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Alternatives to Tic-Tac-Toe: 11 Fun Paper and Pencil Games (SOS, Hangman,…)

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

close up of tic tac toe XO game

Everyone likes to play a paper and pencil game, though, more times than often, we fall into the trap of only playing Tic-Tac-Toe. The good news is that paper and pencil games are limitless, with many being relatively simple to play.

Today, we’re going to explore 11 of the best paper and pencil games to keep you entertained for hours. Our selection includes games that are similar to Tic-Tac-Toe in that they require you to draw a grid, a line, a dot, or perhaps a picture on a piece of paper. You may know some of these games already, but there are surely some that you aren’t too familiar with.

Pulling out a pencil and paper to play a game is a great way to pass the time. However, running short in the number of games to play may quickly lead to boredom. With the following suggestions, you can get rid of the “Tic-Tac-Toe again!” feeling and spend more time playing a wider variety of games. Let’s take a look at 11 alternatives.

These are 11 of the best paper and pencil games similar to Tic-Tac-Toe:

1. Hangman

Ideally, this game can have anywhere between two to four players. One player thinks of a word or a phrase. The player draws several dashes equivalent to the number of letters in the word. The goal of the other players is to guess the letters and eventually the word.

With each incorrect guess, the player who thought of the word begins to draw an element of a hanging man’s gallows. As the game progresses and eventually more incorrect guesses are unleashed, the hangman and the gallows appear more prominent. 

It takes about six incorrect guesses to complete a drawing of a gallows with a hangman. The goal of this game is to guess the correct word before this happens. The player to guess the correct word first thinks of a word for the next game.

2. Word Square

Two or more people can play this simple yet fun game. Begin the game with each player drawing a four by four grid on paper. The players should take turns to call out a letter. Once a letter is called out, the players should immediately write the letter into one of the cells.

Any letter may be called out and repeated. The goal of this game is to use the letters to make as many four-letter words as possible. The four-letter words may read across vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. The player with the most words wins the game.

3. Dots and boxes

The game starts with an empty grid of dots. Typically a Dot and Boxes game uses a three-by-three grid but may even extend to a six-by-six grid. Two or more players take turns to draw horizontal or vertical lines between two adjacent unjoined dots. 

The goal is to complete a box while preventing your opponent from doing so. A player who completes a box writes their initials inside and takes another turn to draw a line. The game comes to an end after no more lines can be placed. The player with the most boxes wins the games.

4. Sim

Sim is a strategic yet fun game to play. Begin this game by drawing six dots in a hexagon. Two players should take turns with different color pens to draw lines between each dot. The goal of this game is to avoid drawing a triangle. The first player to be forced to complete a triangle in their color loses the game.

5. Pictionary

The great thing about Pictionary is that it is not limited to a particular number of players. Each player gets a piece of paper and a pencil. A player is then instructed to think about a common word, write it down, and fold the paper up. Every player’s paper gets shuffled in a bag. 

Close-up of Pictionary, a board game with cards and playing chips of colors

Then, players take turns to pick a folded paper from the bag and either act out the word or draw it on paper. The player who guesses the word correctly draws out or plays the following phrase.

6. Paper telephone

This game is best for groups of six to ten. Instruct players to sit in a circle, preferably at a distance from one another, as this game requires you to keep your paper a secret. Give out paper and a pen to all the players. Each player should write their name in small print at the bottom right of the paper and a simple sentence at the top.  

After, each player should give their piece of paper to the person on the right. The person draws out what they interpret from the sentence in the center of the paper. The player folds up the part of the paper where the sentence is written to conceal it. 

Again, everyone hands over their paper to the person on the right. The person writes down a sentence describing what they see on the drawing and folds up the paper so that only this sentence is visible. Don’t be afraid to add some humor here. Again everyone passes their papers to the person on the right to which the final sentence gets read out.

7. SOS

Start by drawing a grid of at least three by three cells. Each player takes turns to add symbols ‘S’ or ‘O’ to any cell in the grid. This game aims to create the sequence S-O-S among connected squares that can be vertical, horizontal, or diagonal. The player with the most S-O-S sequences wins the game.

8. Connect Four

Skip the store-bought version of this game and simply grab a pencil and paper for loads of fun. Instruct a player to draw a grid with six rows and seven columns. Each player takes a turn to mark a square on the grid. A square may not be marked randomly but is subject to gravity (one above the other). 

The goal of this game is to get four squares in a row. Rows may be vertical, horizontal, or diagonal. The first player to get four squares is the winner.

9. Sprouts

Start by drawing two or more dots on a piece of paper. The aim of this game is for each player to take turns connecting lines between each dot until one of the players can no longer do so. 

When playing Sprouts, a few rules need to be considered. A line must not pass through another dot or cross another line. Lines may join two dots or a single dot to themselves. A maximum of three lines can emerge from one dot.

10. Battleship

playing Board in the game battleship

Slightly long but quite entertaining, Battleship is a game for tons of adventure. Players begin by drawing two ten by ten grids on two separate pieces of paper. Players should label the horizontal side with numbers and the vertical side with letters. On the one grid, a player secretly draws rectangles representing their fleet of ships. Each player should draw in boxes to represent ships in their fleet.

  • 1 x Aircraft carrier – 5 squares
  • 1 x Battleship – 4 squares
  • 1 x Cruiser – 3 squares
  • 2 x Destroyers – 2 squares each
  • 2 x Submarines – 1 square each

Vertical or horizontal boxes may represent ships.

The players are now set to begin. The players take turns to take a shot at the opponent by calling out a square’s coordinates, for example, A3. The opponent responds with “hit” if it hits a ship or “miss” if it misses. If the player hits the last remaining square of a ship, the other player should announce the ship’s name: “You sunk my battleship”. 

Players should record their opponent’s shots on the grid with the fleet and their shots on the second grid. A player should mark a cell with the symbol “X” for a hit and “O” for a miss. The first person to lose all their ships loses the game.

11. Obstruction

This game is typically played on a six-by-six grid. Similar to Tic-Tac-Toe, one player is ‘O’, and the other is ‘X’. Each player takes a turn to write their symbol in an empty box. Placing a symbol in a box blocks all the neighboring blocks from containing either player’s symbols. The goal is to be the last player able to move in the grid.

All in all

Pencil and paper games have been entertainment sources even before video games became popular in the 1970s. 

Although using just a pencil and paper to play a game may seem boring and tedious, the number of games that can be explored is endless. And the fun and laughter brought by the interaction they provide with people is a bonus. You can try out and see for yourself with any of the mentioned pencil and paper games. Here’s to hours of entertainment. Enjoy!

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.