Each player starts with a piece of paper and a pen. Players start by drawing an image (say, the legs of a body). Then each player folds that part so it’s invisible and passes it to the next player, who draws the next section. You can play with two or more players, and fold the piece of paper into three or more sections (three works well for say, a human body: legs, trunk, head). You may also choose to leave a tiny amount of connecting lines visible so the next person knows where to connect their drawing. At the end, players unfold the papers to reveal the full drawings. The results are often fun and completely surreal!

Exquisite Corpse (storytelling)
There are different versions of the old parlour game Consequences, but here’s a simple version with 6 easy to remember prompts: he said, she said, he did, she did, they did, the world said. Rather than a drawing, in the storytelling version of Exquisite Corpse you collectively construct a story by writing a single line according to the prompt, folding the paper to hide your line, and passing it to the next person. The first line is a quote (e.g. “I’ll love you forever!” he said.) and the final line reveals what the world says about their story (i.e. the moral of the story). Your collective stories will often start full of tired romance cliché, but with some practice and imagination can end up wildly unexpected and weirdly compelling.

Dots and Boxes
Draw a 4×4 (or more) grid of dots and take turns connecting two adjacent dots with a line. If a player completes a box, they put their initials inside to claim the box and then take another turn. The player with the most boxes at the end wins.

One player thinks of a word and draws a series of blank spaces representing each letter. The other player tries to guess the word by suggesting letters. Each incorrect guess leads to the drawing of a part of the hangman. If the hangman is completed before the word is guessed, the first player wins. Otherwise, the guesser wins. You can make it easier by increasing the detail on the hangman (facial features, hands and feet, etc.), effectively giving the guesser more chances to guess, or keep it tough with just a bare-bones stick figure.

Each player draws two grids, labelling each 1-10 for the columns (y axis) and A-J for the rows (x axis). Secretly draw your ships by filling in the squares on one of your grids either horizontally or vertically (but not diagonally). Each player must include the following ships: aircraft carrier (5 squares), battleship (4 squares), cruiser (3 squares), submarine (3 squares), destroyer (2 squares). Players then take turns calling out coordinates (B5! A7!) to guess the location of their opponent’s ships. Mark your opponent’s hits on your ships, and your own hits and misses on the other grid. The first to sink all the opponent’s ships wins the game and control of the high seas.

One player selects a word or phrase and tries to draw it in the notebook while the others guess what it is. The drawing player cannot speak or use letters or numbers. The first person to guess correctly becomes the next drawer. If you have four or more people you can create two teams, and prepare in advance a list of words to be drawn. Set a time limit to guess each word, and each word correctly guessed earns one point.

Choose a category such as animals, countries, food, things you wear, things you shouldn’t touch, trees, football teams, etc. Set a time limit, and each player writes down as many words as they can think of within that category. When time is up, everyone puts down their pens and reads their answers aloud. Players only receive points for unique answers. and the player with the most points at the end wins. You can make it more challenging by limiting the words in each category to those that start with a specific letter (e.g. words beginning with R).

Pen Football
There’s not much thinking to this game – but fine motor skills are required! Draw a rectangular field on the paper and divide it into two halves. Each player controls a pen or pencil and takes turns flicking it to move a small ball (e.g. a wad of paper) or object across the field. The aim is to score goals by flicking the ball into the opponent’s goal.

Like any game, these paper-and-notebook games get easier and more fun the more you play. So what are you waiting for? Grab some friends or family, your pens and your notebook, and get started. You’ll be thankful when your summer holiday – and summer queues, summer traffic, and summer waits – finally comes.